Hell's Kitchen: “11 Chefs Compete”
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Hell's Kitchen: “11 Chefs Compete”

Greetings, donkeys! It’s my turn up in our HK three-person rotation. And I’ll be honest: Even though I enjoy the heck out of this show, sometimes I’m not so sure why I keep watching. Out of all the reality competitions (or at least the ones I watch), Hell’s Kitchen may be the most formulaic. The disastrous dinner services. The bemused diners. The gloating winners. The sexist trash talk. The stream of profanity. The “shocking” eliminations. The challenges that one team wins by breaking a tie right at the end (after a commercial break, of course). Nothing really varies from season to season. And yet I can’t bring myself to cancel my TiVo Season Pass. There’s something comforting about the show’s predictability—and of course I can't resist the inherent entertainment value of watching Gordon Ramsay blow a gasket.

Now, having said all that, there is something a little different about HKS6: the cheftestants don’t flat-out suck. I don’t want to oversell this bunch—there have been an awful lot of dinky lamb cuts and blue steaks, after all—but have you noticed that before tonight, this group had been completing dinner services fairly regularly, twice racing to see who finished first? And last week, when the teams had to cook up some test dishes for the soldier’s party, Ramsay and the soldier’s wife each dubbed all the dishes delicious.

Tonight started out much the same, at least in terms of the first challenge. Tasked to create a 700-calorie meal—“I take 700-calorie bites,” Robert complains—the women put out three dishes that Ramsay loved, including a seared scallop with mango chutney and a refreshing fruit-and-cheese dessert, while the men scored with a grilled seafood salad, then disappointed with two dishes that were too small and too lacking in flavor, though only the egg white crepe with fruit compote was a disaster.

So while the ladies got to spend an afternoon at the beach, taking a volleyball lesson from Olympian Annett Davis, and while they each received a gift basket on their return containing a Vitamix Blender—“I want to make love to it,” one contestant moaned, perhaps not understanding what blenders actually do—the boys hopped on some kind of circular bike-of-the-future in order to do their marketing. (Y’know, motorized vehicles exist.) The stress of the bike ride proved too much for Robert, who began feeling dizzy and nauseated during dinner and made a trip to the emergency room, where I assume he called the staff by their first names and asked for “the usual.”

The loss of Robert seemed to throw both teams for a loop, because they proceeded to have their worst dinner service since the first episode. Tennille couldn’t get her garnish portions right, then objected to being called a lazy cow by Ramsay. (“You’re crap,” she mutters, then got kicked out of the kitchen for the length of one commercial.) Jim couldn’t keep his risotto from being underseasoned or overseasoned—because he has “no heart,” according to Ramsay—so Chef Scott had to take over. Amanda sent out undercooked meat. Andy couldn’t count to two. In the end, a frustrated Ramsay gave the signal to switch off the ovens. (Or as we say around this house whenever we get comically frustrated, “SHUT IT DOWN!!”)

Ramsay declared both teams losers and asked them each to put someone up for elimination. After the men confirmed that they couldn’t send the absent Robert home, they nominated Andy. The ladies put up Amanda. And the ultimate evictee is…  Jim! (“You’re not The Tin Man, and I’m not the fucking Wizard,” Ramsay explains.)

Was I shocked? After six seasons of this, do you even have to ask?

Grade: B

Stray observations:

-It’s odd to see Joseph in the opening credits, pretending to be in a carnival. That’s not what he was here for! (Briefly.)

-Jim notes that some of the ladies look good in their beachwear, while others… “You can put a prom dress on a pig, you still won’t dance with it.”

-“This is not going to be for the faint of heart.” Did you hear that, Robert?

-Hey, we actually heard from former champ/current sous chef Heather tonight, for the first time since Episode One, I think.

-When Amanda was confronted with the pink pork, the soundtrack sounded a little melodramatic organ sting, like something out of a radio soap opera.

-Andy’s having trouble with “the system.” This is a common complaint of HK contestants, who complain about Ramsay’s “brigade.” Is it really that complicated to work a single station all night?

-Hell’s Kitchen can never really compare to the Top Chef family of programs, but it’s still instructive to stack up the kinds of foods the cheftestants make on each show. A couple of weeks ago on Top Chef Masters, the chefs had to prepare a menu for a strict vegan with multiple dietary restrictions, and they did so with real imagination, coming up with dishes that didn’t look like standard “diet” fare. Yet even though Ramsay liked the majority of the dishes in HK’s 700-calorie challenge, I can’t say that I was overly impressed by the way the cheftestants reached for cottage cheese, lettuce, mango and broccolini. Strictly Weight Watchers, folks.

-On the other hand, pork chop with soba noodles… that’s money!

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