Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hell's Kitchen: 12 Chefs Compete

Illustration for article titled Hell's Kitchen: 12 Chefs Compete
Illustration for article titled Hell's Kitchen: 12 Chefs Compete

I'll be your designated Hell's Kitchen fan this week, and let me start right off by saying that I'm an admirer of Gordon Ramsay.  Aside from his embarrassing habit of baring his torso on television, Ramsay's judgment in matters culinary is exquisite.  And I deeply appreciate his focus on the work of the kitchen brigade.  There's really no better crash course in food service than the original British Kitchen Nightmares, in which each week Ramsay took a failing restaurant back to basics: quality ingredients, financial control, cooking discipline, customer service.

But I've been cringing on Ramsay's behalf ever since the delicious train-wreck-on-ice that is Hell's Kitchen debuted.  The producers have spent the last few seasons sticking him with the most incompetent cooks they could find and forcing him to act as if he cared which one of them got to go work in Vegas or whatever (when actually he knew the whole time that the winner would be working as his sous-chef in the following season).  It's beneath his dignity, although I'm sure it's not beneath his bank account.

As we saw in last week's teaser, this week it's all about gauzy celebrations of our troops.  Staff Sgt. Otis James just arrived home from Iraq, and he'll be welcomed with a party at Hell's Kitchen.  Each team has to create a tasting menu for the event, and Robert and Suzanne are invited to get a sense of James's taste through an interview with his wife.  Latasha James prescribes seafood — shrimp, lobster — baked potatoes, and big southern cooking.  And while Robert immediately started shouting out those items and soliciting ideas from the men on how to prepare them, Suzanne dictated preparations without ever saying what the key items were.  As she said in the confessional, "This is my chance to show what I can do."  Self over team — just what Ramsay loves to see!

Latasha chooses the salad — because she has no Y chromosome, according to Kevin — but the men rock the second course with mac-and-cheese and collard greens.  Robert's attention to detail pays off when he grills the lobster for surf-and-turf.  The reward is that everyone but morbidly obses Robert, presumably, gets to go on a fighter jet!  (Unlike last season, where we saw Robert take a solo boat ride rather than getting to go on bikes or whatever it was with the rest of the group, we are not privy to Robert's exclusion from the friendly skies.) The punishment is that the women have to redecorate the dining room for the party.  And they'll be hanging the rafters with recriminations and bitterness, which should be fun for everyone.

The blue team's strategy to win dinner service is to refuse to teach the red team how to cook their menu.  While the men get the VIP table out with no problems, Sabrina screws Chef Ramsay over by promising a mushroom app and causing him to send the rest of the apps out to the table.  When the mushroom fails to arrive as promise, Ramsay accuses her of hanging him out to dry.  Things don't get any better when the entrees get called; Tek can't keep enough meat on her grill and refuses to use the oven to finish the steaks, meaning that she's either undercooking or burning the multiple steak orders coming in from the large tables.

The only things that are going wrong on the blue side are Dave's refusal to accept help, Jim's poking at steaks with tongs instead of his fingers, and Kevin trying to do everything.  While the men finish up their last entree (with Kevin snagging the drawn butter that Jim wanted to get credit for), the women are still trying to get out their first.  "You stupid cows!" Ramsay screams, and sends the men over to the red kitchen to cook their food for them.  For once Robert's crowing in the confessional was justified.  Forget injuries and firemen and fights in the dorm — this gaping disparity and subsequent shaming is the drama we want to see.

Asked to name the nominees, Tennille names Tek and then reports, "Unfortunately, Chef, which is a load of bullshit, I've been nominated."  I've gotta agree with her.  Was Tennille a problem tonight?  Her nomination came out of nowhere … well, out of the fact that she's been justly nominated twice before.  Ramsay puts her back in line immediately and substitutes Amanda, who weeps like a little girl when Ramsay tells her he believes she's done.  But the only choice tonight is Tek, who leaves claiming to be a crazy girl and a better cook than she showed us.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

- Ramsay's wife acts as hostess for the party.  I've seen her before on The F Word, along with their adorable children, but the contestants are surprised to discover that she's attractive.

- Kevin is the clear class of the blue team (although they had to gin up conflict with Robert to get ol' baldy any screen time; class don't cut it in Fox reality land), while poor Jim looks more and more clueless every week.  "It's steak-o-rama here in Hell's Kitchen," he moans as he loses track of all the steak orders coming in.  Better than sausage-fest from last week, Jim.

- As for the women, does anyone deserve to win? Now that Lovely isn't around to soak up all the blame like a buttermilk biscuit, poor Tek was on the firing line, with everyone trying to mind her business.  But Amanda and Sabrina got their share of hate for raw lobster tails and missing mushrooms, and Suzanne gets the blame for the tasting menu defeat.

- Jim's gift for confessional gab exceeds his gift for showing personality on camera.  "It was kitchen-pocalypse, like a hand grenade went off in a cow's ass," he described the scraps of ruined meat lying around the red kitchen.

- It's Tennille Time!  Fuck all y'all, sit on it!