“I’m not the worst chef here.”
Without fail, this is the final sentiment expressed by whoever has just gotten kicked off Hell’s Kitchen. To the eliminated chef, the big injustice isn’t that she was unfairly criticized, or that he took a risk on a creative flight of fancy, or that she assumed a leadership role and wound up in over her head. By and large, each week’s loser seems pretty comfortable with the notion that they suck. They’re just angry because, in their mind, someone else sucks a little more. Mediocrity is the guiding philosophy of Hell’s Kitchen. Why strive for excellence when simply not being the worst is good enough? And to that point, how dare Chef Ramsay select Brendan for elimination this week, placing him on the bottom of the pack when he clearly belongs firmly in the lower middle?!
Hell’s Kitchen hammers home its disinterest in perfection this week with a surprise lunch challenge, in which the winning team is the one that completes service first. Not best, just first. Unsurprisingly, this means nearly every single piece of meat comes out raw, as the chefs blindly rush to plate dishes just to avoid having to shuck oysters or bait rat traps or regrout the tile backsplash or whatever the stupid penalty is this time. So much undercooked food is served up on Hell’s Kitchen that’s it’s a miracle that every single cast member hasn’t already died of salmonella poisoning three times over. I think one of the tables was even delivered a pitcher of raw Arnold Palmers. Thankfully, lunch service is livened up by the guests, the Los Angeles Fire Hogs, a charitable motorcycle club that supports LA firefighters and their families. These guys don’t for an instant buy into the myth that Hell’s Kitchen is an actual restaurant. They treat the place like what it is: a television set. The bikers whoop and holler and bang their silverware and good-naturedly demand food and generally seem to be having a good time. Thank you, Fire Hogs, for reminding me what joy looks like, if even for a brief instant.
The guys squeeze out a win and explode in a paroxysm of frantic high fiving and chest bumping, having finally proven that men are, in fact, better than women because they prepare fewer pieces of raw chicken. The blue team heads up to Malibu, continuing our travelogue of moderately pretty places within 30 miles of central Los Angeles, where they receive their prize: a mysteriously named “wine safari,” which apparently involves sipping on cheap Merlot while driving a Jeep through a petting zoo. In what might be the season’s low point thus far, the men bond by comparing their female colleagues to various farm animals. This is real farm-to-table sexism. Hey, have fun, guys…you earned it! Chef Ramsay eventually shows up in a bicep-baring tight black T-shirt, reducing the men to fawning sycophants gushing about how “cool” and “awesome” he is. It is all really, really horrifying to watch.
Look, I know I harp on it every week, but it’s truly astounding how Hell’s Kitchen consistently ignores what makes reality television entertaining. Both the food and the personalities are bland and unappealing. The skill on display is a pathetic draw for viewers tuning in to see talented people doing their thing, while the interpersonal drama isn’t nearly interesting or heightened enough for those who prefer their reality shows with a heaping helping of trainwreck. Aside from the aforementioned chauvinism, this week’s mini-scandal is Meghan’s growing frustration with the rest of her team. She’s a total grouch, but she does also seem to be one of the few contestants with actual chops. Before dinner service, Chef Ramsay takes Meghan aside to privately stroke her ego, telling her she needs to keep the red team in line, and basically appointing her the kitchen’s David Miscavige to Ramsay’s LRH.
Meghan does indeed crack the whip, but it doesn’t do much to improve dinner service. Scallops are over. Beef is under. Salmon is raw. I’ve held my tongue up until now but…seriously, guys, what the fuck? “I wish we had just one day to go over all this stuff,” laments Sarah, ignoring the fact that she’s had thirteen previous seasons to catch on that she should probably learn how to do risotto. Meanwhile, Meghan scowls. Chef Ramsay punches a plate of fish. Bret, serving appetizers tableside, creeps on an actress from Grimm in a truly disturbing way. All in a day’s boredom. The guys do their best to psyche themselves up by liberally calling each other “dog,” but alas, it is not enough to succeed at dinner service, and Brendan gets the boot. Six down, twelve chefs left, all desperately trying to prove they have what it takes to be the not-worst.