Tag Archives: gordon ramsay

Never go full Ramsay

Tonight I was watching an old rerun of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. In the main, the show is appalling. Its premise: legendary Scottish chef Ramsay drops in on a sinking-ship restaurant, his mission to save both restaurant and family fortunes from collapse. I’ve long wondered why I keep watching this predictable dross.

The show consists of the same thing every time, with petty variations. Gordon meets and greets the admiring, thankful restauranteurs, then orders some menu items. Without exception, he hates the chow. This is crahp! It looks loike it came out of a die-pah! This was freozen! It’s ehovacooked! It’s raw! I want to vomit immejatly! What a mess! Gordon is a candid guy. The producers have to bleep him a lot.

The proprietors hurry to defend their dishes. The food is good. I won’t back down on that from anyone. All our customers love this. If you don’t like it, I’m sorry, but this is a customer favorite. We have the best food in town. You’re just a jerk. Gordon comments that he has his work cut out for him, and begins to get to the bottom of things.

Whether it’s incompetent management, lazy kitchen staff, T.rex portions, walk-ins that look like Syrian prison isolators, old grumps who have lost their passion, decor worthy of Rhonda’s deteriorating Doo Drop Inn on US 195, whatever, Gordon ferrets out the fail. He cleans up the Augean kitchen and its biology projects, redecorates the entire joint (time for a team cry), comes up with a menu even these cretins can execute, and re-opens the NEW Rhonda’s Ristorante Italiano (or whatever).

On opening night, of course, it all starts well, then The Problem reverts to his or her old habits. It’s all coming apart. Men curse and quit, women yell and cry; everyone says ‘screw it’ and goes out back for a smoke. Gordon saves the day, gets them back on track, and we’re about out of time. He hopes they stay the course, and that they don’t go back to just buying and microwaving all that freozen crahp.

Some nights, by this time, I’m still awake in my recliner. But tonight I figured out why I bother.

It’s like my job.

No, I am not the Gordon Ramsay of book midwifery, though if I see the butt emerging first, I think I do a creditable job of making sure the literary fetus lives to experience infancy. Just yesterday, a young writer asked me face to face whether I was a good editor. I told the truth. “I’ve got a lot of experience, but I know better editors. I wouldn’t edit my own book; no way. But I could probably help you make yours better.” That admitted, I look at a lot of writing, and I think I’m a fair judge of talent and its application level. Most of it has serious flaws. Most of its authors do not want to hear that. Some sniff, toss their hair, and move on to someone who will give them a gentler edit and a more affirming answer. Others take my words to heart, roll up their sleeves, and decide to repair the deficiencies. Okay, how do I turn it so the head comes out first? I didn’t realize that was the butt.

As I’ve said in the past, there is a bizarre, direct mathematical relationship between talent and receptiveness to input. The writers who need the most help, reject it all. I fight for my words! I think my way is much better; toodle-oo! Those with the most promise drink critique in and let it run down their chins, eyes slavering and wild. They are positively greedy for growth. And I’d better have a good explanation for what I’m advising, because if they smell pasture, they know I’m no use to them.

Their greed for growth is the most invigorating thing that can happen to my workday. This is the best greed they could have. It is what will make me go back over the entire ms again, just to make sure I didn’t miss either a bad verb tense or an opportunity to guide. All they are told is that it’s taking me longer; more precisely, I am applying what I gathered 2/3 through the ms to the earlier parts, where I know the same conditions exist but I didn’t then apprehend them. Why is your edit so consistent? Because I did most of it twice, dear client.

That’s why I know how Gordon feels. If he gets someone keen to improve and learn, he’ll go to the wall with him or her, challenge, educate, reinforce. However, his reality as pictured on the show is a crusade to penetrate self-delusion. And that’s the tough part for me. A lot of people can’t write, don’t want to hear that, and I have to figure out how to say so with some modicum of compassion. I already know it won’t lead to compensated work, because no matter how compassionately I say “This is fundamentally flawed and will be challenging to repair,” that’s not the droids they want. At that point, my goal is simpler: convey truth without sinking a barb. That way, at least, I will not gain a reputation as Crusher of Dreams.

Some editors don’t bother. They have watched too much Simon Cowell, or they are old enough not to care what anyone thinks. Dilemma: if you’re an editor, you assert that you are a judge of literary talent, which presumes owning some of that in your own right. If you can’t let someone down easily in words, where was that literary talent? Was it just too much trouble to dust off? Was there much to begin with?

I will admit, though, that at times I wish I could just go Full Ramsay.

One mustn’t.

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.