Undaunted by “The Restaurant’s” commercial flameout on NBC, Fox has wedded that setting to the culinary equivalent of Simon Cowell in this peculiar confection, which attempts to transform cooking risotto into an ordeal rivaling military boot camp. The U.S. clearly isn’t generating homegrown cretins fast enough, which must explain the logic behind importing celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, a cartoonishly abusive snot who chucks food at contestants. Some will doubtless embrace the show’s camp qualities, but I simply kept thinking “Check, please” through the first two episodes.
Set in a built-for-the-series L.A. kitchen and restaurant, the program features the customary assortment of hopefuls vying to become a star chef. When this ditsy dozen includes a chubby guy named Dewberry, you know the casting people have outdone themselves.
The problem rather lies with Ramsay, who overplays his part from the opening moments, spewing bleeped-out profanity as if trained at the “Deadwood” school of cooking while spitting out the would-be chefs’ concoctions, referring to one as a “dehydrated camel’s turd.” Brought to you by Denny’s!
Addressing the camera, Ramsay contends that such nastiness paves the road to perfection, but it’s not entirely clear how beyond building fortitude among participants, who are expected to politely say “Yes, chef” to whatever bile he hurls their way. Let’s hope no one has seen “Full Metal Jacket,” or else those carving knives may be put to more crowdpleasing use.
Then again, Ramsay doesn’t confine his outbursts to his pupils. When customers complain that they’re not being served due to Ramsay’s “We shall serve no shitty food” policy, he insults them as well. Most of the witless slurs don’t rise above the level of a playground fight, including one guy who boasts having a doctorate from USC but was apparently stupid enough to sign whatever waiver allowing the footage be shown.
Mostly, it’s another reality title in search of a show, so thin in terms of drama and narrative flow that narrator Jason Thompson is forced to work overtime, constantly explaining that the entrees have yet to go out or reminding us what’s at stake. Nor is it especially convincing to have Ramsay’s robotic sous chefs, Scott and Mary Ann, try to behave like drill sergeants with spatulas.
“Hell’s Kitchen” marks a remnant of that moment when no elimination concept was too inane, but at this point it has the reheated feel of days-old leftovers served simply because they were on the shelf. Don’t believe the promos, though: The real test here isn’t enduring the heat; it’s the stupidity.