Hell's Kitchen – Season Six
For those of you that aren’t in the know, Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay’s cooking ability can only be matched by his ability to spew incredibly foul language, much of which, if you have ever seen the UK version of “Kitchen Nightmares,” revolves around the word “bollocks.” Ramsay can be a hotheaded jerk – or sometimes an incredibly tender – cursing man. Add to that a bottomless supply of confidence and expertise and there is no surprise that this man has four television shows.
Hell’s Kitchen started as a BBC show where Ramsay whittled down ten British celeb/chef hopefuls. Although the show was successful, Ramsay left after the first season because of a contractual conflict. Since then, he has brought the show to hungry American audiences who have lovingly embraced it. Unlike Top Chef (really the only other show like Hell’s Kitchen), which focuses on already established chefs, Hell’s Kitchen tends to choose from a pool of amateurs who have larger-than-life personalities. At first, the show seemed to prefer those who were never in the culinary world whatsoever, but since they were all pretty bad the show now gets some actual chefs.
The mechanics of the show are nothing special. Hell’s Kitchen, a faux-restaurant in LA, serves as restaurant, living quarters, and television set. In the first episode, before any competition, Ramsay critiques the chefs on their signature dishes. He then divides the chefs into two teams, men and women, red and blue. Whereas Top Chef is about the food, the meat and potatoes of Hell’s Kitchen is the dinner service. Each team is responsible for half the tables in the restaurant and competes with the other team to serve the most customers the best food in the least time possible. Ramsay picks the losing team based on service, comment cards, or sometimes just his own whims, and then asks them to nominate two of their members for elimination. Ramsay eliminates whomever he wants and we move on to the next episode. The format changes towards the end of the season, when the two teams are combined into one, and then again when only two contestants are left. Naturally, Fox edits the show in order to milk every single moment of tension for all it’s worth.
What makes it compulsive television viewing is Ramsay himself. First, Ramsay was made for TV; he is quick-witted, vulgar, mean and loud. Every time he’s on camera, you are focused on him, and the catharsis and schadenfreude in watching him call one of the more idiotic contestants a “donkey.” Second, the buck stops at Ramsay. Even though he lets the players make the nominations, there have been several occasions where he has eliminated a player who wasn’t nominated at all, just because he felt like it. He can change all the rules of the show if he wishes, and often does so. Amazingly, he will even send a player home in the middle of a service if they screw-up royally enough. And, of course, he picks the ultimate winner. Third, Ramsay will sometimes be caught actually giving cooking advice to the contestants, and when he does, it can be fascinating to hear how a chef of his caliber views food and fine dining (hint: it involves scallops).
This season has been especially interesting. The contestants are more colorful than they have been in recent years, and there is even a repeat contestant, Robert, who had to leave last season early when he was diagnosed with pericarditis (he’s morbidly obese). Early on in season six, a true moron named Joseph decided to challenge Ramsay to a fistfight after the chef harshly chastised him. For long a fantasy of many Hell’s Kitchen contestants, this was the first time that anything like this happened, perhaps on any reality show. Considering all the episodes are on Hulu we suggest that you watch the end of episode two and the beginning of episode three of season six, if you don’t have time to just watch all of them.
The main players now are a muscle-bound, pockmarked Texan named Van and a know-it-all, yet talented cook named Suzanne who have come to the front of the fray, at least in terms of diary-room airtime. Still, the top prize for this season is up for grabs.
There are still many episodes left, so have a seat, go to Hulu, catch up, and start watching this thrilling reality show. As another reviewer said before me: “long may it continue!”.
Starring: Gordon Ramsay, Scott Leibfried, Jean-Philippe Susilovic, Heather West
Created by: Gordon Ramsay
Airing: Tuesday, 8:00pm EST