Hell's Kitchen - Week 1
I like to cook.
These days I’m all about the barbecue (a subject on which I could write tomes), but I enjoy making just about anything…haute, provincial, I don’t care. I get just as much juice out of making a good jambalaya as I do working up a six-course wine flight menu.
In fact, earlier in my life I toyed with the idea of going into the business. I spent a week at the Culinary Institute of America to explore the option. I read The Making of a Chef several times. And I came to several conclusions:
- Professional chefs work amazingly hard for little money
- To survive the grueling work, egos swell to compensate
- Did I mention the hard work, and the lack of cash?
So I’m content to keep my culinary skills in the hobby stage and exercise them at home. But that doesn’t mean that, deep down, I don’t wonder what would have happened if I had pursued this career.
But I don’t wonder enough to go through what twelve aspiring restauranteurs did, which is compete before Chef Gordon Ramsay. Considered somewhat of an enfant terrible in the culinary world, Ramsay has a reputation of being harsh, particular, nitpicky, and incredibly difficult to work with. Frankly, if you have several Michelin stars under your belt, you can afford to be like that. And the reality is that such attitudes are the norm in the business, not the exception. Yeah, Emeril Lagasse may look like Mellow Yellow on television, but mess up in his kitchen and I guarantee you he’ll use you as a sharpening steel for his chef’s knife.
Hence the premise of Hell’s Kitchen. Twelve people competing. One will emerge victorious. Who will it be?
We start with an aerial of London (did I mention that’s where Ramsay made his bones?) and a mini bio. He explains his management “style” (what someone describes as “The Simon Cowell of the Kitchen”) as a way of getting the best from his staff. Yeah, I heard that before. But the prize is worth it…the winner gets his own restaurant.
The intro begins with an Apprentice rip-off and photos of the staff. I’m not going to describe them all yet. We’ll get to know them later. They have varying degrees of expertise in the business (the pastry chef seems out of his depth, and if you ever met a baker-type you’ll know dealing with pressure is not their strong point...), but it's their earnestness that grates on me. But it's been a long day and I'm sick of earnest.
Anyway, their first task is to make their signature dish and have it ready in 45 minutes…to be presented to Ramsay when he arrives. They scramble like silverfish and run to the kitchen. We get minor snapshots of each of the contestants, and our first cut finger…3 minutes into the show. And one minute after that, someone mentions an endive salad as being her signature dish. Can I ask for a forgery instead? Endive? Puh-leeze.
Presentation time. Ramsay enters and introduces himself. He opens Andrew’s offering, a penne dish called “Andrew’s Absolute Penne.” Ramsay spits it out and calls it dogshit. I laugh. Andrew is a guy who has “10 years experience” in restaurants, and Ramsay calls it a waste of ten years. Earlier, Andrew interviewed that if he couldn’t make it as a chef, he’d go into state politics. Before I offer a recommendation for his fate, I’d really like to know what state he calls home.
The endive salad girl comes up and Ramsay calls it boring. He refrains from spitting it out.
Wendy is next. Her dish features Chinese sausage, with Wendy kissing Ramsay’s ass and saying if she knew he would be there, it would have had lobster instead. Ramsay sees through this and is unimpressed.
Jimmy’s dish comes up with his stuffed chicken breast, and Ramsay calls it a dehydrated camel’s turd. Ramsay throws the food at him. Hoo-rah!
Ralph steps up with his seared rare tuna and noodles. Ramsay seems amazed that Ralph does this for a living.
Here’s comes Hyperventilatin’ Elsie. Ramsay reveals the dish and immediately calls it shit. Tacos with turkey meat. She says she makes it for her children, and Ramsay asks if they’re still alive. But he tastes it and mainly has an issue with presentation.
Dewberry The Pastry Chef makes a baked spaghetti. Ramsay calls it overcooked and terms it children’s food.
Chris the “Executive Chef” makes plank-roasted salmon. Ramsay calls Chris a plank and condemns the salmon as raw. From now on, Chris is The Plank.
Jeff quit his job for this. Ramsay likes his sauce and is easy on him about the rest. I'll tell you, making a decent sauce is challenging and this is no small thang.
Jessica steps up with cajun-style soft shelled crabs and aioli. Ramsay calls it shit and says it’s too bloody spicy.
Michael left the roe on his scallops and stammers about why, sounding like “Um, I did because I thought others would like it but I don’t like it like that, I guess, maybe, but I dunno.” Dude, pick an answer and stick with it. Predictably, Ramsay jumps on him and says he has a palate like a cow’s “backside.”
Carolann’s confesses to no experience, but Ramsay likes her presentation of a chicken parmesan-type dish. He likes simple and appetizing. Something to keep in mind, and actually something I learned at CIA. If you’re going to do a fancy presentation, the food had better be worth it…and it rarely is (as I learned when I tried to make a fancy mussel appetizer). Anyway, Ramsay likes the chicken and berates the “professionals” for being shown up by this woman.
Ramsay interviews that there is very little promise in the group. But he seems confident that he can whip them into shape and says he can make anyone into a master chef. So they’re divided into teams. Ramsay tells them to be prepared for anything and off we go with the sergeant…Ramsay’s sous chef. And now we find out they’ll be living in dorms. How original. Never saw THAT before.
The next task is announced: the kitchen is open for business, that evening. Scary. Cooking for an instructor type is one thing. Cooking for customers is something totally different. You have to produce, consistently, under time pressure, and keep things very organized. Will it happen with this group? As the Owl said, let's find out.
We get a description of the restaurant. It’s like Iron Chef meets The Apprentice. Where’s Erin?!? Anyway, the teams have to learn 5 starters, 5 entrees, 5 desserts. If you aren’t in the business, it’s difficult (imagine someone telling you 15 recipes and you have to do them from memory after a half hour….). And that’s only the food. Ramsay says the restaurant is not just about the food, but the service. He’s right. You can have outstanding food, but if the service sucks you ain’t going to make money. Ramsay picks two people to be waiters and sends them to the dining room…Ralph and Jeff. Jeff says he’s glad, Ralph can’t believe it.
And 7:00 hits, and here we go. Doors are open. Many people in flashy cars show up. Someone asks where Rocco is (or my Tivo got mixed up…). When the orders start coming in, Ramsay starts barking tickets and the kitchen staff seems less than animated. After a less-than-gentle criticism, they jump into action. When the orders start piling up, Ramsay goes into overdrive, riding the ass of everyone in that kitchen. He points out that his reputation is on the line with every plate, and he wants to be sure each one is perfect. There are various missteps by the staff, particularly by The Plank. He gives Ramsay a dish which is overcooked…apparently smarting from Ramsay’s earlier criticism about serving raw salmon. Ramsay goes off on the guy, literally pushing the plate into The Plank’s chest and telling him to do it again. And of course, you can’t just redo one part of the entrée…you have to do the whole thing over again. Ramsay thinks The Plank has a chip on his shoulder (Hey...a funny!). I think The Plank is just trying to prove himself. But he's coming off like he's trying to be a colleague of Ramsay, and Daddy don't play that game.
One of Ralph’s tables is complaining about the service, and Ralph promises to look at it. 50 minutes at the table with no appetizer yet, so they go to talk to Ramsay. Even though they’re hot blondes, Ramsay ignores them and tells others to do the same, saying standards are more important than bimbos. Oh, if only Trump would talk like that. But are the standards outpacing the skill of the staff? After an hour, the kitchens have yet to produce one entrée. Ramsay goes off on Andrew for calling him to his station to answer a question. Ooops…you always go TO the chef, not call the chef TO you. Doh! And just as Jimmy goes to redeem himself, he grabs a sizzle plate BAREHANDED and spills hot grease all over himself. Double Doh! Ramsay says he’s never seen a chef screw up as much as Jimmy has tonight.
An hour later The bimbos go up to Ramsay and complain about hurt feelings. Ramsay says yes, he meant it and tells them to go back to plastic surgery. The bimbos leave the restaurant. Bummer! And they aren’t the only ones. The Maitre d’ says it’s sinking faster than the Titanic. Look, I have no doubt their meals were comped, so stop whining! Geez, someone tells you you're going to get a free meal as part of a reality show, for crying out loud stop at In 'n' Out on the way, you know what I'm saying. So Ramsay tells both kitchens to stop everything. He tells them he’s shutting down the whole shebang. The Maitre d’ has the unenviable task of delivering the news to everyone, at 10:15. Faux outrage results (again, I bet the meal was free, and a little forethought with a Double Double would have spared you people.).
Ramsay chooses a losing team. He calls the evening a disaster. He reads off the customer comment cards and declares the red team as the losing team based on the strength of the customer comments. However, Ramsay saysthe blue team didn’t win either. He then tells Elsie to nominate two of her team for elimination, and Ramsay will pick one of them to leave tonight. Ooooh, pressure!
After some subtle (and not so subtle) butt kissing, (during which she told Dewberry The Pastry Chef that he wouldn’t be going anywhere) Elsie chooses Carolann because she’s a bitch (um, actually because Carolann is the “least knowledgable” and if they’re going to lose anyone stammer stammer it should be someone with no experience stammer stammer.). Weak. Second is….Dewberry. Wow, do we have a cutthroat in our midst? Elsie says it’s because Dewberry had a lack of energy and interest. Um, OK. Ramsay sends Jimmy and Jeff away saying they’re lucky and tells the two nomiees to step forward and tell him why they should stay. Carolann says not to underestimate someone with no experience, and Dewberry says he has base knowledge…which Ramsay ridicules. But ultimately, Carolann goes home.
She turns in her jacket and we get the tag line: Hell’s Kitchen no longer needs you. Awww. I wonder if she’ll get into a taxi. No, just a long hallway and an interview in front of a trash dumpster, along with Ramsay theatrically putting Carolann's chef's jacket onto a meathook. Well, there goes your best chicken chef.
Next week: a faceoff, a US Marine wake up call, no AC in the kitchen, and a desertion. Who will it be? Come back next week and find out!
Posted by John Tant at May 30, 2005 09:11 PM
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|# May 30th, 2005 10:34 PM james|
|hey john, ever watch barbeque university on PBS? about 2 months ago my tivo randomly picked it up b/c it matched my wishlist for "wisconsin." (they were making WI brats.) i've been addicted ever since. (to the show, not the brats. i've been addicted to brats for much, much longer.)
now if i only had a grill. and a yard in which to put it...
|# May 30th, 2005 11:16 PM jensant68|
|Jen's tops ten reasons for watching Hell's Kitchen.
10. I like the fiery sign outside.(I wonder if they will make the contestants roast marsmallows over it while Ramsey yells obscenities at them
9. Counting the bleeps everytime that crazy*bleep* englishman shouts an expletive.
8. Watching to see how long it takes for someone to deck him or at least shove a meat thermomater up his bum.
7. To see which constestant loses it first and goes running into the night, blubbering like a little girl (my money is on Dewberry. With that name alone, you know it's gonna be him)
6. After watching Nanny 911, I am in the mood for some real disfunction.
5. I was bored.....
4. I like food...maybe I could learn something about cooking...or that staying away from crazy english chefs is a good thing
3. choice between washing the dog or watching an abusive tyrant scream and yell for an hour, sorry Lucky! (my dog) I can stand your smelliness for one my day if you can!
2. Hey, what's one more reality show!!
I need to get a life (sigh)
Jen's number one reason for watching Hell's Kitchen.
1. American Idol is over and I am killing time waiting for "So, you think you can dance"
|# May 31st, 2005 11:21 AM kris|
Given your culinary background, I think you owe it to us to post a Friday recipe or something like that. ;-)