Gordon Ramsey has become a well-known celebrity chef here in America. Imported from the United Kingdom (he is Scottish by descent), Chef Ramsey made his first appearance on American television in May 2005, when his show “Hell’s Kitchen” premiered on the Fox network. The show is a rather interesting cooking reality show. Somewhat similar to the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” “Hell’s Kitchen” pits chefs against one another in a no-holds-bar competition for the final prize of being head chef at a multi-million dollar restaurant in Las Vegas. “Hell’s Kitchen” has proven extremely popular in America; however, it may not be for the boot-camp style of competition that takes place, but more for Ramsey’s pugnacious disposition. His short temper and interesting combinations of profane words have helped to make “Chef Ramsey” a household name.
Since Ramsey’s popularity seems to be well established, Fox thought it necessary to import another of his British television shows to America. “Kitchen Nightmares” is very different from “Hell’s Kitchen” in that Ramsey does not employ the boot-camp approach that is synonymous with the latter show. Part of Ramsey’s appeal is that he is very much a drill sergeant for aspiring chefs; in “Kitchen Nightmares,” he takes a much more subtle approach. While still demeaning at points and using an extreme amount of foul language, Ramsey is somewhat more endearing in “Kitchen Nightmares,” most likely because he becomes much more invested in these endeavors. In the end, this show is less entertaining than “Hell’s Kitchen,” but still a high-quality cooking reality show.
The premise behind “Kitchen Nightmares” is pretty straightforward. Throughout the season, Ramsey will travel to various cities and towns throughout the country in an attempt to take once prominent restaurants in their respective areas and attempt to revitalize them. In doing this, Ramsey will perform various tasks such as reformatting the menu, changing the style of the restaurant, refurbishing the kitchen and even ordering management to fire members of the staff whom he deems detrimental to the restaurants survival. It is very intriguing to see how these once dive restaurants become high-class establishments. Ramsey shows that any restaurant can be brought back from the brink of death with some care.
In the first episode, Ramsey tries to revitalize Peter’s Italian Restaurant in Babylon, N.Y. What he finds when he first arrives is sub-par cooking, rotten food in the walk-in refrigerator, a leaking ceiling and a kitchen with only one working oven. Ramsey must also deal with the continuous arguing of the family.
However, Ramsey decides that even he can save this dying family restaurant. He brings in specialists, who work through the night, to refurbish the kitchen and bring it up-to-date. Later, Ramsey revitalizes the menu to make it stand out among the many Italian restaurants in Babylon (he makes the restaurant family style). In the end, the business becomes a newfound success and the family becomes much closer than before.
Known for his drive for culinary perfection, Ramsey is surprisingly reserved during “Kitchen Nightmares.” The side to Chef Ramsey that the audience is used to seeing is very demeaning, shouting orders and swearing excessively at the aspiring chefs. On “Hell’s Kitchen,” he will even go so far as to smash undesirable food on the jackets of his cadets.
The side of the belligerent chef that the audience gets to see in “Kitchen Nightmares” is much more human. Instead of shouting orders, he offers advice and guidance. He performs acts of kindness and he is not as scathing towards the people who own and operate the restaurant.
While this new side to Ramsey is certainly more human and a welcome change, it falls flat. What is so entertaining about “Hell’s Kitchen” is Ramsey yelling at his troops, rallying them and getting the best out of them. The audience becomes engaged by watching Chef Ramsey be a jerk. However, perhaps that is what the producers and Chef Ramsey wished to convey for the pilot episode, that he can be an endearing soul. Hopefully, this side of Ramsey will not stick around too long.
The show also focuses solely on Ramsey. While he is an entertaining force, he is only entertaining when his temper is flaring. While a good deal of time was spent on the owners of the restaurant that he was seeking to revitalize, a vast majority of the show focuses on Ramsey. Part of the allure of “Hell’s Kitchen” is the different personalities of the aspiring chefs and how they clash throughout the season.
This is noticeably absent from “Kitchen Nightmares.” However, the formatting of the show does not allow for this kind of atmosphere. This is a result of the fact that “Kitchen Nightmares” is more of a traditional reality show, whereas “Hell’s Kitchen” is a reality game show.
What this also leads to is a slow pace, which could stand to be a little quicker in order to maintain the audiences’ attention.
In the end, “Kitchen Nightmares” is a fairly entertaining show. While not as exciting as “Hell’s Kitchen” it is engaging nonetheless. This new side of Ramsey is welcome, but flat. Hopefully the side we are used to will rear its ugly head. For now though, “Kitchen Nightmares” is good filler for any “Hell’s Kitchen” fan who cannot get enough of Gordon Ramsey.
Chris Bashore is a fourth-year student at West Chester University majoring in Political Science. He can be reached at CB588901@wcupa.edu.