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Sorry chefs' scariest nightmare

Americans get their first taste of Gordon Ramsay in a BBC series that mixes culinary wisdom with a blistering tongue.

December 15, 2004|Russ Parsons | Times Staff Writer

IT'S a moment you're not likely to see on the Food Channel: The host, a famous chef, chokes on a rotten scallop in the alley behind the restaurant, then turns on the hapless cook with a string of bleeped-out expletives that makes Tony Bourdain sound like Captain Kangaroo.

Welcome to "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare," a new four-part series on BBC America. It airs Tuesday nights at 9 and repeats Wednesdays at midnight and 4 a.m. Though not Christmassy in any traditional sense, this is a real palate cleanser for all of the sweet and sentimental fare that will be everywhere this week. TiVo it, tape it ... it's hard to imagine a better gift for a certain kind of food lover.

The premise is simple: In each episode, Gordon Ramsay -- a professional soccer player turned Michelin-starred chef -- visits a restaurant (not one of his own) that is, shall we say, "underperforming." He has a week to straighten it out, usually before some climactic big-deal meal.

Ramsay's manner is more drill instructor than caring counselor. In fact, there are so many bleeps repeated so regularly, it sets up a rhythm you could almost dance to.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 21, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Television programs -- An article in Wednesday's Food section about British chef Gordon Ramsey's TV shows said the Fox Network series "Hell's Kitchen" would air in the fall of 2005. The program is not yet on Fox's schedule. In addition, the program "Kitchen Nightmares" was characterized as a BBC production, but although it airs in the U.S. on BBC America, it was filmed in Britain by Channel 4.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 29, 2004 Home Edition Food Part F Page 2 Features Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Television programs -- A story in the Dec. 15 Food section about British chef Gordon Ramsay's TV shows said the series "Hell's Kitchen" would air in fall of 2005. The program is not yet on Fox's schedule. In addition, the program "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare" was characterized as a BBC production, but although it airs in this country on BBC America, it was filmed in the United Kingdom by Channel 4.

The first episode, which aired last week, took place at a Yorkshire restaurant called Bonapartes, whose 21-year-old chef is obliviously cooking his vision of modern English cuisine (sauteed scallops mounted on discs of blood pudding) without apparently noticing or caring that the dining room crowds number consistently in the single digits.

Enter Ramsay, who finds that his first order of business is not cooking but cleaning -- he supervises the scrubbing of the refrigerator, the stove, the walls and the floors. Then he puts the food to the test: He takes the chef on a walking tour of the rural village, offering citizens their choice of samples of the "creative" scallops or a regional favorite, beef and ale pie.

Whether the man on the street will choose invention over tradition is never really in question. And neither, really, is the transformation of poor Bonapartes. Let's just say that this is a British production and as such doesn't seem to be bound by the necessity of a happy ending the way it would be in this country.

The pleasure of the show lies not in any kind of manufactured suspense but in watching Ramsay trying desperately to pound some basic culinary wisdom into his seemingly impermeable pupils. If nothing else, it is reassuring to see such basic values as cleanliness, value and honest flavor given such a rousing validation, even if it is delivered in monologues that could strip paint.

This will be many Americans' first exposure to Ramsay, a well-known personality in Britain. This fall, though, he will star in his first U.S. series, tentatively titled "Hell's Kitchen," which is based on yet another series that Ramsay has done for the BBC. In this one he will play the Donald Trump role with a cast of aspiring cooks -- the winner promised a $2-million Hollywood restaurant. (A promo asserts, "If they can't stand the heat, they need to get out of 'Hell's Kitchen.' ") Ramsay quit the BBC version of "Hell's Kitchen" after only one season despite a reported multimillion-dollar offer to repeat, complaining that he was fed up with "whingeing celebrities."

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