40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Mean Chef vs. The Nice Chef

One of my favorite new reality shows is Hell's Kitchen. It stars master chef Gordon Ramsay, and the prize for the winning contestant is their own restaurant. Ramsay is from England, where he is a huge celebrity and owner of several successful restaurants. Hell's Kitchen is the United States version of the BBC series that aired last year.

The show adheres to standard reality show format: a large group of contestants compete each week, and someone is voted off the show. The winner receives their own restaurant, in addition to attaining master chef status through Ramsay's "training."

The hook for this show is Ramsay, who berates, curses and abuses the contestants. Supposedly his methods will result in someone learning to be a master chef in a short period of time. The formula is a bit like military boot camp. In one episode, the contestants were awakened in the wee hours by Ramsay's sous chefs as they yelled and banged garbage can lids. And as the contestants compete in cooking tasks, Ramsay is there, yelling at them, cursing, and frequently taking the entree a contestant has prepared and dumping it on them. Ramsay seems crazy. On the show, the main competition usually involves opening the Hell's Kitchen restaurant to the public, where they wait...and wait...and wait for Ramsay to approve of each dish the contestants prepare. If he doesn't like it, he makes them start over from scratch, so the diners end up waiting two hours for their meals.

I like it.

Hell's Kitchen polar opposite is Cooking Under Fire on PBS. The premise is similar, with contestants competing in cooking challenges, and at the end of the show, voting someone off.

The show stars chefs Ming Tsai and Todd English. Joining them is author and chef Michael Ruhlman. The prize for the winning contestant isn't their own restaurant, but rather a job at one of Todd English's restaurants. So the stakes are a bit lower for the contestants.

What's missing from this show is conflict. Some might argue that's a good thing. But I enjoy conflict. Here, the contestants are given tasks with a reasonable time to complete them (unlike Hell's Kitchen, where Ramsay might announce a competition and give the contestants 10 minutes to complete the task, all the while yelling at them as they do so) and at the end, when the chefs judge the contestants on the meals they've prepared, they're actually nice. Nice! The losing contestant gets "86'd," which is a bit cheesy, and they are actually given a frying pan with "86'd" written on it. Okay.

I suppose PBS is aiming at a different audience than Fox, but I'm not sure that creating a kinder, gentler reality show is a winning formula. If you get a chance, check out both shows and see what you think. If you've seen the shows, I'd be interested in reading your comments about them.


Blogger andrena said...

Call me insensitive or sick..but I LOVE that show! I would love to see the Chef face off with Judge Judy! lol!

4:42 PM  
Blogger Scott C. Smith said...

It's a guilty pleasure of mine. My wife loves the PBS show because she hates the entire reality show genre. The PBS show is okay, but I'd rather see an angry British chef yelling obscenities at someone. And to think it'll be two hours of Hell's Kitchen tonight!

12:37 PM  
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12:50 AM  
Anonymous Free Stuff 4 U said...

My husband and I are not big on the reality TV shows either, but after seeing the teasers for Hell's Kitchen we gave it a look.

We were hooked from the first episode and anxiously anticipate Monday nights.

As I write this only Jessica, Ralph and Michael are left. If I were Ralph and Jessica I'd watch my back because Michael might put a knife in it. lol

My question is, what are they going to do when this season's over?

Will they start over next year with another group of "wannabe chefs"?

I sure hope so.

3:45 AM  

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