By B-Side|Tuesday, August 2, 2005 | 12:10 pm | 48 Comments
Tonight was the season finale of Hell’s Kitchen, and we not only learned who won himself a brand new restaurant, but I finally had the answer to a question that had been plaguing me for months: would I be on TV? Yes, it’s the TVgasm twist of the summer. I was a diner on the season finale of Hell’s Kitchen (and no, I was not on TV). Don’t worry, Fox, I won’t give away any production secrets — mainly because there really were none. What you saw was pretty much what we got. But enough about me. There’s still two hours of risotto-covered drama to discuss (not to mention the oh-so-satisfying role TVgasm unwittingly played in the finale).I knew tonight’s episode would be dramatic because, well, the narrator said so. “And now the dramatic conclusion of Hell’s Kitchen!” he announced with typical bombast. Dramatic indeed! What twists and turns would befall our fledgling chefs? Would Ralph’s boner ever go flaccid? Would Michael’s alter ego ever stab a waitress? And most importantly, would I be on TV? Alas, I already told you the outcome of that last one, but hey, I’m trying to take y’all back to that exciting moment before we pushed off and sped down the toboggan course that is Hell’s Kitchen.
Anyway, we picked up just after Jessica’s teary-eyed departure, and as Michael and Ralph glowed in their victory, Gordon told them to share the moment with their families. You know what that means: more Buffy! That’s right. Ralph’s fiancé was back, but amazingly, she did not find an errant piece of chicken to regurgitate onto his shoulder. Gordon, meanwhile, looked on like a happy Mother Hen while his two protégés shared quality time with the fam. And then, as quickly as they had arrived, the loved ones were whisked away into oblivion, not to be seen again until after the whole competition was over and done. For now, it was back to the grind. “Who knows what tomorrow brings,” noted Michael. “We might be skydiving without parachutes.” Probably not, but such activities are always welcomed.
Later, Michael and Ralph sat around their prison yard and reminisced about the entire experience. “It’s been hell,” said Michael. Well, yeah. It is HELL’s Kitchen. Anyway, the phone inside rang, and Ralph picked up with a sophisticated “Bon soir!” Of course, had he actually spoken French, he might have known that “bon soir” means “good evening,” a highly inappropriate thing to say IN THE MORNING. Nevertheless, Gordon met with the two finalists (hence, the phone call) and started his meeting with a little praise. “Bloody well done!” he lauded. Man, he’s been so happy lately. Has Mrs. Ramsey been learning some new moves in the sack? I mean, he’s been all cuddles and kittens. Will “Bloody well done!” be the new “SHUT IT DOWN” (with reverse, sideways Trump cobra for emphasis)? I guess we’ll find out next season.
Anyway, Gordon had Ralph and Michael stand up in the dining room and then announced, “This is your final test!” A curtain then fell from the rafters and landed between them. So the final test is to avoid a curtain? Man, this show really got lame. Oh wait, I spoke too soon! Turns out the dining room was going to be split up into two different restaurants. Each finalist would have to design the decor, write a menu, and control a kitchen. I must admit, this was a pretty solid final challenge, if only to see Ralph give another stab at creativity. Sure enough, his meeting with the interior designer had him requesting characters on the wall, whatever that meant. “I think the customers are gonna enjoy the room that we’re gonna design for them,” he noted. Well, I can say that as a Ralph patron (hey, I’m from New York originally), the decor was pretty darn tacky. With its checkerboard wallpaper, billowing draperies, and gigantic mirrors, the restaurant was less Manhattan steakhouse, and more Hoboken Cheesecake Factory.
Has Ralph even BEEN to a four-star restaurant?
Sadly, I never got to see Michael’s decor in person, but he seemed to have the artistic idea down pat with his whole less-is-more, minimalist take. When it came to outfitting his staff, he insisted that the men and women wear slacks. This came as a massive disappointment to maitre d’ Jean-Philippe who reasoned, “It’s kind of sad to see them [women] walking around in unisex.” Surely his lecherous intentions would be well-received by Ralph, to whom he asked: “Do you want the ladies to wear some, uh, black panties?” Apparently Ralph was designing a burlesque steakhouse. Probably would have been classier. Interior design ZING! Two extra points!
Anyway, the renovations seemed to go fairly well. There were a few hitches here and there (Ralph faced a wallpaper snafu that almost left his restaurant without the prized checker designs he desired oh-so-much), but overall, it was smooth sailing. Gordon was concerned about Ralph’s uninspiring decor (see, I told you!!) and worried that Michael’s restaurant might be too cold. But whatever. Who really cares. Let’s get on with it.
Gordon eventually asked the chefs what their signature dishes would be. Ralph replied that his would be a “Bistecca Florentina” which was basically a porterhouse done “Italian style” (which is Ralph’s way of saying “with white peaches on top”). Michael’s offering was slightly more complex: short rib osso bucco with yams and some other good stuff. Unsurprisingly, Gordon felt like Ralph’s needed more inspiration (Ralph with a lack of creativity? Now I’ve heard it all!), but instead of tasting the dishes, he told the guys that they were going to be taking their signature dishes to the streets. Ah, now this will be good. I do love me the old man-on-the-street reality challenge. It’s a staple of The Apprentice.
Well, the guys headed out with their silver platters in hand and in the case of Michael, a cigarette in mouth. Nothing makes a dish more savory than a fine marinade of ashy smoke. Thank goodness for silver domes. Anyway, Ralph, Michael, and Gordon headed out to Hollywood & Highland to bring their food to tourists from Iowa. But before the tasting could commence, Gordon had to explain the rules: “We’re gonna have a little battle. We’re gonna stop customers as they walk past…and ask them which dish they prefer.” In response, Michael let out a revelatory “Ahhhh.” So Michael couldn’t figure that out? Did he not realize that he and Ralph were standing amongst the masses holding silver platters of their signature dish? I guess Michael thought they were just going on a tour of the Kodak Theater. Or finding prostitutes. Anything goes on Hollywood Boulevard.
Anyway, the competition got underway, and immediately, Michael’s osso bucco was a big hit. He took a swift 5 to 1 lead over Ralph’s porterhouse, but the Jersey chef wasn’t about to go down without a fight. He soon began talking a mile a minute, trying to sell tasters on his beef, and after a few pliant people gave him the nod of approval, Ralph took a 6 to 5 lead. But alas, one can never underestimate the power of good food, and in the end, Michael pulled the easy victory with a score of 12 to 6. Man, Hell’s Kitchen should really do more taste tests. That was the most fun I’ve had since the last Pepsi Challenge. Anyway, Ralph rationalized his loss by saying, “Michael’s dish had an unfair advantage in the fact that his dish was built for street food, and my dish was built to be served in the dining room.” Wait a second. Since when was osso bucco street food? Especially compared to Ralph’s pieces of STEAK. Apparently the whole kabob revolution has yet to reach him.
Back at the restaurant, Ralph continued to oversee his tacky creation, or as he described it, “Casablanca meets the speakeasy meets Ralph.” Yeah, that pretty much summed it up. Oh, and he forgot “meets crap.”
Then came the next big challenge of this first hour. The finalists would cook for the construction team. “You guys are going to get fed,” announced Gordon to the crew. This was followed by cheers and then Gordon turning around and muttering, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Hey, what happened to “BLOODY WELL DONE” Gordon? Are we back to “SHUT IT DOWN’?
Anyway, for the first half of the orders, Michael took the helm and controlled the kitchen from the hot plate. Typically, he was quiet and reserved and fairly underwhelming. Next up was Ralph who immediately took to the position with his booming voice and shit-eating grin. Ah, but it would not be smooth sailing for the wannabe chef. Let’s not forget that sneaky Michael, all hunched over and Suess-like, is always capable of pulling out a trick or two. For this service, his big sabotage was that he prepared the crab risotto without crab. Ah, another diabolical risotto plan! Seriously, this show should just be renamed “The Risotto Chronicles.” I’ve never seen so many risotto controversies in my life (and that doesn’t even include the woman who barfed earlier this season).
While Michael assembled his subterfuge, Ralph dealt with his own pressing issues, mainly his inability to learn Jean-Philippe’s name. Apparently, he has a habit of calling him “Jean-Pierre.” “He keeps on calling me Jean-Pierre. My name is Jean-Philippe. I’ve been working there so many weeks with the man, and he keeps on calling me Jean Pierre!” No black panties for you, RALPH!
As entertaining as this little cat fight was to watch, our attention returned to the food as one construction worker returned his crab-less crab risotto. Ouch. Rejected by a guy in a hardhat. Even Gordon had to note the brutal implications of that. Turns out Michael’s scheme worked beautifully as Ralph faced heat for not keeping an eye out on the food. But while the move may have been sneaky, Gordon did favorably call Michael “clever” as a result. I wonder what the British slang is for a clever person. It can’t be nearly as awesome as “plank” though. That was the best. You’re a plank, plank. Gets me every time.
Later, Michael noted that he had to be more assertive in the kitchen. “I’m really gonna have to…somehow turn off part of me tomorrow night and transform Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” he said, adding, “I really don’t know how I’m going to do it. Anyhoo, I’m gonna go out into the backyard and talk to myself again. Maybe my alter ego Ken will have some ideas.”
And then, at long last, we were treated to the moment we’d been waiting all hour for. You see, during the commercial breaks, Fox had been teasing that the game would get nasty. This was evidenced by Michael yelling “PISS OFF!” Well, we had finally arrived at the big fight, but turns out the producers kind of, well, lied. I mean, Michael did yell “PISS OFF!”, but only because he was imitating Ramsey. Wah wah wah. I hate you Fox. But hey, we did get some looney behavior. After doing his whole G-Ram bit, Michael then went out to the courtyard and talked to Gordon’s face on the billboard overhead. Yeah, that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing is gonna be crazy hard to pull off…
The next day, Ralph entered his restaurant to find that despite the wallpaper dramas, everything was fine and dandy now. “Now THIS is what I’m talking about!” he gushed. Yay! Three cheers for checkered wallpaper! It’s like I’m back in 1920. Or at least a 1987 music video!
G-Ram then called his chefs into the kitchen and spat out “Meet your staff!” Ralph then immediately looked at his boner. No, Ralph. Not that staff. (Me: hands on hips and shaking head as live studio audience laughs and then claps.) Well, no sooner had Gordon said “staff,” than we suddenly saw the smiling face of Dewberry, who chirped, “Good morning everybody!” Good morning Dewberry!!! Ah, he’s like a burst of sunshine in the kitchen. Extremely heavy, effeminate sunshine.
Everyone needs a little Dewberry to start their day!
Dewberry’s return marked the one hour break, and we could finally sit back and crack our knuckles as we endured a quick montage of the past sixty minutes for those jerks who were just joining us. Way to not check your local listings and miss the first hour, assholes!
Oh man. Another hour to recap? Well, here goes…
So following Dewberry’s triumphant return to the kitchen were Wendy (looking surprisingly not confused or frazzled), Andrew (busting out some chest hair with his gratuitously wide collar), Jimmy (also with the wide collar), Elsie (wide collar again!), and Jessica (normal collar, thank god. But what’s up with the forearm bruises? Did somebody make Jessica her bitch last night? Cooooourtney?). Well, as the winner of the taste test earlier this episode, Michael had the privilege of selecting who he wanted on his team first. He chose Jessica, mainly to keep her away from Ralph. Surprisingly, Ralph selected Andrew as his top pick. Kind of an odd choice, considering that Andrew sucked (and yelled at himself in the privacy of his bedroom). Michael picked Dirty Bowl Jimmy next, and again, I don’t know why he was chosen over Elsie, but the best theory I can offer up is that maybe Michael really wanted to make sure someone was around to knock things over. Even more perplexing was Ralph who opted to bring Wendy onto his team. Wendy?!?!? I’ve always liked her, but the woman can’t function in a kitchen. You can say, “I need a lasagna,” and she’ll wind up asking “Okay, you want three orders of mussels. Or is it two? Wait, say that again?” Poor Elsie looked sad and dejected. I guess everyone was still smarting from her wondrous appearance on Good Day Live. Well, Michael picked her as his third and final choice, thus ensuring his team consisted of the three people with the most Hell’s Kitchen experience outside of the finalists. Hmmm…. I wonder who’s gonna win this competition?
After Ralph brought Dewberry onto his squad, he then wrote down a series of stupid mottos about perfection and doing things right and blah blah blah, all that was missing was the “Hang In There” kitten dangling from a branch. You know, if cooking doesn’t work out for Ralph, he can always go into business manufacturing those stupid “Motivation” posters. Buffy can be his secretary! And they can solve crimes on the weekend! Okay, maybe not. Hey, it’s late.
Eventually, both teams began prepping for their dinner service. Ralph noted that he had four hours to get everything ready. He then used pretzel (re: poor) logic to conclude that “We got four people times four is sixteen hours of manpower.” Yeah, but only FOUR HOURS of real time to do everything. Maybe he meant that theoretically, his group could accomplish in four hours what would take one person sixteen hours to do. That’s nice, but if he needed sixteen hours of prep time, well, then that’s not a good sign.
After calling JP “Jean-Pierre” again (just call him Mr. Belgian Man. It’s easy AND funny.), Ralph then unveiled the name of his restaurant. It would be called the very pizza parlor-ish “Frank and Lulu’s” — the names of his and his friend’s dogs. I don’t know, but usually when I think of dogs and restaurants, the health inspector ain’t too far behind. Michael’s restaurant, meanwhile, was named “Lola Pop,” based on the pet name he has for his wife. So Lulu and Lola. I don’t even want to think about what MTV’s Lala would have come up with. Wow, I am HILArious.
Well, after nearly 90 minutes of surprisingly scant and relevant narration, our narrator finally returned to form. “Andrew is cutting it close,” he said as the young cook peeled an artichoke. Moments later, Andrew cut himself deeply, causing blood to flow and necessitating a trip to the hospital. Oh, now I get it! Cutting it close! Because he was running out of time with his cutting and because he cut too close to his hands and cut himself. Wow. It works on so many levels.
With panic overtaking him, Ralph burst into Gordon’s little office and announced, “Man down.” Gordon gave a “that sucks” type response, but instead of offering advice, simply asked for a tour of the restaurant. Okay, whatever floats your boat, G-Ram. Well, Ralph guided his boss through Frank & Lulu’s, and the producers were kind enough to provide a Trading Spaces before & after shot of the restaurant. Except we only saw one table. Oooh! The plates changed from one color to another! A complete transformation!!! Actually, about two minutes later, we saw the before & after shots of the dining room as a whole, so I guess I should just shut my pie-hole for once.
Next, Gordon examined the wait staff and their outfits. The guys seemed decent enough in their new wardrobe, but with their neck scarfs and red blouses, the women looked less like waitresses and more like stewardesses on the Heinz Ketchup corporate plane. Gordon bashed the female uniforms, saying that they all looked like old ladies. He then added, “Okay grannies. Go around the corner and scratch your fannies.” Seriously, he said that. I don’t know why. I think he may have been simply waiting to finally say “Fanny” all season.
Now that’s a sexy outfit! Nothing says classy like flight attendant-chic!
Similarly, Gordon mocked Michael’s waiters, saying they looked like ballerinas in their all-black, pseudo leotard outfits. “Okay, ballerinas. Go off and get your tutus,” Gordon laughed. Wow. He’s on fire tonight. Somebody call Carlos Mencia! There’s a new funny guy in town!
Over at Frank and Lulu’s, Ralph received a break as a newly stitched up Andrew returned to the kitchen. Yes, the FrankenChef was back, and so Ralph’s kitchen was back up to full-blundering potential. Wendy then turned to Andrew and said, “Wait, I thought you were in the hospital. I mean, you were in the hospital right? Wait. Does this mean we’re not making pineapple dishes anymore? We were never making pineapple dishes? I’m confused.”
My one moment of glory: Andrew races by me as I wait outside.
Actually, Wendy didn’t say any of that (at least not that we saw), but not long after Andrew returned, Gordon called the two finalists over to the hot plate and said, “Just wanted to say well done.” Awww. TenderGordon! Don’t know why he left out the “bloody,” but he more than made up for it with a sweet, little clap that I’m not sure he even realized he was doing. Ah Gordy. We knew you had a heart after all.
Click on Gordon to watch his little clap.
Well, the diners eventually poured into the restaurant and almost immediately, Wendy was a spaz. Ralph had to tend to her, lest she concoct some unknown dish only served in WendyLand. The finalist rushed to her station, did some fast cooking and talking, and then left, causing a deflated Wendster to sigh, “Now I’m confused.” Man, she’s great. Luckily, as the narrator pointed out, Ralph had a convenient antipasto cart that made its way ’round the Frank & Lulu dining room, and the show was not lying when they said it kept the customers happy. Honestly, the antipasto and bread basket were the high point of our dinner (that and the champagne).
I guess I can take a break from the recap to describe some of my culinary adventures at the hallowed establishment that was Frank and Lulu’s. S. Lo and I ordered pumpkin ravioli and shrimp scampi appetizers respectively. Her ravioli was so cloyingly sweet and mushy, it literally tasted like there was frosting in the pasta. As for my dish, the shrimp was cooked well, but it was served with a marinara sauce that tasted no different than some fresh-from-the-jar Ragu. Never mind that marinara sauce is not the optimal choice to go with scampi. This was Ralph, after all.
So after the appetizers, we were somewhat disappointed but hoped the entrées could turn things around. Well, it just so happened that in honor of this wonderful experience, the two of us decided to load up on the champagne, and while drunkenness usually makes everything taste better, it only served to bring out the inner critic. Our entrées arrived, and I don’t remember specifically what fish S. Lo had ordered, but I think it was halibut or bass. Needless to say, she took two bites and was done. I, however, was starving and ate all my osso bucco, which was decidedly OK. Nothing great. But there was one major problem with it. You see, when it comes to osso bucco, the signature element of the dish is being able to scrape out the cartilage from the bone, but because Ralph didn’t provide for a tiny fork in his restaurant design, I couldn’t get to that hallowed portion of my meal. Jean-Pierre — oops, I mean Jean-Philippe, tried desperately to help me, but alas, I was left with the earnest apologies we’ve seen him employ so effortlessly before. I think in the end, I somehow got a little bit of the cartilage out, but by then I was drunk enough to declare the meal officially “bad.” And yes, when the producers came around and asked our thoughts, we were very open about our feelings. Unfortunately, we also laughed our way through our disdain; so I think that may have been another reason why we were unseen.
Finally, at dessert time, I ordered a warm, gooey chocolate cake which was pretty good, if not a little burned. But poor S. Lo made the mistake of falling for one of Ralph’s attempts at creativity. She ordered a “chilled” tiramisu served in a wine glass. The only problem: the dessert was full-on frozen, which meant that S. Lo had to chip away at the layers, but not chip TOO hard, lest she break the glass. And let’s not forget that tiramisu is supposed to be a layered dish. Hence, one’s supposed to enjoy all the layers in one spoonful. Unfortunately, S. Lo could only penetrate as far as the first frozen layer before she simply gave up. Yes, it was amateur hour at Frank & Lulu’s, and being proud foodies, we definitely noticed. It also didn’t help that we were drunk, and by the time the comment cards came around, we were having too much fun ripping apart the meal. “A complete and utter disaster” is what I wrote on mine. Granted, it wasn’t really a disaster, but it was definitely a poor dining experience, especially for a place that’s purporting to be in the four-star range.
As for that most important question: would we return as diners? You guessed it: NO.
Over on Michael’s side of the restaurant, one diner received a dish that was probably worse than anything we got, but that’s because she found (and actually chewed) a big piece of plastic in her food. JP immediately rushed in to do some damage control and asked, “But everything was good and tasty?” Yeah, except for the condom on her plate!
Back in Michael’s kitchen, Jessica unsurprisingly began to get flustered and testy. Somehow, this turned into a bickering match with Elsie as we heard a veritable ping pong match of “Shut up, Elsie” and “Don’t tell me to shut up.” As amusing as this was, it was even more entertaining for me to hear Ralph boast in his kitchen, “No garbage here. This is Frank and Lulu’s!” Yes, no garbage. Only crap. But Ralph did have a major problem on his hands. Dewberry pulled him aside and announced, “I think I’m fixin’ to pass out. Don’t let me.” Oh man. He’s got the vapors! You know when that guy goes down, it’s gonna be with a thud. And so Dewberry went to the back and sat on some poor crate while the rest of the kitchen toiled.
With food sloooowly coming out of Ralph’s kitchen, Jean-Philippe reprimanded him, saying the diners were getting hungry. “Yes, chef,” replied Ralph. Wow. Gordon’s got Ralph so programmed that he’s even saying “Yes, chef” to the maitre d’. I can just imagine Ralph at the DMV. Lady: “You’re gonna need to get your license renewed.” Ralph: “Yes chef.” Lady: “I ain’t no chef! You best not be talkin’ to me that way no more!” Ralph: “Yes, chef.” Lady: “You continue to sass like that and I will have you turned down.” Ralph: “Yes, chef.”
And so on and so forth.
Well, after nearly falling off his crate, Dewberry finally returned to the kitchen. His co-workers cheered him on, with Ralph calling him a rock. “I’d rather you be saying that I was Brad Pitt’s wife,” replied Dewberry. Ooooh! Three snaps and a twirl! While Gordon cracked up in the corner, Ralph simply muttered, “He’s got issues.” Uh, well, Dewberry is gay. I’m pretty sure he can say those things without it being too surprising.
Anyway, dinner service finally ended, and Gordon announced that he was going to head into his office and read all the comment cards. The two finalists returned to the dorms to relax, and then finally, Scott and Mary Ann arrived to bring the two back to G-Ram. Ah, but it wasn’t as simple as that. The two chefs had to be blindfolded. Apparently this was some sort of fraternity initiation as well. Mary Ann then had the guys drop their trousers and sit on a block of ice for twenty minutes. Actually, she didn’t do that, but the two sous chefs did lead their blindfolded boys all the way…down the hall. Yes, wouldn’t want the guys to see the restaurant…that they’ve been working in for the past month.
Shhh! Don’t tell them that they’ve only walked upstairs!
Well, the guys eventually took off their blindfolds and found themselves standing in front of a beaming Gordon Ramsey. The head chef said that both kitchens operated equally as well, and so the choice would depend solely on the comment cards. Specifically, one question was the deal breaker, Gordon noted. That question: would you ever return to this restaurant. G-Ram noted that one chef received a rating of 90% that said they would return. The other chef had 94%. Gordon then told the guys to stand by a door. On the count of three, they could turn the handles, but only one door would open. Oooh, very Price is Right! Me likey.
As the two chefs stood by their doors, we finally reached the moment we had been waiting for. Gordon counted off in dramatic fashion: “One… two… …. …. THREE!” COMMERCIAL! Damn you Hell’s Kitchen! Luckily, the TiVo was in full effect (although, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the little HK commercial bumpers — my fave is the water on the frying pan that turns into a trident. Also like the candle smoke one too.), and I was soon able to return to this seminal moment. Okay, one two three and Michael’s door opened! YES! He may have been a snake, but his creativity, starting from that very first challenge, always seemed to be at a higher level. Well, as Michael walked through his door, he found himself atop the balcony of the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. His family and a large crowd of random people (seriously, who were they?) cheered him on as confetti fell from the ceiling. Ralph, meanwhile, looked defeated and sad as he stood by his non-working door. I thought he might go all Kool-Aid on it and burst through anyway. Luckily, Gordon was there to give him a big hug. Awww, Gordy. You know, I thought G-Ram may have been full of all hot air in the beginning of this season, but I’ve grown to really enjoy his presence. Man, and to think I was sitting just feet from him in Hell’s Kitchen!
In an interview, Michael told us, “I think that I’ve really earned the right to be the head chef that I know that I am.” He then raised his knuckles to the camera, revealing “HEAD CHEF” tattooed on his fingers. That has got to be one of the lamest finger tattoos I have ever seen. And, it turns out, he wasn’t even going to be head chef. At the last second, Gordon swooped in and offered him a position in England at one of his restaurants where he could continue his training firsthand. Cynically, I felt like this was Fox’s way of sneaking out of having to actually provide a restaurant, but in all honesty, for a chef, this is a great honor or at least opportunity. Unsurprisingly, Michael said yes, and as the show came to an end, we were left with the oddly appropriate image of Ralph’s Buffy getting squirted in the face with champagne.
Sous chef Scott gives Buffy the inevitable money shot.
Meanwhile, here in the TVgasm offices, I smiled with glee in knowing that my table’s two “Would not return to this restaurant” votes probably were the difference between Ralphs’ 90% and Michael’s 94%. That’s right. TVgasm was the deciding factor. Gotta beware, people. You never know what sort of influence we have!
What did you think? Were you happy with the results?