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What I Watched Last Night

There are few things on Tuesday night commercial TV interesting enough to peel me away from WPWR's airing of Jail, a program that picks up where Cops leaves off within the criminal justice chain-of-custody food chain. That's why I was both glad and dismayed to see this week's return of Hell's Kitchen to Fox.

On one hand, I'm glad because Gordon Ramsay is great TV, and his Kitchen Disasters show - which tends to pop up during the Hell off-season - isn't as engaging because Ramsay spends nowhere near as much time screaming at everyone around, kicking anything not bolted down, and hurling ill-treated food around the room in ways nobody originally intended food to be treated. This guy replaces entire kitchens and table services for dimwit mom-and-pop restaurant owners whose business plans amount to little more than "running my business into the ground," for Chrissakes.

Yet, on the other hand, I'm dismayed because short of Ramsay zapping cheftestants in the groin with a cattle prod, Hell has become predictable. Not so for Jail, where you never know whether the next guest of the county escorted under their own power or carried in hogtied will be a cooperative check kiter, an entertaining public intoxicant, or a rabid, frothing tweaker speaking in tongues. For my entertainment dollar, you've made your mark when you've figured out endless ways to marry criminal behavior, rage, personal failure, untreated mental illness, un/underemployment, grinding hopelessness, marital discontent, illegal weaponry, domestic unrest, and unchecked substance abuse in less than 60 minutes.

Since there's no shortage of unsavory behavior in this country, I decided to go with Hell instead. Tuesday's opening crop of 15 cheftestants was probably the motliest-looking collection of overconfident dice-rollers thinking they can somehow overcook risotto into a runny pile of mucus and yet win a $250,000-a-year gig running the kitchen of Ramsay's new restaurant in Los Angeles. The standouts right off were:

* Dominic, a stay-at-home dad for the past 10 years who would be a dead ringer for Robin Williams if Robin Williams put on a furry black toupee and beatnick glasses after swallowing Jon Lovitz whole. Dominic's leading kitchen talent, we would see later, is the serial murder of innocent scallops. For some reason, I see him showing up somewhat soon on an episode of ABC's Wife Swap, a show which actually knows how to deal with guys who haven't had a career in a decade.

* Bobby, an executive chef who likes to refer to himself interchangeably as the "black Chef Ramsay" and a "four-star general." He might be able to wrangle a promotion to five-star general if he actually knew how to direct a team of clueless cheftestants or actually cook worth a damn at this point, but because he looks and sounds like Pvt. Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue, I kept seeing Bobby and Dominic on their knees scrubbing the Hell's Kitchen floor with a toothbrush every time he opens his mouth: "There, uh, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole . . . shrimp gumbo, pan-fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp . . . shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich . . . that's, that's about it."

* Vanessa, a 31-year-old line cook with a pierced lower lip and, if I recall correctly, at least one big honkin' back tattoo who sees Hell's Kitchen as her appointment with destiny. I didn't think biker-gang clubhouses had kitchens, but Ramsay actually liked her pan-seared halibut. As for me, maybe it's the red hair. Or maybe it's the notion that a very good date with her might involve some very bad things. But then, that's just me.

* At the head of the line of this freak show, though, is Louross, a skinny, rather overwound little hotel cook soooooo awfully trendy and hip that he melted a perfectly good first and last name into a single, uh, title. He's not just on a campaign to revive the Mohawk, he's bent on forcing it to accessorize with the wussiest chin-fuzz goatee known to mankind, a gold nose ring, and red hipster glasses. He also looks and speaks like a girl. Nothing wrong with it; I'm just sayin'. I'm not sure which North Side neighborhood you'd typically find a little fella like this, but I know folks in Barrington would be wondering exactly when those goddamn carnies started rolling into town. I spent a lot of time trying to make up my wind whether Louross or Dominic spent more of their formative years getting beaten up on their way home from school.

Maybe Ramsay recognized a bit of the predictable seeping into what's now the show's fourth season, so a makeup artist transformed him for Tuesday's opener into "The Dark Lord" - a curious Halloween-disguise mix of Wicked Witch of the West, Bono, and Ozzy Osbourne - so he could mingle with the cheftestants on the shuttle bus ride to the Hell's Kitchen set. In seasons past, Ramsay at least waited until the cheftestants tried to poison him with horribly cooked food before he started getting pissed off and hating someone. This season, someone decided it would be a fantastic idea to piss off Ramsay even earlier by seeing who might talk smack about him and have him there to hear it with his own ears. See? The reality TV industry was right: you really don't need to dump boatloads of money down a black hole to attract the best and the brightest.

The only cheftestant who took a reasonable stab at it was Craig, a sous chef who showed up wearing a chef's hat tall enough to require red blinky lights so commuter plane pilots don't fly into it. Later, after proclaiming Craig's jerk-seasoned Chilean sea bass and risotto dish "a pile of shit," Ramsay tells Craig if he sees him wearing his punk-ass skyscraper hat again in his restaurant, he's going to shove it up his ass sideways.

Too bad Ramsay wasn't around during the 1970s. He could have done something about the leisure suit.

Unfortunately, he couldn't do anything about Petrozza, a catering director with a name so hip it really doesn't matter if it's your first or last name just as long as it sounds good and works on a big banquet hall sign. Somewhere down the line, I predict a light saber duel between Petrozza and Louross over the naming rights to a rather cavernous yet opulently-furnished west suburban building that has a lot to do with nomadic DJs and the mass serving of chicken, beef, sausage, mostoccioli, mashed potatoes, and green beans with nowhere near enough almonds mixed in on Saturday afternoons. But hip goes only so far when your signature dish is a Cornish hen cooked inside a small pumpkin (even scarier when you consider the whole thing was prepared and cooked in less than 45 minutes) and served with a side of fried potatoes drowning in butter and oil.

While we were busy imagining what dinner must be like at the Petrozza house on Thanksgiving Day, one of those Hell's Kitchen moments we absolutely love surfaced when Ramsay took a handful of Petrozza's 'taters (which looked more or less like a huge lump of nightcrawlers), held them aloft, and watched enough grease to Jiffy Lube a whole fleet of Checker cabs pour off the whole sopping mess. An unruffled Petrozza was, uh, unruffled by Ramsay's pronouncement that his signature dish was "dry" even with the goopy-glop pumpkin innards. "I believe my dish was memorable," Petrozza said.

The dish might have actually been memorable if not for sous chef Matt's signature dish called "Exotic Tartare," a brutal concoction of venison, scallops, caviar, and white chocolate. Which - surprise surprise! - made Ramsay puke into a trash can not just once, but twice. I'm not sure what it is about Hells Kitchen and sous chefs that drives them to create insanity like this, but when Ramsay asks you in all sincerity if you're high after you mention the ingredients of your signature dish, your food damn well better be just as good coming back up as it was going down.

Anyway, the rest of the program was filled with the typical Hell's Kitchen fare: Ramsay hurling rubber-cooked chicken against a wall, Ramsay shrieking like a crazed banshee, Ramsay extremely pissed off that not a single crumb of food has managed to leave the kitchen in 45 minutes. As usual, not a damn one of the cheftestants knew how to fry a simple goddamn egg, the team captains had as much control over their cheftants as the captain of the Exxon Valdez, and Ramsay got so fed up with what has become the chronic and unapologetic abuse of risotto that he forced sous chef (Christ, one of those again?) Jason to sit in the middle of the kitchen and eat a whole soggy plate of it. Meanwhile, Dominic spent his kitchen time murdering a good three dozen scallops when he wasn't otherwise occupied with standing around with raw meat in his hand, looking hopelessly dazed and confused.

As even more usual, the diners got so fed up with subsisting on bread and water that every single damn one of them left to get their heads examined for thinking they could show up on opening night and actually get fed. Where have these people been for the last four years? Even people without television sets know that concentration camp inmates eat better until maybe the fourth or fifth show.

Personally, I find it completely astounding that it hasn't occurred to either Ramsay or the show's producers to employ a simple trick that the owners of every table service restaurant in Greektown discovered countless generations ago: When the kitchen help is fucking up or fucking off, simply fill the patrons to the gills with half-off Roditys, a cheap but effective imported table wine. After a half hour or so, nobody with an empty stomach gives a shit whether the food ever arrives, and everyone leaves happy even if their food never arrives. Oopah! Life good for everyone!

In the end, losing men's Blue Team captain Louross puts up Bubba Gump twins Dominic and Bobby as sacrificial banishment lambs, leaving it up to Ramsay to tell Dominic to piss off for good because really, between the two, Bubba just has more ideas for shrimp.

Ramsay Notable Quotable (in reference to Louross' hair): "And you! Running around like a toilet brush!"

Cheftestant Notable Quotable: "I don't think 'stupider' is a word."

Next week on Hell: A mass Dumpster dive/pukefest, the bitch-sniping begins, and PETA considers adopting risotto to halt the senseless and unethical testing of cheftestant cooking skills.


Dip into the What I Watched Last Night archives for the best TV reviews in the universe.


Posted on April 3, 2008

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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