Grilling Gordon

Recently on FOX’s reality cooking contest Hell’s Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay, the multiple-Michelin-Star winning Scottish chef, screamed at Melissa, a struggling contestant with a droopy face and a Cro-Magnon tangle of reddish hair: “Listen, listen … If you just shut the fuck up for thirty seconds you might learn something! … Now stop being a stubborn little bitch and fucking move your ass! ”

A few days later, on a broadcast of his BBC America show, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, in which the chef helps faltering U.K. restaurants get back on their feet, Mr. Ramsay visited a “real life Fawlty Towers” in Kent. With the tenderness and patience of a second-grade teacher, he counseled a distressed chef, a “big friendly giant” named Stuart White: “You deserve to make [the restaurant] yours. Stick to what you know, you can do properly, and stand firm.” Then he encouraged Mr. White to sing a song, which he did.

And on Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. inside Mr. Ramsay’s sole American restaurant, the much-murmured over and awkwardly named Gordon Ramsay at the London, located in the London NYC hotel on 54th Street, the mood was dreary—the place resembled a country club dining room a few hours before prom. Only one table in the hot-pink-accented 45-seat dining room was occupied; about an hour later, a second party arrived. Even the bar was desolate. But it wasn’t the diners who were the most conspicuous no-shows; it was Gordon Ramsay. Not only the man in the flesh—the whole huge bursting idea of him was nowhere to be found. Nowhere among the rounded, padded chairs was there evidence of the sharp glint of his American television persona, nor the ruddy good-naturedness of his BBC character. Though there was the moment when, in what was almost a parody of a Ramsay nightmare, one of the many smartly dressed servers strode through the dining room declaring, quite loudly, that a co-worker had just called him “a fucking idiot.”

Who exactly is Gordon Ramsay? Is he the obnoxious, permanently exasperated Simon Cowell caricature on yet another American reality series—a series which happens to be winning its Monday night time slot among the 18-to-49 demographic? Or is he a nurturing, wickedly talented food expert who wants to save wayward restaurants? Is he an ambitious 40-year-old chef de cuisine who wants more than anything to woo and conquer New York City—or just a greedy blond bastard?

I’ve spent the past year or so a little in love with Mr. Ramsay. In addition to his Fox show, he’s got two series on BBC America—Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and The F Word. On Kitchen Nightmares, I’ve watched him patiently explain to chef after small-time chef how to roast the perfect chicken and braise a duck, while extolling the merits of fresh food, the lameness of deep frying and the importance of a good burger. I’ve watched him teach tragically misguided managers how to lead. I’ve watched him take a kitchen staff for a swim in the sea—in their clothes!—before lunch service. He gets angry, sometimes, but mostly finds himself misty and sentimental about food and the people who cook and serve it.

The F Word is, on the other hand, like nothing else—a strange, flashy sort of magazine show that mashes together cooking contests, celebrity guests, investigative reports, recipes and some pretty personal digressions (Mr. Ramsay’s wife, Tana, and four children are regulars).

But really, it’s all about Gordon Ramsay. There’s no one for him to save or slay on The F Word, so he spends his time preening in his full peacock colors. (Every episode begins with him strutting down a long corridor, first disrobing, then pulling on his chef’s whites, like he’s Clark Kent changing into Superman. He constantly takes off his shirt on Kitchen Nightmares too!) And, look, he’s sexy. True, he may be overly enamored of his own masculinity—he’s a tremendous flirt, and carries himself as if no woman could resist him—but he’s also a family man who, dare I say it, isn’t afraid to cry. In one of the most memorable F Word segments, Mr. Ramsay fenced off a patch of his own backyard and hand-raised turkeys, each one named after a rival chef, so that he could show his children where their dinners come from. Christmas supper rolled around and the birds were professionally stunned and slaughtered; Mr. Ramsay stood there and wept.

In each episode, Mr. Ramsay does his best to teach one female fan or friend how to make one simple home-cooked meal as part of his joke-mission to “get women back in the kitchen.” Far from misogynistic, Mr. Ramsay wants to see more women enjoying their food, as cooks and diners. This man likes to see women eat. A lot.

So I loved Gordon Ramsay. But can I still, given the way he’s behaving in America?

Take Hell’s Kitchen, a program with contestants so inept, with so little knowledge of cooking, that some didn’t know how to fry an egg when they arrived. Two seasons of this nonsense—fine, write it off. The man was trying to drum up some controversy, create a little buzz for himself in the ear-splitting buzz-factory of America. But the Monday night show, which gets more pointless and inane with every episode, is going strong. Surely it will be renewed.

Grilling Gordon