Serious Eats

Why I Hate 'Hell's Kitchen'

"It's an arms race of foulness."

20090721hellskitchen.jpg

Photograph from the Los Angeles Times

I’ve been an Iron Chef fan since before the Food Network wormed its way into basic cable. I’ve watched and re-watched every episode of Top Chef ever aired; Top Chef Masters, too. I’ve even gotten hooked on The Next Food Network Star.

But Hell’s Kitchen, whose sixth season premiered last night—I hate.

Even as I sit typing these words, hours after the show, I can feel myself seething with rage. It’s not only that I think that Hell’s Kitchen is a terribly crafted program. It’s that it feeds off the very worst of humanity—sure, drawing out the ugliest parts of its competitors, but getting the audience caught up in it, too.

Oh, it's not just the vulgarity—obscenities bleeped at least 15 times in the first three minutes, after which I stopped counting. It's not just the in-your-face chefs trumpeting their superiority, threatening to punch the maître d', or screaming at others for their own mistakes.

It's that the contestants, who really should be called characters, play into it, too—all trying to one-up the others, to become the nastiest, most vulgar, most extreme competitor Hell's Kitchen has ever seen. They try to out-Ramsay Ramsay, who is already unpleasant enough for an entire network's worth of television. It's an arms race of foulness.

And—the true sin, in my opinion—Hell's Kitchen has ceased to be entertaining.

I'm well aware that Hell's Kitchen isn't intended as a skill-based cooking competition, that it's about knives clashing and curses flying. Hell's Kitchen is to Top Chef what WWE Raw is to martial arts. Perhaps I just don't understand the appeal of swearing, bickering, backstabbing pseudo-chefs wielding sharp objects. But then again, I don't like WWE Raw, either.

Postscript: My brother, also my roommate, a rabid Hell's Kitchen fan, and the reason that I'll be coerced into watching this God-awful program instead of the simultaneously-aired NYC Prep, wishes to note that not all Hell's Kitchen episodes are so riotous and crude. "Later on in the show," he says, "when all of Gordon's cannon fodder has been cleared out, the show turns from 'Who's not the worst line cook this week?' to determining who can actually design and execute a menu." Fair enough. But first impressions die hard.

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