Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay: a culinary Kobayashi Maru

You all saw at least that much of the Star Trek movie in question, right? The Kobayashi Maru was a Starfleet simulator exercise meant to be unsolvable. The trainee could not win. The point was to see how s/he lost. I think that’s what Gordon Ramsay’s about on Hell’s Kitchen, his reality show whereby supposedly the winner gets to be head chef at one of his restaurants. (In reality, not so much. In reality, there’s a good chance that the winner will be more or less kept to the side at the restaurant and advised not to get in the way of the professionals.)

The main purpose, of course, is manufacturing entertainment; let us not self-deceive. Contestants are chosen not for ability to cook, but for likely personality conflict and entertainment value. Several are certain flameouts, and the game will be rigged to keep them around causing drama, conflict and meltdown. Hollywood is in the business of lying to you, and that’s actually praise for its skill; no, Tom Hanks wasn’t actually stuck on an island with a ball, but Hollywood used masterful skill to make it seem like he was. Let us just be realistic, and say without rancor that Hollywood is so much in the business of lying that the idea of truth mattering isn’t part of the game. Expecting it to value truth is rather like expecting major bank CEOs to place value on the public good, or putting an alligator with your chickens and expecting it not to eat them. What the hell did you expect?

Other deceptions include frankenbites (they can, do and will actually make it so you ‘said’ whatever they want), the fact that the whole thing is just a sound stage and that all the ‘diners’ are human props from the industry, and that Ramsay’s not a good tycoon restauranteur. His real-world restaurants keep eating flaming death, so to speak, financially, which suggests that he’s a great cook who could probably win the game running one or three restaurants. One cannot imagine that strong, confident people sit close to his throne and take the kind of abuse he slings on the show, so either we’re being put on and he’s great at pretending to be a complete jerk, or he perhaps has the flaw of hiring only people who will put up with inordinate crap (skill being a secondary hiring concern). That’s what insufferable employers end up with: the few whose main qualification is abuse tolerance. I’ve seen whole companies where that was the key trait for survival.

If it weren’t mostly fiction dressed up to look like reality, reality shows would not need draconian confidentiality agreements in which participants agree to be parted out for transplant organs, caned daily by professional Singaporean caners, forced to watch Honey Boo Boo Clockwork Orange-style, and pay $5 billion in restitution if they reveal the truth.

So Ramsay puts roughly eight males and eight females, all opinionated, boastful, overconfident, foulmouthed, mostly fat, mostly eccentric chain-smokers (in other words, restaurant cooks) onto two teams divided by gender (thus destroying the natural balance of complementary gender traits). He then gets them up at boot camp hours to perform challenges that may sometimes mean zero to the culinary art, but will be funny to watch, such as tackling pigs. The losing side gets some charming penalty, something like ‘scrub spotless the inside of the trash dumpster behind the homeless shelter,’ and of course has to prep both kitchens. The winning side gets pampered, though in one case they were forced to meet Celine Dion without pointing out that she couldn’t sing, which I wouldn’t call pampering.

Obviously, the show has little to do with finding the best chef. If it did, they would not cast prep cooks and fry cooks and line cooks and culinary students and others who, sweating and shirtless, shovel coal into the boilers of the world of dining. (Now picture all the current contestants as stokers on the Titanic. You’re welcome.) The very worst thing about the show’s editing is Fox’s shameless cliffhangering, which seems done by a 12-year-old to appeal to 10-year-olds. You always expect the trashiest of trashy from Fox, and they do not fail to disappoint here. Lots of “My decision is…” [commercial break] and plenty of “The person leaving Hell’s Kitchen is…” [to be continued]. Fox: always low standards. Always.

We don’t see something like 95% of what goes on, but what is weird: even through the deception, contrived stress, and all the other stuff that’s hardly relevant to deciding who can cook and who can lead, Ramsay does accomplish one thing. He does find out who can face stress and keep cool enough to continue trying to retrieve the situation. I can grant that a chef might need that property above many others. In at least this one way, his culinary Kobayashi Maru seems to serve one authentic purpose.

Other than that, well, entertaining bullshit remains bullshit. And yes, I admit to watching it. There are worse character flaws.


4 thoughts on “Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay: a culinary Kobayashi Maru”

  1. Try watching “Cake Boss”, “Next Great Baker” and a new series with Buddy coming soon. My daughter is a producer on all three.


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