Say what you like about Gordon Ramsay—I’m sure you’re right—but I’m a fan. Sort of. I don’t dive for the remote when Kitchen Nightmares comes on, and when friends bemoan his intolerable cruelty, I make a half-hearted point about how he genuinely seems to be trying to help most of the time. When it comes to Gordon Ramsay, that’s more or less what it means to be a fan.
But for some reason, in spite of my noncommittal interest, I’ve kept up with Hell’s Kitchen as though it were a primitive religion. Nine seasons over six years, and I’ve seen every episode.
It’s a guilty pleasure, I guess. I watch it the way people watch Hoarders and Supernanny and other TV sideshows. It’s wickedly fascinating to view a terrible situation from a safe distance, and we all seem to justify it by imagining that we’re being educated on how to stay out of trouble. Never start collecting newspapers. Never let your children sleep in your bed. Never audition for Hell’s Kitchen, even if you’re a five-star chef with $1mil in gambling debt and the mob has just set your car on fire. Never. No. Stay in the car.
At least, that’s what I take away. It’s not that I think I couldn’t make it onto Hell’s Kitchen (although I don’t), or that I wouldn’t get very far (although I wouldn’t). It has nothing to do with the show. That part could be fun, provided you can stand the cigarette smoke. The problem is that if you make it to the end, you go to work for Gordon Ramsay. That’s the prize. After six years of researching him as an employer, I can confidently say that prize sucks.
I’ve ended my share of job interviews with a smile, a handshake, and the assertion that although I hope the company finds what it’s looking for, I’m not it. Once, it was because the interviewer asked me what I’d do if, having performed my job perfectly, I routinely found myself being screamed at for something beyond my control. Another interviewer spent so much time ascertaining the details of how I deal with stress that there wasn’t time in our 30-minute interview to discuss my qualifications. Thanks anyway.
That isn’t to say that I’ve loved every boss and every job I’ve had. I once worked across the hall from a business owner who watched porn all day on a little television beside his desk. And my last job involved a co-worker who was so mean all the time that the sound of her laughter made my mind go blank with panic and fury like some kind of angry possum. So for all my selectivity, no job has been perfect.
No one has ever called me a donkey to my face, either, so I stand by my method.
I mean, suppose that for some reason—call it brain damage—you really did want to work for Ramsay. Even if you win Hell’s Kitchen, experiencing the smallest amount of abuse, failure and public misfortune of all the competing chefs, you’ll still have had a bad service or two along the way. So now you’ve got this new job. But there’s footage that was broadcast worldwide of your new boss berating your and explaining precisely, and at an unseemly volume, why you are a useless, fat, disgusting cow who can’t even cook a simple risotto. True, the camera also captures your comeback, either via shaping up on appetizers or killing the next challenge, and the idea is that because you eventually win back Ramsay’s respect, it’s all water under the bridge of your professional development. Ramsay is helping you! He’s making you stronger! He’s like an emotionally-distant, abusive father, and you’re like a huge idiot on a TV show. But suppose that’s what you wanted. Fine.
Still, after a bad day at work, when entrees are sent back and somebody quits in the middle of service and you’re sweating all over the tableside carving station (what? real restaurants don’t force reluctant chefs to wander around the dining room with a push-cart? the hell you say), you’re going to think back to that video. You’ll recall the scene where a tuba plays as you deliver your subpar risotto, and Ramsay interrupts service so everyone can see him hurl the entire pan into the garbage, and you’ll wonder what the hell has become of your life.
Oh, sure, the winners of Hell’s Kitchen don’t work directly with Ramsay. But just because he’s not there to bring his furious palm down on an undercooked portion of halibut doesn’t mean he’s not your boss. And don’t think he can’t slap a fish at you over the phone. No. Best not to audition in the first place. Stay home with your flaming car and your terrible children and organize your newspapers. It’s safer.
Kristina Ackerman runs popular cooking and crafting blog Knuckle Salad, where seldom is heard a discouraging word— especially from Gordon Ramsay.