Another week goes by and once again I find myself unable to resist writing about Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares; it is the best programme on TV right now by such a distance and it just gets better and better. And writing about it is incredibly easy as all one really needs to do is cast one’s mind back and quote a few choice swearwords and staple them to a narrative which cruelly pinpoints some of the episode’s moments of pure idiocy.
This week, like me, Gordon is in Cardiff, and he’s having fun with the welsh language, finding ways to mangle native words so that they can be cheerfully pronounced ‘queer’ and ‘cunt-a’. At the Fish and Anchor, meanwhile, Mike and Carol might just be the most colourful characters in the show’s history – which is obviously saying something. Mike may not be English, but he’s the archetypal British Bulldog – a squat, small-eyed skinhead softened by rolls of fat. Gordon fancies himself as a bit of a hardman too, as we know, so he makes a point of utilising his winning way with an introduction. “You’re Mike”, he says. “I didn’t know you’d be so short”.
Mike runs the Fish and Anchor with his wife, Carol, and swiftly explains that he’s not messing around; he’s after a Michelin star and has a method that surely can’t fail – he only cooks from famous chef’s recipes, proudly showing off a three feet high pile of cookery books. Not that he can’t cook himself; he quickly informs the camera that a friend of his ate at Claridges recently and said the food he cooks is better than Gordon’s. Not just that, in his internet guise as Michael Jones, he’s been telling the world the same thing
How best to illustrate the short-fall in his self-mythologising? Well, the food he cooks is shit and his twist on a Madhur Jeffrey curry utilises Uncle Ben’s stir-in sauce. Oh dear. The real entertainment, for once, is not in watching Gordon filling him on his failings, but rather in the way Mike interacts with Carol. Their hosting method is, frankly, amazingly original; not only do they get stressed and angry, they actually scream and yell at each other, completely forgetting there are customers present. When the customers do complain, they react furiously, instructing them to “fuck off and don’t come back”. The customers, completely astonished, are too outraged to fight back. Unbelievable.
Poor old Gordon, for once, similarly can’t keep up – sure, he contributes his usual volleys of “come on big boy” and “fuuuuck me”, but he can’t really complete with Carol’s language, which is peppered with phrases like “I’ve had a titful”, and “I don’t give two shiny shites”. He’s frankly flabbergasted, but, in fairness to her, recognises her televisual potential and makes sure he picks a fight at the first opportunity, amping it up so that her reaction is as extreme as possible. All the same, her response is predictably entertaining. There’s a wonderful moment when she stalks back into the restaurant hissing “fuck off” repeatedly at her husband. Moments later she is trying to justify her sudden rage. “I just don’t like being told to ‘fuck off’”, she says. Wow.
Like all good reality TV, however, the success of the show depends whether the horror can be tempered by some real progress, and in this case Mike, at least, tries his hardest. He’s not the brightest of lads, but he seems to be aware of this. “I’m going to listen to Gordon”, he says, “and absorb it like a sponge, as much of it as I can”. I fear that he won’t be absorbing that much.
Except that he does, revealing that he has Italian heritage and responding well to Gordon’s suggestions. He reinvents himself and the restaurant accordingly. He even stops arguing with Carol. And his enthusiasm is really heartening – “I’m just going to cook what’s in myself”, he says, tapping his torso with a podgy finger. Gordon must have quietly dissuaded him of this, however, as his subsequent cooking doesn’t seem to contain either lager or lard.
My favourite moment of the show was the scene when Gordon exploded in frustration, dressing down his hosts with a typical display of invective. As Charlie Brooker pointed out in the last episode of his recent series of Screenwipe, reality TV shows are always carefully edited to ramp up the tension in every scene, no matter how ludicrous they invariably are. At this moment, however, with Gordon in full flow, the cameraman allows the shot to track to the right, and there we find two teenage waitresses collapsing in silent hysterics.
Ironically it’s one of the waitresses who rescues the show, too. Having tried to teach his charges an awful lot in a short period of time, the first night threatens to completely fall apart until a waitress does exactly that – she slips and falls and is badly hurt. Food goes off the menu and filming stops. The urgency of the show naturally takes a hit and it’s a while before everyone gets back on board – in fact, it’s a month later, and by then it seems that Gordon’s words have sunk in a little. The restaurant is transformed, no longer a battleground and a veritable success. Despite describing Carol as a dragon, it’s clear that Ramsey likes them and seems genuinely pleased that it’s not just the restaurant that’s been fixed up, but also the couple’s relationship. As an hour long documentary, and as a piece of entertainment, it’s another success.
Great stuff. Keep an eye out for the repeats.