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Champagne Wishes and Catfish Egg Dreams – Hell's Kitchen 2, Episode 4


While the end result of cooking can be sublime, the cooking itself can leave you feeling exhausted and dirty. Sort of like watching “Hell’s Kitchen.” While I certainly enjoy me some Gordon Ramsay f-bombs and vein pops, the show that delivers them to me is making me miss “Top Chef” in a big way. I’m even missing the host Kathie Lee Joel; she might be a fembot, but at least she would class up this joint a little.

But alas, we’re stuck with it. And the chefs are stuck with each other, which they’re not always thrilled about. Virginia confronts Sara about the events of the previous service (Sara let Virginia take the heat for what seemed to be Sara’s mistake). Sara is unfazed, and thinks that Virginia is acting like a “baby with a load in [her] diaper.” Classy.

No time for a changing, though, as the chefs have to assemble with Ramsay in the restaurant. He’s pulled together a tasting menu for them, some kabobs, pate, fondue and caviar. What the chefs don’t know is that everything on the table is a fake. The kabobs have been assembled from a frozen dinner, the pate is ground hot dogs, the fondue is spray-cheese (mmmm…spray cheese…) and the caviar is catfish eggs.

Of course, everyone sets about proclaiming how great everything is. Here are my problems with this exercise:

  • Most of the chefs selected for this show were selected for their potential entertainment value, not refined culinary expertise. Is it reasonable or appropriate to expect someone like Garrett – the “Prison Chef” – or Maribel – the “Cafeteria Chef” – to have intimate knowledge of the correct taste of caviar? It’s possible, certainly, but after spending four shows playing up the blue-collar or hard-scrabble roots of some contestants, am I supposed to be surprised that they might not be familiar with some higher-end delicacies?
  • Blind taste tests have shown that even wine connoisseurs can’t tell the difference between white and red wine without context. So palates could well be highly influenced by information besides what actually goes into one’s mouth.
  • Everyone is so cowed by Ramsay, who is going to be honest about what they really think? How many psychological experiments have been done showing how authority figures can convince people to do or say things they wouldn’t normally? He’s there saying this is some excellent food, what are they going to do – argue with him? At such close quarters? Would you? (Although, to be honest, his calm and happy manner probably should have tipped them off immediately that something was very much amiss).

OK, I’ll get off my horse now; just again, so much of how Fox constructs this show seems simplistic and mildly insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. My irritation is matched by Virginia’s when she learns of the trick. She was taking the tasting seriously, and doesn’t appreciate being made a fool of.

She has a chance to redeem herself though, as the teams are about to enter a challenge. They will each have a blindfolded taste test and the team with the most correctly identified food items will win a special field trip. The losers will have to clean the kitchens, which have not been touched since the previous night’s service.

Maribel and Keith are up first, and they both guess two correctly, and miss two. The teams are tied as Virginia and Heather are matched. They both miss sea urchin, correctly the guess the next two, but then Heather incorrectly labels a Swiss cheese as Parmigiano-Reggiano. The Red Team is in the lead for the last pairing, Sara versus Garrett. Garrett is unable to pull the Blue Team up, so the all-women team is off to be pampered at a photo shoot while the Blue Team cleans up the kitchen.

Adding insult to injury, Garrett is forced to run extra bottles of champagne over the shoot for the ladies. The women drink the champagne, eat some good food, get pedicures and are styled for the shoot. As they pose for the shoot, Sara unapologetically passes gas right next to Gordon Ramsay. Again, classy, endlessly classy.

When they return to the house that night, Maribel is feeling down because she is missing her family. Rachel and Heather hang out and chat, and Sara seems irritated by their friendship.

The next evening’s service will be yet another attempt by the teams to actually complete a full service. The Blue Team is down one person compared to the Red Team, but they’re also free of dead weight and feel confident heading into the service.

Maybe a little over-confident: Heather catches some heat from Ramsay when he sees her starting pasta prior to receiving an order. He tells her if she ever does that again, she will be out.

Both teams get off to a rocky start. Heather’s risotto is no good and over on the Red side, Rachel sets a brief fire and ruins her quail. But the Red Team starts to pull it together and sends out their starters. Virginia actually wins some praise from Ramsay for her communication.

Keith starts to pull together the Blue Team, but it seems that there must always be equilibrium between the two, so as the Blue Team starts succeeding, the Red Team starts to fall apart. There is a hair on a dish sent out to the patrons, and Maribel argues with Ramsay about whose hair it might be. Then Rachel tries to send out overcooked quail. Ramsay is livid, and pulls her out of the kitchen to try to scare some sense into her.

It’s not all smooth sailing for the Blues. A dish of Keith’s is sent back, and he also makes the mistake of arguing with Ramsay about it, which earns him a righteous talking-to about his attitude.

And Rachel continues to seriously lose the plot. She tries to pass off over-cooked Wellingtons but is immediately caught by Ramsay. Although the Blue Team has succeeded in getting out their entrees, Ramsay still decides to shut down the restaurant. Apparently, tonight Ramsay is showing us a bit of his softer side, because much as he did with Rachel, he pulls Keith aside and tells him he has talent, but Keith’s got to get himself together and lose the attitude.

While the Blue Team was not completely error-free, they were certainly more successful in getting out meals, so the Red Team is named the worst. Virginia – who has been on the chopping block twice before – is noted as showing real improvement this service, and is given that somewhat-dubious honor of being called “The Best of the Worst.” She will have to go through the potentially pointless exercise of naming two chefs to be up for dismissal. (Potentially pointless because past episodes have shown Ramsay’s going to do what he wants to do anyway regardless of team’s nominations.)

Virginia makes the rounds of her teammates to let them each lobby for position. I have never understood this particular gambit in these situations. Either someone has performed or they haven’t. What does it matter what defense they offer to you after the fact? Again, it’s Hell’s Kitchen, not Hell’s Debate Club.

Back at the restaurant, Virginia names the obvious: Rachel. Then – after going into some detail about Sara’s shady dealings – the not-so-obvious: Maribel. Ramsay approves of her choices, though, and promptly dispatches Rachel from the show. He commends her for her hard work, but hard work isn’t all there is to being a Top Chef. Oh, sorry: hard work isn’t all there is to making it in Hell’s Kitchen. My bad! Wishful thinking, I guess.

See you next week! I’ll bring the spray cheese, you bring the Triscuits!


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