Ramsay: a New Yorker Who Speaks British

My post on Peter "Petey Pasta" Pellegrino has consistently ranked among my top 10 all-time favorite posts. The link to the story is here: Hoodwinked: Long Island Restaurateur on Ramsay's 'Kitchen Nightmares' Was a Mobster. I am running the following post, from an old abandoned blog of mine (that may spring back to life one day), to give those of you not familiar with Gordon Ramsey and his reality-TV cooking shows an idea of what happens to those who appear on Kitchen Nightmares, or his other shows, such as the Best Restaurant show referenced below.

I don't think it's fair if any of you come to conclusions about Peter without knowing what Ramsay and his shows are all about. 

So no mobsters in this one, but context.

One of my favorite Ramsay shows is an episode of U.S. Kitchen Nightmares, called The Secret Garden, wherein Gordon is faced with the living embodiment of a cliche: the arrogant French chef, a breed of homo-sapien that seems particularly capable of arousing the dark side of Gordon Ramsay. He lived and studied in France as a young apprentice chef, and maybe his betters were hard on the giant Scotsman in whom perhaps they had eyeballed the potential of a new Antoine Careme, only with the physique of an athlete. Maybe they were a little tough on old Gordon, creating a subconscious inferiority complex, and now, whenever dealing with a French chef, he feels it's payback time.

Anyway in this episode we are treated to such Ramsay gems as:
  • "You seem quite proud of that food. Don't take this personal: I think your food is crap, tasteless, bizarre, long winded, boring and just badly done." 
  • "You are fascinated by crusted items and stuffing things."
  • "Jane [waitress], I am not asking you to blow smoke up his asshole." 
  • "Every time I say something to you, all you do is smile at me." 
  • "I am trying to get into your mind, so I can start breaking down how stupid you are." 
  • "His head is so far up his own ass, he can't even breathe anymore." 
  • And the inevitable:
  • "GO F---- YOURSELF!"

    Each Kitchen Nightmares follows the same format: Gordon arrives, a golden-haired giant, a Chef-God, swooping down from above to save the fallen, those who have sinned by poorly running a fine-dining establishment and piling mounds of debt on top of themselves. Ramsay seems to take their faults on a personal level: It is as if all the world's bad restaurants are cumulatively harming the very art of fine dining itself. Not on Ramsay's watch.

    "... he typically ends up spitting the food out or over-dramatically running for the men's room to vomit. He tells the chef (who is sometimes also the owner) that his food sucks..."

    After the hellos and handshakes, he might grimace at the decor, make a very specific comment about something, like the sweaty palm of the waiter's hand which he had just shaken. He sits down to sample the food, usually in the form of a three-course meal, which he orders from the menu. If it's canned or frozen he won't order it; and if he is served it, he knows it at once and is not happy. Generally, he ends up moving the food around on the plate with a fork, maybe tasting something after a short prayer to the Lord to protect him from being poisoned. He usually takes little more than a nibble of each dish, if that, and he typically ends up spitting the food out or over-dramatically running for the men's room to vomit. He tells the chef (who is sometimes also the owner -- the Frenchman was a chef/owner) that his food sucks...

    The trajectory of the show then depends on the chef/owner's reaction: Do they accept Gordon's criticism and work with him, or do they spend their effort fighting Ramsay while he forces through his changes  (it must be in the contract the restaurant signs that Gordon can do whatever the hell he wants with the place).

    To capitalize on Ramsay's help, a chef should assume a Zen attitude combined with the military responsiveness of a new recruit standing before his drill sergeant. Anything less and they are asking for it, and Gordon will give it to them.

    Gordon follows basically the same approach: After tasting how awful the food is, he examines the heart of the restaurant, which is also the chef's lair: namely, the kitchen. First, he goes through the refrigerator and cooking equipment to see if everything is neat and tidy. Nothing ever is. He usually finds mold, rotting food and god-knows-what. He likes to get in close, sticking his nose into forgotten plastic containers, dipping his hands into piles of gook under the stove. This is when he really explodes, cursing out everyone near him, sometimes even demanding the instant closing of the restaurant, even if it is full of people. And while doing this, he is constantly analyzing the staff, weighing their strengths and weaknesses, one time ferreting out a staff member with sticky fingers. Sometimes he recommends firings. Many a chef found himself unemployed after Gordon Ramsay'd the kitchen.

    Once the kitchen is steamed and scrubbed to a sparkle, he may buy the place a new appliance if they really require one. Sometimes he replaces all the appliances. (This usually wins over any chefs or owners who are still furious with him, but he's not buying them off, he's bettering the restaurant. He couldn't care less how they felt about him. In one episode he gave a young restaurant owner an engagement ring so he could get engaged to his girlfriend, who worked as a waitress; as her family were the primary investors in the place, this move had the touch of a "shotgun wedding," for your's truly, anyway.)

    Then he turns to the menu and adds a few specialties and watches the restaurant implode after he fills it to the brim by, I think, running local ads proclaiming that his TV show is filming there. Then maybe a day or two later, he redoes the decor and inevitably creates a new menu. Each episode climaxes with the relaunch of the restaurant, during which the chefs and owners are either still furious from having been stung repeatedly by Ramsay, or they have fallen completely in love with him (especially after he fills their kitchen with new appliances and redoes their dining room). Whether it will be saved or not afterward, the restaurant will inevitably make a killing on relaunch night from all the people eating in the place so they can be on TV. Sometimes Gordon gets the Mayor or a food critic or even a Miss California to attend the reopening.

    Some bloggers note that many of the restaurants on the show end up failing anyway; in truth, some of the eateries are probably too far gone to fix. Owning a successful restaurant requires an insane amount of devotion, precision and skill -- never mind money -- from the very beginning. (No less than two chefs committed suicide after their restaurant failed after appearing on Gordon's show.)

    The fate of the restaurant is beside the point, for me and I assume for the many critics who love the show. I watch KN to see Gordon in action, a man with a mission, a man in full, who will overcome every hurdle in his path and do everything he can to selflessly give the restaurateurs the keys to success. He may go for the jugular and always have his fangs out, he may spew hurtful insults, he may even take off his chef whites and stomp out into the night (he always comes back) but most of this is all psychology, all calculated. He is trying to rouse those in denial. Many attack him back; one New York restaurant that closed shortly after Ramsay filmed there posted on its website rumors about Ramsay's supposed extra-marital affairs. This after he (or FOX or whoever) paid to have their entire restaurant dining room redone, even adding a lobster tank for the diners to play with.

    I actually consider Ramsay a native New Yorker with a Brit accent. I don't care if he was born in Scotland or anywhere in the U.K., this guy is 100% New York attitude!
    Gordon Ramsay chews on a nightmare of a sirloin steak in a failing L.A. eatery.


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