Trial by Fire
Trial by Fire
By Jack Webster
Hell’s Kitchen – Fox, Thursday, 8:00 pm
Whenever I get together with my friends over a pizza or two, we catch up and discuss everything under the sun. Sooner or later, television shows are discussed, and when I tell them I enjoy watching Hell’s Kitchen, they look at me as if I were sprouting rabbit ears. “What are you watching that piece of s*** for?” they ask. Well, I answer, why do people go to the zoo? Or stop and watch an auto accident? The answer is that the show is my guilty pleasure.
The premise of the show is simple: 20 contestants (victims?) compete for a chance at first prize, which is head chef at whatever new eatery the host, Gordon Ramsay, is opening this week. That is, if you can survive Ramsay. Ramsay is a world-famous chef and restaurateur, but he’s also a major piece of work, in desperate need of anger management therapy. Slip up and he’ll go nutzoid on you, throwing the food back at you, reaming you out in front of everyone else, and generally driving you insane. But sometimes I think he has every right to be wigged out: I wouldn’t trust these “chefs” to boil water, much less prepare a gourmet meal for customers. After watching the first three episodes of a season I always ask myself: where they find these people?
And then I realize that some of these “contestants” are chosen not for their ability, but because they’re plain nuts. For the past four years I’ve been watching the show with my uncle (he got me hooked, so blame him), we write down the first contestant to go, fold the paper and give it to each other. To date we have always agreed. It’s no great feat of deduction. There always seems to be someone so unqualified that they just beg for elimination. I think it’s all part of the game. Each season we see the same types: the cute blonde, the fat, sassy woman who’s street-wise and talks incessantly about her anatomy, as in her hoo-has, the self-important blowhard who couldn’t make a Caesars Salad if his life depended on it, the smooth guy with a foreign accent, the fat sloppy guy whose health inevitably breaks down during the season. And some of the men are so grungy you’d be very hesitant to let them cook your dinner. Some of them look as if in need of a good bath and shave. Yet, they’ve all come to be harangued, belittled and broken by Ramsay.
As I wrote, it’s not that I can blame him sometimes. By the fifth episode, a chef should at least know how to make a risotto or sea scallops, but not these bozos. This season, one of the contestants had trouble with cooking lamb. Not that she made it medium-well instead of medium-rare, but it was raw. And she did this not just once, but a couple of times. As is usually the case with this show, when Gordon assigns a chef to do something, like cook meat or fish, we cut to the chef, who tells us he or she is an expert at this. So what happens? Right, the fish, meat, appetizer, etc. has something wrong and Gordon takes the pan over to the table, slams it down and goes ape on everyone on the team. The cutaways must be inserted post-production, as I figure the chefs are paid for their time in competition. (Come on, what idiot would put up with all this abuse for nothing?)
And for what victims are the chefs cooking? If you’ve never witnessed this hour of carnage, the answer is that Hell’s Kitchen is a restaurant in Los Angeles. And it actually has customers, including a few D-list celebrities who are highlighted during the show. Given all the times Gordon cancels service because of the chefs’ slip-ups, the “customers” must be eating free; otherwise, why subject oneself to a possible case of food poisoning? But in the restaurant there is no closed-off kitchen, and when Ramsay is on a rampage, everyone in the restaurant hears it, including all the profanity. Gordon drops F-bombs in just about every sentence he utters. My uncle says it’s gotta be like listening to Hitler during his last days in the bunker. All I know is that, if I’m sitting there waiting for my dinner and ordered the chicken – if Ramsay starts yelling that the chicken he just received to be served is raw, I don’t care if it’s my order or not, I’m out of there.
Being a veteran viewer of the show, I can usually tell by Episode 5 who’s going to win. There’s a trick to winning the show: keep your mouth shut, listen, and do not screw up. This year two chefs have stood out: Ja’Nel and Jon. I predict they’ll be in the finals and Ja’Nel will win. I think I’ve been watching this show too long.