“Watch what happens!” trumpets the tagline of Bravo TV’s reality programming, a triumph of branding that inspires fans of screaming rich people to believe that anything is possible. Hell’s Kitchen flips that script by posing a different question. Not “what’s going to happen?” but rather, “is anything going to happen?” Longtime Gordon Ramsay fans should feel free to correct me, but two episodes deep, Hell’s Kitchen seems to be a show primarily dedicated to the overhead photography of undercooked scallops.
This installment kicks off with an extensive, point-by-point recap of the previous week’s show, in case you’d forgotten the various culinary crimes committed by chefs we’ve neither come to love nor care about. In the post-service post-mortem, Monique takes the brunt of the blame for the red team’s dinner debacle, particularly from no-bullshit Alison, who I suspect is the secret MVP of this entire season. I admit, I’m a little surprised by all the finger-pointing and angry criticism. Until I hear any soundbites to the contrary, I’m simply going to assume all these contestants are there to make friends. Or perhaps friends with benefits, as is the case with Brooklyn Josh, a good-looking goofball who spends the rest of the night trying to stick his meat thermometer in the younger, perkier members of the female cast.
The chefs are hauled out of bed at the crack of dawn and dragged to the beach for the day’s challenge: collecting pre-caught crabs from pre-set traps in order to prepare a crab cake dish. After a predictable bit of nonsense involving the women attempting to paddle a small boat in a straight line, the actual cooking begins. Despite the unfamiliarity with food preparation shown last week, the chefs come off as surprisingly competent. The challenge is entirely drama-free. Not a single plate is sent back, hurled to the ground or thrown into the Pacific Ocean. And when the final crab cake is hollandaised, it’s the ladies who come out ahead and win the prize. Last week, the prize was cocktails with William Shatner. The week, the gals get flown to Scottsdale, AZ, on Southwest Airlines. Next week, someone should tell the show’s producers what the word “prize” means.
Meanwhile, the men are dispatched to suffer their penalty. This week, it’s prepping shellfish. “Shrimp, clams, lobster,” Chef Ramsay tells them. “There’s a big special tomorrow night.” In the kitchen, one contestant works with mussels, while Josh clumsily flirts with a sea urchin. Aside from a single brief shot of a shrimp appetizer, none of this seafood is seen, mentioned or eaten for the remainder of the show. Cameron manages to irritate everyone else by lecturing them on the various food items, telling another contestant that the shellfish he’s preparing “tastes like the top of the sea.” With culinary knowledge like that, you might want to take Cameron’s advice with a grain of volcanic Himalayan pink salt.
Hey, by the way, I’ve never seen a reality show before. When one of the contestants gets a lot of screen time talking about how smart and talented and confident they are, that’s usually a good sign for them, right?
Dinnertime! Look at all the bright lights and limousines outside, as though Hell’s Kitchen were an actual restaurant people might conceivably go to! The glitz! The glamour! The not eating while reality show contestants ruin your food! On the men’s side, Michael gets things off to lightning-quick start, immediately placing a beautiful beet salad in the window before being informed that nobody ordered a beet salad. Seafood expert nonpareil Cameron neglects to turn his scallops, leaving them completely raw on one side. In fact, undercooked scallops are presented to Chef Ramsay three (3) times, finally eliciting the hissyfit we’ve all been waiting for. Ramsay’s yelling causes some of the dining room guests to look up from their plates, which I can only imagine have been ordered from the nearest In-N-Out Burger because so far no food has been sent out of the kitchen. Later, in the Hell’s Kitchen equivalent of a public stoning, Cameron and a hyperventilating chef named Brendan are forced to sit in full view of the entire restaurant and eat a piece of burnt salmon. Ramsay twists the knife one final time by archly commanding his maitre’d to bring the disgraced men two glasses of a nice Sauvignon Blanc. Sick burn, dude.
Things run more smoothly in the women’s kitchen. The only real hiccup is Mieka, who finds herself way out of her depth at the garnish station. Guys, who put Mieka on the garnish station?! You can’t trust just any amateur with your parsley and cheesecloth-wrapped lemon wedges! As Mieka crumbles under the pressure, an exasperated Meghan shrugs, telling us “it’s just food,” which is a great attitude for a chef. And yet the red team rallies above the indifference and gets their plates out with a minimal amount of disaster. This week, it’s the guys’ turn to be abusively dismissed from the kitchen, leaving Chef Ramsay and his sous to cook and serve the blue team’s remaining tickets, which is what everyone who came to eat there hoped would happen in the first place.
I wish I could tell you more about the culinary skills of the competitors or offer some insight into how the chefs incorporate flavors or work with their product, but practically the only time we actually see food on Hell’s Kitchen is right before it gets thrown in the garbage. I made a pretty good grilled cheese sandwich while I was watching it, though, so next time I’ll include a few Instagrams.