I caught Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen one night on Fox while waiting to suffer through another episode of Anthony Bourdain’s recently-wrapped flop, The Taste, on ABC, and I got hooked. That jerk Ramsay’s strangely addictive, and he gave me a flash of inspiration on how Tony could meld formats into a cooking competition I’d watch.
First, limit the herd to 12 cooks so we can actually relate to them and pick a favorite.
Don’t mix home cooks with pros. It’s unfair. Period.
A season’s cast would either be all line cooks who aspire to chefdom, or home cooks, with challenges devised accordingly. Restaurant seasons could feature production cooking with the truffles and pea purées, but home-cooking seasons would be geared to potlucks, family BBQs, school lunches, holiday feasts — stuff “normal” people prepare.
Like Ramsay, Bourdain is head chef and sole judge. He devises each week’s menu to challenge the cooks and, hopefully, delight the diners. The food could be exotic, if he dares.
But instead of managing by berating and screaming obscenities, Bourdain mentors and teaches while trying to whip his crew into a crack team. Their failures are his failures. No lip service to how much judges “suffer.” He’d have skin in the game.
Tony in the kitchen, managing, would have plenty of ops for mayhem, with one-liners and bleeps —delivered with his customary snark or charm, not Ramsayish apoplexy.
Each night’s challenge is to impress a dining room full of chefs, food bloggers, foodie snobs, rubes, kids, some ilk-of-the-week. We’d watch them kvetch, retch, or praise, but their opinions would not determine anybody’s fate.
Instead, they give Tony and his crew feedback to soak in, with all equally accepting the glory, embarrassment, or blame.
Like Ramsay, Tony asks the cooks to pick someone to be eliminated, but he makes the ultimate decision. He might choose the one who’s 1) hopelessly inept, 2) incapable of teamwork, 3) lacking finesse in sabotage (serving justice by kicking out the culinary Omorosas), or for whatever reasons he thinks are important.
The winner is the one Tony would ultimately want in his own kitchen and can recommend “with no reservations” for a restaurant job with one of his chef pals.
Tony’s BFF’s might be invited guests to help him rally the troops in the kitchen, so we could see the likes of Ripert and Andres at work. And they would risk sharing the blame for meals gone wrong.
America could see how these guys earned the celebrity chef laurels they’re now resting on. The tone would be upbeat and instructive. When someone fails, it’s not because they’re being deliberately screwed and humiliated by pros hoping to boost ratings.
Bourdain believes cooking is a mentoring profession, as he says at around minute 15 of this interview at Serious Eats, so this cruelty-free format is a natural fit for him.
We’d be spared dead-weight judges like Brian Malarkey and Padma Lakshmi. Cooks would be assessed on whole meals, not one ridiculous bite. AND Bourdain could renew his “celebrity chef” cred, possibly ushering in the next generation of great chefs — all without slaving over a hot stove himself.
What do you think? (Discuss among yourselves; I bet you can improve on this even more. I’ll be back April 8.)