In the past three weeks, I’ve watched Hell’s Kitchen completely misunderstand the concept of tapas, remind America what tartar is (a dish, by the way, that’s been popular for about 20 years) and seen Gordon Ramsay turn the walk-in into his private office for yelling. Am I missing something or is this really the worst season yet? How have these contestants become less and less talented with each passing year, and why am I still bothering to watch this show? I’m not even enjoying it anymore. And it certainly doesn’t inspire me culinarily as say, Iron Chef America or Top Chef does. I would much rather spend my Gordon Ramsay time watching Kitchen Nightmares (both the US and UK versions), where he tries to help people make their businesses succeed through a little (or a lot) or tough love and harsh truth. I think that if Hell’s Kitchen gets a 6th season, I’m going to have to break up with it. I just can’t do it any longer. And I don’t think Ramsay can, either. Ramsay is a great chef and whenever I visit the menu pages of one of his restaurants, I am awed by the site design, the restaurant design and the menu design. He knows what he’s doing, so why is he dumbing himself down to entertain the plebs? The first two seasons of this show were great, and you could tell Ramsay was pleased to find new talent. But it’s clear he’s not finding that anymore, and I hate watching him pretend that he cares. It’s all just really sad, actually.
So, about those tapas . . .
Ramsay’s HK tapas are the biggest tapas plates I have ever seen, and I was not surprised to see that his re-envisioned tapas menu at HK was actually no different than the normal menu, just served on smaller plates. I know Ramsay knows what tapas portions should look like, so why pretend that HK was serving proper tapas when it wasn’t? I just can’t imagine Beef Wellington in such large portions as a tapas dish. Mini Wellies, sure, as those are a stalwart passed hors d’oeuvre at many a wedding, but the portions he was serving? I also don’t understand the point of serving the same old shit Ramsay usually serves when he’s allegedly creating a tapas-style menu. Tapas are designed to be shared easily. You know what’s not easy to share? Lobster spaghetti and risotto. Seeing those things attempting to be tapas reminds me of a dining experience at an SF tapas joint where my friend Sarah ordered a lambburger, which the restaurateurs insisted was shareable. Uh, yeah, guys . . . if it were lambburger sliders, perhaps!
But none of that matters anyway, and it doesn’t matter what dishes Ramsay made the contestants create out of leftovers from the walk-in under the guise of testing their creativity and so on because the only important thing to know about this episode is that Lacey is insane. Because the Blue Team lost the tapas challenge (as Gio was switched the Red to even out the teams), they had to prep both kitchen for that evening’s dinner service while the Red Team enjoyed a day at the races. Lacey has never, ever worked so hard in her life and spent the whole day complaining about having to do work, eventually mouthing off and threatening to quit until Ben found her and calmed her down . . . again. But during service, Lacey wasn’t the problem, it was J, who screwed up in so many ways that I didn’t even bother to write them down. He received the first of Ramsay’s Walk-In Talks and was thrown out of the competition in the middle of service when he screwed up after Ramsay had that private chat with him.
And because J left, Ramsay gave everyone a pass to cook again in the next episode, which is a good decision, as he was strangely ready to eliminate Ben over Lacey.
The Omniscient Narrator then went on to explain what a tartar preparation was, as though someone who might watch a cooking-related show had never heard the term before. Perhaps he should have said it for the benefit of the contestants, though, who are all too dumb to discern the difference between steak and tuna (what?) and scallop and sea bass (wicka-wha-wha?). Really? Really, contestants? Really? So, you guys are telling me that, based on sight, you cannot tell the difference between a thick, textured steak and a smooth, cool tuna, one of which is distinctly opaque red and one of which is distinctly translucent red-pink? And you’re really telling me that BASED ON TASTE you cannot tell the difference between those two critters, which, in fact, TASTE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT? And you’re telling me that when you put a thick, chewy scallop in your mouth, it tastes EXACTLY THE SAME TO YOU as a flaky, tender sea bass? DO I NEED TO TELL YOU HOW FUCKING RETARDED YOU ARE WHEN A VEGETARIAN IS LECTURING YOU ON HOW MEATS TASTE????? DO I????? Really, ya’ll? Really?
Well, apparently I don’t need to tell them how stupid they are, because Ramsay went ahead and proved it by putting the contestants through a blind taste test, in which they were paired off against one another and fed little cubes of foodstuffs and asked to identify them. Now, even someone with a pretty good palate would find this hard, as many a food writer will tell you to eat first with your eyes. Or, as Robert so eloquently put it:
“I’m not Helen Keller, bro. I’m not deaf and blind. I cook with all my senses.” – Robert
This pearl of wisdom from a man who can’t tell the difference between a scallop and sea bass. The winners of this challenge (The Red Team) won a photoshoot for that most illustrious of magazines, TV Guide, while the losers had to not only serve lunch to those working on the shoot, but had to prep both kitchens as well. The weakness of everyone’s palates was pretty equal, though, so the Red Team barely scraped by in correctly naming one more ingredient to Ramsay’s minestrone soup than the Blue Team did. That scale tipping ingredient, by the way, was celery. I was shocked to hear that no one mentioned the most obvious component in minestrone: tomatoes. Another thing no one mentioned that’s always in minestrone? Pasta. What. The. Fuck.
At service that night, Eric McCormack and Robert Patrick dined at HK, and I don’t think the producers could have found a stranger pairing. That’s right: The T-1000/Agent John Doggett, dining with Will Truman. Someone needs to start writing that super-gay slash fiction right now. (Sigh. I bet it already exists . . .)
Lacey later receives the same fate that J suffered the night before, getting called into Ramsay’s Walk-In Office and told that if she made one more mistake, she’d be gone. And lo, it came to pass as it was ordained. Finally, Lacey got the fuck off my television. And without her, the Blue kitchen managed to finish service (as the Red kitchen did the previous night). The red team proceeded to nominate LA and Carol, then everyone mutinied on Andrea, and Ramsay still sent LA packing. I guess because she was boring? Who knows.
With only 7 contestants left to berate, Ramsay then challenge them to “elevate” a protein, by which I mean he gave them crabs. He asked them all to make one crab dish from an Alaskan King Crab* and each team would then vote on which of their dishes would be presented to King Ramsay. The Red Team, for some reason, chose Andrea’s totally 80s presentation of some macadamia-nut crushed king crab legs, in their shells, which Ramsay promptly fought off the meaty bits and handed to Andrea, suggesting she make earrings from them. The Blue Team chose Ben’s crab in sirracchia sauce and vanilla butter, which Ramsay also disliked because he found Ben’s over-explanation of the dish incongruous with the simple plate presented before him. Ramsay then asked the teams to present their second choices, as their weak palates had led them astray on their first choices. Paula presented a Thai-inspired crab dish in a basil-coconut broth, which Ramsay liked, and Danny the Gator Slayer presented a Spanish-style madiera burre blanc poached crab leg, which Ramsay liked slightly better, meaning that the Blue Team got to spend a day riding Segways in Santa Monica while the Red Team had to prep both kitchens and clean the apartment. (By the way, Robert is too obese to ride a Segway. Just FYI.)
For service, Ramsay let the teams create their own menus featuring 3 apps, 3 entrees, 3 desserts and a crab special. Strangely, it seems all of the contestants had similar ideas, as each menu ended up featuring a carpaccio app, a steak entree and some fancy schmancy French potatoes that the producers (and Robert) wasted no time in making fun of. Look, Robert and Danny the Gator Slayer, if you guys are perfectly happy working the line with no formal training, that’s fine. But don’t make fun of someone who spent the money to go to cooking school so that he could learn about classical French techniques such as pommes fondant. You are, however, allowed to make fun of him for making pommes fondant incorrectly. That’s perfectly fine. Ben, however, was able to recover from cooking his fancy French taters incorrectly, but Carol wasn’t. Her dish, which was basically scalloped potatoes, should have been cooked before service and then reheated so that it was easily accessible as a garnish. But instead, she tried to cook each tray to order, which didn’t work because the potatoes didn’t cook, and thus she lost them entirely and had to come up with a new potato side. Quick thinking Gio offered to pan-sauté some spuds.
Frustrated, Ramsay shuts down service and reveals that the Red Team won by being rated at 54% “above average” by that evening’s customers, whereas the Blue Team was only 39% “above average.” Man, if “above average” is all you’re shooting for, I will never, ever eat at the Borgata where these poor souls end up working if they win. I can cook food that’s “above average;” I dine out to eat food that’s “excellent.” As Dan was the only member of the Blue team that didn’t suck, he was asked to nominate one person. He chooses Ben, whom Ramsay had actually accused of sabotage during on of his Walk-In Talks, but Ramsay decides Carol fucked up worse and sends her home, which is great, because I was getting sick of her stupid scrunchies.
What that former hair-stylist does to her hair is way worse than those uncooked potatoes ever could have been.
*I am assuming it was a King Crab of the Alaskan variety, but HK made no claims about the Crab’s affiliations with the Palin camp.