Recently, my students and I were viewing a cooking show on youtube when Gordon Ramsay’s name appeared on a related video. A handful of girls in the class became quite excited and yelled out, “Hey, we want Gordon Ramsay. Please! He’s so handsome.”
I was surprised that young teenagers in Viet Nam had heard of the pugnacious chef from Scotland. Apparently, he has fans all over the world. We watched a quick video of the Michelin chef instructing the youtube audience on the proper way to cook a steak. It was obvious that even when Ramsay does a three minute cooking video from home, he has professional videographers to do all the filming. One camera stayed focused on Ramsay himself, zooming in and out, tilting up and down, and panning left to right constantly. The other camera was focused on the food. The post-production editing produced a rapid-fire jump cut video that literally made me dizzy with the zooming, panning, tilting and cuts between chef and food. It was horrible. Add to that Ramsay’s narration, in which he spoke so fast that I could barely follow him, (let alone my students) and the end result was confusion. The chef didn’t look interested and rarely looked at the camera. Perhaps his business manager suggested doing a few youtube videos to increase sales of his cookbooks.
Gordon Ramsay, (b. 1966) exists in the rarefied air of ‘celebrity chef.’ His restaurants, television reality shows and books combine to give him a net worth around 80 million USD, according to some sources. His television shows include Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, and Celebrity Chef. Watching these programs, viewers are treated to a close-up view of Ramsay’s explosive temper, foul mouth, and penchant for verbal abuse and humiliation. His favorite targets are other chefs, though he is not averse to insulting and cussing out restaurant patrons as well.
He claims that he is only dishing out ‘tough love’ to struggling chefs and restaurant owners. Interesting. This guy is giving tough love a bad name. After watching a handful of video clips on youtube, I said to myself, “Enough.” The shows are repetitive and boring : Ramsay storms into a restaurant kitchen, berates and humiliates the chef, tells him that all of the food was inedible, and then, when the other chef becomes indignant, looks at the camera and says, “Wow, this guy doesn’t take constructive criticism very well. What a loser.”
Anthony Bourdain, (b. 1956) is another well-known celebrity chef and ‘television personality.’ Bourdain gained notoriety in 2000 when his book Kitchen Confidential was released and became a best-seller. The semi-autobiographical book gives firsthand insight into the high stress and sometimes chaotic world of restaurant kitchens. Based strictly on its merits, the book is merely a decent read, but the New York press and reading public went absolutely ga-ga over it, with various publications and writers stumbling over themselves to guess which restaurant he was referring to in chapter 4, pg. 53, etc., etc.
Much of Bourdain’s popularity stems from the image he has carefully crafted of himself: a talented chef who inhabited the elite world of New York’s finest restaurants but who is really a tough man’s man, a no nonsense dude who despises wimpy faggot vegetarians and so on.
With the runaway success of Kitchen Confidential combined with Bourdain’s ego and charisma, it was inevitable that the the media establishment would come knocking. He soon landed a deal with the Food Network, followed by the Travel Channel, and then finally with CNN. Watch a few minutes of these shows, and you will see a strange spectacle: this multi-millionare New York chef trying his best to come across as an ‘everyman’ while at the same time flying around Sao Paulo Brazil in his friend’s helicopter, and bragging about his wealthy friends in far-flung countries.
Why viewers would want to tune into his show to watch him chow down a huge pastrami sandwich in Santiago, Chile and have a conversation with some rich local is beyond me. He has no insight into the culture, the people, or the history of the places he visits. During a beachside chat with his Chilean contact, the man talked sadly about the destructive impacts of the salmon farming industry in Southern Chile and how he had seen so much wildlife disappear from the coastline over the last 20 years. Instead of pursuing that potentially rich thread of conversation, Bourdain brushed it aside with some remark about how ‘everyone’s gotta make a living.’
Bobby Flay (b. 1964) is a spiritual brother to Bourdain and Ramsay. Wikipedia refers to him as a ‘celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality.’ As you would expect from someone with such titles, he has a gargantuan ego. He never tires of showing off to the world his cooking skills, which are undoubtedly prodigious. He has won numerous Iron Chef competitions over the years. But watch him jump on top of his cutting board after a competition with chef Morimoto and ‘woop-woop’ with his New York audience and you will get an idea of the guy’s character and ego. Only a guy with Flay’s ego could dream up a show with a theme like this: travel around the country and challenge chefs at their speciality.
There are so many great chefs and cooks in the world who are unknown to the public. Even many who have gained respect and notoriety, such as Masaharu Morimoto and Mario Batali, manage to keep their egos in check and retain their humility. Do people like Ramsay realize that young kids around the world watch his shows? What kind of a role model is he? Does he care?
Any chef who claims to be the executive chef at half a dozen restaurants has gone overboard with his ambitions. Isn’t it enough work to run one successful kitchen? How can one man oversee six or seven kitchens? And do all that while writing cookbooks, doing television appearances, and generally promoting the hell out of himself? No. These guys are merely selling their names. They don’t spend much time in their restaurants actually cooking for the patrons.
Let’s put these egotistical celebrities into a small one bedroom apartment for a week, fill the refrigerator and lock the door so they can’t escape. We can observe them with hidden cameras and see who comes out alive. Now there’s reality show I would watch.