20 June 2006

[distractions] Hell's Kitchen, Three Eps Along

There have been so far three episodes of the FAUX reality show, Hell's Kitchen, about which I waxed giddily previously. We'll make a brief textual pitstop to proclaim this an Official SunDial Earth Station Guilty Pleasure™ (along with syndicated judge shows and Cheaters) and move along.

The two teams this series are gender-specific; yes, the producers of HK have used that somewhat-dubious device, stale, and done-to-death, of "The Battle Amongst The Sexes" to add a level of tension to the proceedings. The XX-XY tensions seem just as staged sometimes, and turn out, now and again, to be a real distraction, when the producers let themselves dwell on it to a level sometimes just short of offensive. To understand the hackeneyed level of implementation, understand this: in the first episode, Chef Ramsay announced, grandiloquently, that "for the first time in the history of Hell's Kitchen, there would be a men's team and a women's team".

For the first time in the history of a two-series reality show that's but one episode into Series Two? Seems we're crossing Rubicons daily around here.

But enough digression. I just wanted to get that out of the way. It is, though sometimes a notable irritant in the specific, speaking in the overall it's not such a huge flaw, though I think it should be regarded as a badly done sideshow.

But enough. I promised I was done with that digression. The show, three episodes on, has delievered on many of its other promises; drama, crisis, victory, torment, and Chef Ramsay's inimitable motiviational stylings. If you take a side trip to FAUX's site, you'll find that out of the original twelve aspiring chefs, four are 86'd:

From the Red (Women's) Team: Polly.

From the Blue (Men's) Team: Larry, Gabe, and Giacomo.

That's right, you who are keeping score: From a total of six chefs on each team, the Red still have five, but the Blue are down to only three. Right now, it ain't easy bein' Blue.

Episode 2, more or less

Each of the 86's chefs had thier own reasons for being boosted. Larry's end, sadly, was self-enabled; either he's in a dear physical condition that needs to be diagnosed or he didn't have the will to press on, who knows, but by the end of the episode 2 he turned up missing and then called in from the hospital, an apparent victim of an anxiety attack that developed physical symptoms. Gabe was asked to leave after a magnificent failure of a dinner service that saw the Reds complete ten entreés, but the Blues not a one. Giacomo seemed to have the spirit but never, as Chef Ramsay implored him to do, quite "got a grip".

On the second show the Blue kitchen broke down when Tom and Giacomo couldn't get the communication straight between the meat station (Tom) and the sides station (Giacomo). That's not necessarily saying that Tom was a culinary genius there, but when Chef called on him for status he was able to say without hesitation that he had one chicken and one duck ready for sides, and Giacomo didn't know what he was doing, or what was going on, and it showed: arms flailed about, eyes darted about in the panic, and various words came out of Giacomo's mouth not connecting to any sentence whatsoever.

At the end of that episode, the Blue team (having not gotten any entrées out at all vice the Red's ten) were declared the losing team for the round. In what must be a working lesson in how to make the tough decisions an executive chef must make, Chef Ramsay chose Blue who screwed up the least as the "Best of the Worst" and charged him with making two nominations for elimination. The beneficiary/victim of the dubbing: Garrett.

There was much dithering on Garrett's part and politicking on behalf of the some of the Blues, they returned to the dining room and made his noms: Giacomo (which I expected) and...Tom? Like I said, Tom was no star but he was hardly the worst of the crew. Garrett ought to have chosen Gabe, who was a complete tyro in the kitchen. Chef Ramsay gave Tom a chance to defend his continuation on the show, and Tom stepped up to the plate, taking ownership of the comms probelms between himself and Giacomo. Won over, Chef asked him to return to the line, and then–to our pleasant surprise–called Gabe up, overruling Garrett's noms.

Garrett was thus 86'd.

The Reds, who had won the round, got the prize: a helicopter ride to a LA-area eatery that specialized in haute-cuisine based on wild game. The Blues got to stay behind to do preps work.

As far as the Red's only casualty thus far, Polly, since this happened there was so much drama under the bridge that I honestly can't remember why she was ejected.

And Through to Episode Three

The overwhelming feeling one gets from watching both teams operate, regardless of thier relative success so far, is that they all were pretty much used to operating solo, and they don't have that comms thing down. Most of the mistakes and embarrasments to date have come from bad communications.

And, actually, the service so far has been on the far side of shabby. Me, The Wife™, and most people on my socio-economic stratum wouldn't put up with waiting fifteen minutes for a cup of diner-grade coffee, never mind real haute-cuisine. The two teams, many members of which had much more than the average bear's culinary production experience and more than one of which claimed catering experience (Polly whose bio claims ownership of a catering business as well as feeding her six home-schooled kids in a setting reminding one of a restaurant, was the first ejectum on the Red team), were completely unable to competently serve even one diner in episode 1, and in episode 2, disgruntled aspiring diners deserted the restaurant before even the Red's ten entrées got through the pass (on which Chef Ramsay remarked "This is the death of a restaurant").

The second dinner service is not much better, but the Reds did improve as illustrated. The third service got better still–both teams had appetizers flying through the pass, but the Red team was the only one (still) getting entrées out. The Blues were the saddest of sad sacks, constantly getting on each other's nerves and still not commmunicating–with Giacomo still flopping about like a puppet without a hand in, especially. The team just was not knitting together.

That's not to say the Reds didn't have thier problems and flaws. Heather is the rising star of the Red team and, as far as I'm concerned, just about the only one who has been able to enter the zone at all during the play of the game (even to the point of delegating her station to the other members of her time whilst obviously in distracting pain, all the while being administered emergency first aid by Chef Ramsay after suffering a serious burn–a high personal moment that was not lost on Chef). Watching Heather work, you can being to see the same sort of concentration, focus, committment and passion that characterizes Chef R when he's in his zone. She has stuff down cold almost instantly and begins to direct the team–which is usually taken badly by Sara, the (in my opinion) worst member of the Reds. She gets directed by Heather smartly and efficiently and falls in line but, once the camera is on her for her reaction, moans and complaines about the respect she's not getting, which is stupid at this point: Heather is her better, and Sara needs to figure this out, or I think (hope) that when (or should I say if) the Blue team finally pulls off a victory in a challenge or a service, she's the one that needs to go.

Though on the Red side the pitiful story of the night of ep 3 was Maribel, who was in charge of the meat station and allowed herself to run out of Wellingtons, and then was so inept with getting a single lamb Wellington out that the diners walked out in disgust. Overwhelmed by one Wellington is certainly not an epitaph I'd like to have attached to me.

The victors of ep 3 were, once again, the Reds. They got a prize of an afternoon on a yacht, escorted out by Chef Ramsay (and beginning to develop schoolgirl crushes on him), and the Reds got to stay back in the restaurant and do the laundry–the women's laundry, by hand. And, had to 86 one of thier own.

Due to the reduced state of the Blue team, Chef R gave them a new winnowing procedure: each member was to nominate a fellow member for elimination. Tom and (once again) Giacomo were offered up for slaughter, and Giacomo was at last sent packing (surprising me) with Tom dodging the bullet once again. While Tom did do a huge bellyflop right out of the zone in the kitchen during the night's dinner service (which resulted in the Red team getting a hell of a lot of entrées out over the Blues none), Giacomo actually forgot to turn on the oven.

"Thank God" reacted Tom to not getting eliminated.

"No, thank Giacomo...for being just a little worse than you were" corrected Chef R.

The State Of Play at the end of Episode Three:

Red Team Members Remaining: Heather, Sara, Rachel, Virginia, Maribel.
Blue Team Members Remaining: Garrett, Tom, Keith.
Next Episode: The Kitchen opens for lunch–which is apparently a rowdy kid's birthday party. We also saw tantalizing glimpses of Chef Ramsay boiling over. This is one of the show's selling points, but he seems to be kicking it up a notch here. Yeah, BAM!.

Various High And Low Points I Missed Because I Tried To Cover Too Many Bases With This Post:
  • Just because Heather is the most promising chef we've seen so far doesn't make her a better person. She is too apt to rise to the "Battle of the Sexes" bait the teams have been given. In ep 3 Garrett made a gratuitous chauvinistic remark at the Red team, who was returning from the yacht outing. Heather spent the afternoon, apparently getting completely bent out of shape over it and gave Garrett the what-for over it–which he did deserve, but he just accepted silently, hopefully embarrassed for a)saying it at all and b)playing along with such a stupid plot device anyway.
  • Best Moment of Ep 2: A diner whining about the percieved lack of pumpkin in his risotto. Chef R agrees to give him it in one of two ways: either sliced or diced, but only if he sticks it up his backside.
  • Best Moment of Ep 3: A diner complaining about waiting more than an hour from and a half is sympathized with by Chef R: "For the first time in my career, I'm working with a kitchen full of Muppets"
  • The enigma that is Keith: So far, Keith has had to sit out a lot. He hasn't gotten to do a lot of cooking. Now with the Blue team down to three members, they'll have to depend on him. The catch is, of course, he has to bring it.
  • And A Question for the Ages: Just WTF is it with all this risotto, anyway?
Images: the HK logo was nicked from the FAUX site for the show, which has a bunch of foodie goodies as well as wallpaper for your lurvely monitor. The chefs jacket photo was nicked from an online shop for cooks and the people who love them called L'Connoiseurs. While not the same as the jackets used on the US version of the show, they do have a similar logo on, and can be yours for the international price of £69.00.

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