Ladies and gentlemen, I have a new guilty pleasure: Hell’s Kitchen. Granted, I’m a bit biased towards the show, if only because I had been looking forward to its airing since I first caught wind of it back in October of last year. As last night’s premiere episode loomed closer, I did have a few worries. Okay, actually only one big concern: would this reality series adopt the same highly-scripted (and highly lame) style as seen on other Fox fare such as Trading Spouses, Renovate My Family, Nanny 911, My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, or The Simple Life? Well, I don’t know the degree to which the show is scripted (it’s safe to say that all reality series have at least some scripting), but for the most part, I’m happy to report that Fox has finally realized that it might just be entertaining to maintain some semblance of reality (if a contrived premise in an even more contrived environment can be called that). Yes, Gordon Ramsey’s bullying gets repetitive. Yes, he sometimes feels like a jerk for jerk’s sake. And yes, he’s not nearly as charismatic as Simon Cowell or Donald Trump. But when a neophyte chef dares to make an endive salad as her signature dish (paging Hillary Clinton), you know there’s fun times ahead…The premiere began with a perfunctory introduction of Gordon Ramsey. The narrator modestly referred to G-Ram as the KING OF ALL CHEFS (pause for timpani and gongs) but then some slick footage of the cook speeding away in a sports car revealed that he was also the bad-boy of the culinary world. Sadly, we did not see Gordon crashing through a restaurant window on a Harley with long, rebellious locks blowing in the wind. I guess that’s because being the bad-boy of the kitchen really doesn’t carry the same caché of an actual rockstar or athlete. Something tells me that not even the most hardcore of chefs has ever uttered, “Dammit, my souflé collapsed. NOW LET’S TRASH THE HOTEL ROOM! ROCK AND ROLL!!!!”
Nevertheless, the oh-so-serious narrator introduced us to the “hot new restaurant” — or soundstage, as we like to call it — that would serve as the backdrop of this show, and then it was time to meet our future Iron Chefs. As the contestants mingled in the empty restaurant, the narrator informed us that “food is their passion.” And, well, reality stardom too. But that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, we first met Jessica, a bleached blonde headhunter who seems to have taken hair advice from Linkin Park. We didn’t really get to learn much about her personal life, but something tells me her dishes will feature more clams than sausages, if you know what I mean (wink wink, nudge nudge).
Next up on the rainbow of diversity that is Hell’s Kitchen was Dewberry, an effeminate, rotund (er, obese really), and not-so-nimble pastry chef who nearly became a human bowling ball after tripping down some steps. Luckily, the only damage was some sloshed champagne (and perhaps a few floorboards). Like Jessica, we didn’t learn much about Dewberry (thanks Fox official website for not having the bios up) except that he’s from Georgia, which leads me to hope that there might be some dramatic moment later where he’ll declaire “Well, I never!” and then faint.
Do The Dew…berry
Next up was Andrew from New Jersey, a young whippersnapper whose dreams are to be a state senator or open a restaurant. Well, congratulations Andrew! By appearing on this reality show, you’ve ensured that both will not be coming true! Bravo!
With the benign small-talk reaching a fever-pitch, a comely, greasy-haired gentleman entered the room with a look that seemed to say “Why, yes, I am French.” Actually, he was really from Brussels, but as an unenlightened American, I’ll simply call it “over there.” Anyway, this was Jean Philippe, the Maitre’D, and he was there to introduce the two sous chefs of the kitchen: Scott and Mary Ann. Not quite the Carolyn and George of the kitchen, these two were still an imposing duo. Okay, they weren’t imposing at all, but they really tried to be, what with their sneers and yelling. The only thing missing were a few well-timed growls and barks. Anyway, Scott appeared ready to be Jason Statham’s stunt double while Mary Ann had the rigid charm of an LPGA caddy. The two said that His Holiness Sir Gordon Ramsey would be arriving shortly, and everyone would have forty five minutes to create a signature dish to impress him. That’s right, Dewberry. Throw away that champagne and get to work!
As everyone frantically ran around the kitchen, we met more of the candidates, but quite frankly, they kind of blended together for me. There was Elsie, the mom from Jersey. There was Jeff, the finance manager from Jersey. There was Wendy, the marketing consultant from Jersey. And there was Ralph, the chef from, you guessed it, JERSEY. Oh, and let’s not forget about our aspiring politico, Andrew, also from the Garden State. Yes, apparently this was going to be an adventure through Jersey’s culinary landscape (by the way, Jersey + landscape = never good).
Soon though we met Mary Ellen. Sweet, idiotic Mary Ellen. Fed up with her demanding bartending job (read: floundering acting career), Mary Ellen was hoping to break out and win a restaurant of her own (that is the prize, by the way). And what, pray tell, did the lovely Mary Ellen cook up for us? Well, it’s not so much that she cooked it up as she, uh, arranged it up. Yes, Mary Ellen’s signature dish was an endive salad with toasted walnuts. Oh the complexities are blowing me away! Endives? With walnuts??? Mary Ellen, your gifts are too great for this simple world! Now, I don’t want to give anything away, but I heard that next week, Mary Ellen makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich… ON A BRIOCHE!!!
Anyway, Gordon Ramsey eventually appeared and got to work tasting all the dishes laid out in front of him. First up was Andrew’s creation which he had stupidly named “Andrew’s Absolute Penne.” You know, as a future government employee, he should realize that absolute penne corrupts absolutely. Rimshot! Well, Gordon tasted a bit of this pasta and promptly spat it out on the floor (who said the Brits had better manners than us anyway?). I have a hard time believing that Andrew’s Absolute Penne was Absolutely Inedible, but if Trump is allowed to overstate his fortunes, Ramsey is entitled to overstate his dainty palate. Anyway, Gordon promptly told Andrew to “Get back in f–king line!”, thus making the chef instantly more amusing than whiny fame-whore Rocco DiSpirito, late of The Restaurant.
Next up for scrutiny was Mary Ellen, whose endive salad did little to impress the surly chef. When asked why she presented an uncooked dish, she simply replied, “I love endives!” which is now one of my favorite reality defenses of all time. Needless to say, Gordon was not pleased, and yet, he certainly was much kinder to Mary Ellen than Andrew who at least tried to cook something. In fact, as Gordon went about tasting all the dishes, he tended to be much softer on the women than the men. He told one guy that his chicken “looks like a dehydrated camel’s turd,” which of course begs the question as to when he’s ever seen a dehydrated camel’s turd. I don’t know, but it kind of sounded like Gordon was piecing together his insults from magnetic poetry.
Meanwhile, as the chef approached her dish, Elsie began hyperventilating and freaking out. After the commercial break, we soon found out why. She had served up a plate of ordinary-looking turkey tacos. Surely our venomous star would balk at the creation. But no! Let us not forget that Elsie was blessed with a vagina and breasts, which meant that she escaped with a quiet “not bad.”
Next, Gordon focused his wrath on Dewberry by calling him “Blueberry”. It was a fitting name. After all, Dewberry did sort of remind me of a giant blueberry, much like the one Violet became in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For those wondering, the hefty pastry chef served up some baked spaghetti which looked vaguely like crusty vomit. And yes, he was severely chewed out.
The limits of Gordon’s witty comebacks were tested a few dishes later as Jeff (an executive chef from New York) offered up salmon roasted on a plank of cedar. “I think you’re a plank!” snapped Gordon, clearly grasping for new material. I’d like to hear some of Gordon’s other comebacks:
Girl: “And this is a rack of lamb.”
Gordon: “I think you’re a rack of lamb!”
Waitress: “May I take your order?”
Gordon: “I think you’re an order!”
Bagger: “Would you like paper or plastic?”
Gordon: “I think you’re paper… or, uh, plastic…”
Anyway, when Jeff said he didn’t know what “plank” meant, Gordon elaborated: it means you’re an IDIOT. Something tells me he just came up with that on the spot, especially when he told Jeff “Get back in line, PLANK.” Clearly he was trying to validate his new putdown by using it in another sentence. Well done, PLANK. (Okay, a quick check of the Urban Dictionary reveals that plank is in fact legitimate slang. Stupid but legitimate slang. I guess I’m the plank now).
Remember Jessica? Well, she fried up some softshell crabs which honestly didn’t look so bad. Gordon’s main complaint though was the spicy aioli sauce on the side. Apparently, it was too damn hot for him, which is ironic considering this is HELL’s kitchen. Gordon flung back a bottle of water and chugged it down (a real chef knows to drink milk). It burns, mommy! It burns! Are we supposed to believe this guy is a bad-boy if he’s going to be throwing a hissy fit each time he tastes some spicy aioli? What’s next? Gagging over some pungent duck sauce?
Next up was Michael, a tattooed beanpole of a chef who might just be Travis Barker’s long lost brother. Even though he had ink all over, Michael was anything but tough. In fact, he seemed scared and skittish. When Gordon asked him if he liked his own dish, Michael responded, ” I do. I don’t.” Uh… Could you elaborate? “I don’t… I do…” he then said. I don’t know about that Andrew kid, but I think it’s Michael who has the real future in government. Zing! I just made a witty yet cynical comment about the sad state of politics! Got room for two at that piano, Mark Russell?
Finally, Carolann from Texas presented her signature dish which was… drum roll please… chicken parm! Okay, to her credit, she’s not a professional cook; so we’ll give her a freebie on the lack of creativity. As for the dish itself, it just looked like a typical slab of chicken parm. What can I say? Well, Gordon LOVED it. He was a big fan of the presentation and thought the chicken was juicy. Either the other food was really crappy, or Gordon just has very simple tastes.
Speaking of Hell’s Kitchen, I just managed to set my kitchen on fire. Turns out that if you set the alarm on your microwave to go off in sixty minutes and then you press “Start” instead of “Timer”, well, the microwave cooks… and cooks… and cooks… then starts flaming. Fantastic.
Anyway, what I did was what you’d call a “screw up” which means that I would have been kicked off this show had I been on it. Scratch that. Had I been on it as a chef… You see, Gordon had a simple little rhyme to explain the rules: “Screw up or screw me, and you’re history!” Wow, that was the most poetic use of “history” since Paula Abdul sang, “Are you more than hot for me / or am I a page in your history / book?”
Well, the bad-boy of the kitchen had more news for his lackeys: Hell’s Kitchen would open… TONIGHT! Oh man, this was gonna be good. The group was split into two teams — red and blue — and were sent to their identical kitchens, which was not unlike the setup at Kitchen Stadium. The red team would serve the red tables (with red plates, natch) while the blue team would serve, you guessed it, the blue tables (with their appropriately blue plates as well). Furthermore, since there were too many cooks in the kitchen (note to self, remember that cliché for future Hell’s Kitchen headlines), Ralph and Jeff were each made waiters for their respective teams. That was pretty fortunate for them since they didn’t have to spend the rest of the afternoon memorizing five appetizer dishes, five entrees, and three desserts. Instead, that task would be up to people like endive enthusiast Mary Ellen and the rest of the culinary wunderkind.
Anyway, as the kitchen officially opened, Gordon asked if everyone was ready, but all he heard in return was a general silence punctuated with a quiet “Yes.” Well, no one displays a lack of enthusiasm around the bad-boy of the kitchen! Gordon yelled at the group and demanded that they scream “YES CHEF!” when he addressed them. He then made them drop and give him fifty, which of course resulted in Dewberry wheezing himself into a coma on the floor. Oh, poor Dewberry. I shouldn’t make fun of him, especially since I think he’s my favorite. Sorry Dewbs. By the way, do you think he has a brother named Dingleberry? I really hope so.
Well, all that pushups stuff never happened, but the kitchen did devolve into chaos very quickly. Elsie faced a major roadblock when her risotto expressed apprehension about leaving the plate. Literally. Gordon angrily dangled the dish from his fingers, and despite the ninety degree angle, that damn risotto would not come off. Elsie later said, “I suppose melted plastic was NOT in the recipe.”
Meanwhile, in the dining room, patrons were becoming increasingly irate (and hungry) as they waited upwards of an hour for their appetizers. One perky table of middle-aged blondes decided they would take matters into their own hands. No, they didn’t call upon anorexia resources from their youth. Instead they waltzed up to the kitchen and tried to flag down Gordon Ramsey. Always a people person, he received his diners with the utmost of poise and charm: “Can you shut the f–k up for just thirty seconds!” he snapped at the women. Okay, maybe his style is a bit untraditional — and by untraditional, I mean rude and insane — but hey, it was good TV! Of course, had this been Rocco DiSpirito, he would have already ushered the women off to his apartment for a quick ménage-à-chef. Instead, Gordon simply engaged in a good old-fashioned cat fight as he labeled the women “bimbos.” Back at their table, the women roiled in anger, declaring, “It’s so unpolite!” (For the record, “unpolite” can join “irregardless” as one of the most over-used non-words EVER).
“I haven’t eaten more than celery and tap water for three weeks. If Gordon Ramsey thinks he can get in the way of my meal, he has another thing coming!”
In the kitchen, Gordon continued to go absolutely nuts with his protégés. When a plate of salmon came out overcooked, he shoved it into Chris’s stomach (by the way, if any homeless people are watching this show, just try not to think about all the food that Gordon has wasted). Later, we learned of Gordon’s mildly OCD policy that if one dish in an order is wrong, the ENTIRE order must be trashed and re-cooked. I guess the logic behind that is… uh… wasting food is fun? Okay, to be fair, I understand that dishes all need to be ready at the same time, lest one be cold by the time a later dish is ready. Anyway, Gordon reamed one of the chefs, saying that if he put out the food they were cooking, people would think “I’m the biggest asshole in America!” Um, telling patrons to “shut the f–k up” doesn’t help either. Man, it’s almost like he’s the Simon Cowell of the kitchen. Oh wait, did Fox already mention that about FORTY-FIVE TIMES AN HOUR FOR THE PAST TWO WEEKS???
As the evening crept along, Gordon seethed at Andy but later commented, “It’s not personal.” Ah. So clearly Gordon won’t be upset when I call him a huge douchebag because hey, it’s nothing personal, and if you say that, well, then it’s your own damn fault if you take it personally! By the way, I actually don’t think Gordon’s a douchebag — just a bit of a dick. I reserve douchebag honors for Rocco DiSpirito, a chef so douchebaggy, an INTERN anointed him “Captain Douchebag” last season. Ah, how I pine for The Restaurant and its staff of yenta waitresses.
Of course, Gordon did have his moments of kindness. Okay, moment (singular). He complimented Elsie for turning her risotto around and serving up some fine dishes. Good for her, although, to be fair, it’s not hard to improve when you start out with some sort of waxen super-glue concoction.
Elsewhere, bumbling chef Jimmy managed to spill a tray of hot oil on his hand, causing a rack of lamb to go tumbling down to the floor below. And with it, the blondes’ chances of getting any sort of meal that evening as their entire order was sent back to the drawing board. Chicken parmesan maven Carolann meanwhile squandered all of Gordon’s good will as she literally stood around and watched everyone else work. In an interview, she explained that everyone was asking her to do things. “I wish I were superwoman.” Yes, then she could stand around AND stare through walls. SWEET.
Back at the blondie table, the flaxen foursome was hungry, snippy, and out for vengeance. They returned to the kitchen where they tried to explain how offended they were by Gordon’s potty-mouth. In response, the hothead chef called over Jean Philippe and requested, “Can you escort these two ladies please back to plastic surgery.” Oh SNAP! Whitey just called you out, bitch! You got SERVED! Well, not served like food, but, well, you know.
Unsurprisingly, the women all left the restaurant (along with several other discontented diners), which meant Mr. Ramsey had to redirect his zingers back on his kitchen staff. Without fail, he fired up a funny one, calling Dewberry “one big overgrown muffin!” What is he? A blueberry? A muffin? A blueberry muffin? Either way, he sounds DELICIOUS! (That was my Rip Taylor impersonation — try to imagine confetti falling on your head now).
Finally, after enough antics, Gordon decided to simply shut down the kitchen, lest he become more disgusted by the terrible food slowly creeping out to the tables. Jean Philippe politely (or “un-unpolitely” as the blondes would say) ushered the remaining diners out, and hopefully provided them with a food voucher for McDonalds or something. Once the restaurant had been emptied, Gordon gathered the teams around and evaluated them. Basically, he thought Red and Blue did terrible jobs in the kitchen. Ralph, however, was a big hit in the restaurant and Elsie showed the most promise with her life-changing risotto journey. Ultimately, Gordon declared Elsie’s team the victor due to her performance [check that: they were the losers, despite her performance -- thanks Ashes], and since she was the strongest member, it was then her responsibility to nominate two people from her team to face Gordon, who would then fire one of them. Make sense? Good.
At this point, the show became a mini Big Brother as stagnant, hidden cameras captured the chefs lounging around a courtyard, shooting the shit. Carolann made a minor effort to get in Elsie’s good graces by saying “You really did kick ass. You really did kick ass. You really did kick ass,” over and over again in a weird, monotone voice. Can someone give Carolann a little shove? I think her CPU is stuck. (If Julie Chen and chicken parmesan had a lovechild, it would be Carolann).
More aggressive with his efforts to stay in the competition was Dewberry who clocked in some valuable one-on-one time with Elsie. We really didn’t get to see much of their babbling, but what was important was that Elsie stood up, slapped him five, and said he wasn’t going to be going anywhere.
Of course, two minutes later, when it came time to nominate, Elsie pulled a classic reality star “Whaaaa?” move by nominating Carolann and… Dewberry! But what about the little high five? I don’t get it! Well, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this next week since Gordon ultimately fired Carolann for being too lazy in the kitchen. Her exit was steeped in typical over-dramatic histrionics as she sashayed out in slow-motion. Gordon then topped off the moment by slamming down her chef coat on a nearby hook. Take THAT, coat!!!
Next week, it looks like Gordon gets rid of the air conditioning in the kitchen, thus providing the unholy union of Bikram Yoga and haute cuisine. Not sure if all that sweat is a good thing.
What do you think? Was Gordon too over-the-top? Does this show have potential?