It was the most recent episode of Hell’s Kitchen (Sept. 5) that exasperated me to the point of throwing up my arms in total despair. For that episode was normal so far as the HK format generally goes, EXCEPT nobody got sent home. The series was down to the final five and I’d been unable to immerse myself into this show, and the disjointed flow of the programs didn’t help.
Not only did the program not trip along merrily with a final five becoming a final four and so on, there were many times when two shows aired in a week, one on Monday, one of Tuesday, sometimes two in one night! Often these multiple shows were repeats but a few times these were brand new episodes and for one who follows these shows for write-ups it became a chore to chase the episodes down.
I can’t imagine anything more boring to write about than a cooking competition episode that has no contender eliminated - an action obviously made to extend the series, maybe FOX had nothing new coming up, I don’t know - and I’d already gone a bit gray trying to follow the meanderings of Chef Ramsay prior to that stunt.
Two things piqued my attention once again. One was a promo email providing notification that the HK finale was coming up this Monday in a two-hour finale event on Monday, Sept. 19 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. The second was that the episode featuring the final five that I’d recorded as part of an automatic demand I’d made on my DVR did get saved despite my despair at the episodes missed for the constant change of schedule that had me giving up. It was the episode featuring the same final five that had been the final five in the last episode I watched so I figured why not watch, make some predictions, and write a column about it?
I paid close attention to this episode, a tough job we’ll go into later, and think I’ve got a real feel for the top four: Will Lustberg, Paul Niedermann, Tommy Stevens, and Elise Wims.First, Hell’s Kitchen as a competitive reality TV cooking show, one of my favorite genres, has never been, as I’ve confessed before, a cooking show that captured and held my attention. The show is, I understand, more of a competition for good cooks who want to become great restaurant chefs than good chefs who want to become great chefs. In fact, the grand prize for the winner of HK is a stint as head chef, this year for a Manhattan restaurant, BLT Steak. I also understand that this would be much more interesting for the restaurant chefs across the fruited plains than for a very amateur home cook like myself.
Still, I suggest softly that Bravo’s Top Chef series is hardly the stuff of a tube-biscuit-baking home chef and I do quite adore that series. Food Network, of course, definitely appeals to home cooks such as myself and I note, softly again, that Gordon Ramsay, for all of his cooking fame, has never once even been a guest on a Food Network show. I think that’s odd.
There’s just not enough attention to the actual food on Hell’s Kitchen.
I do know that beef Wellington and risotto are served in Hell’s Kitchen, neither of which have I ever made. There are other entrees of course, but the home viewer does not get to see the food preparation so much as endless scenes of chaos, cussing, and curmudgeonry in the restaurant kitchen. It all tends to seem the same, a blur of red and blue chef's aprons, screaming about poorly made risotto and scallops textured like rubber. I get bored.
Nonetheless there are four remaining contenders and they do have, as expected, varying degrees of talent and personalities both good and bad.
I went back and reviewed my notes for the episodes that I managed to capture on DVR and watch closely through all the cussing. From this and my closer observations on this past episode featuring the top five, I think that the winner of Hell’s Kitchen 2011 will be Will Lustberg.
First, if either Tommy or Elise win this thing I shall be surprised as I’ve never been before. Elise is a smug and very unlikeable contender, hardly a leader a sous chef would want to follow. I understand that there’s been some scripting to make Elise come across as unlikeable and it worked. These contenders aren’t scripted to tilt a certain way for no reason at all; their personalities generally take the bent of the scripting.
According to my notes, Tommy had been nominated for elimination once before, not normally the history of a winner. There have also been many issues throughout the series with Tommy. I’ve been criticized before for mentioning Tommy’s prolific tattooing over his body. He has tattoos that extend all the way up his neck and there’s even tattoos right below his hairline across his forehead.
I know tattoos are not unsanitary and I doubt such a tattooed chef preparing a meal for me would be a turn-off that would lessen my enjoyment of the food. But this excessive tattooing does not speak of good judgment to me for consideration of that tattooed soul to run my restaurant. I risk the brickbats and take them proudly. Bear in mind I’m not talking a few tattoos here. Still and so, if Tommy didn’t have so many other issues over his stint on Hell’s Kitchen, I’d nominate him to win were he worthy. I wouldn’t count him out for his excessive tattoos is what I’m saying here but I think he’s dumb for marking his body so permanently, such an attractive young man that he is.
In my notes there are not negative remarks about Will but I did miss some episodes so bear in mind. I have just a note or two about Paul so if Paul should win it would not surprise.
Good luck to all four finalists. They have a fine future as chefs whatever small faults this distant viewer might have noted.
As for Hell’s Kitchen, I really wish that Gordon would consider a tweak in the format. The constant kitchen chaos gets old after a while.
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