Gordon Ramsay Couldn’t Shake Bourdain’s Shadow

By Karen

Gordon Ramsay’s first season of Uncharted recently wrapped on National Geographic. On the NatGeo site you can watch his travels to Peru, New Zealand, Morocco, Laos, Hawaii and Alaska. The reviews were not positive, usually comparing Ramsay unfavorably to Anthony Bourdain.

Ramsay has been my guilty pleasure for years, though I admit he’s not for everybody.

He shows (I hope) his nice side on MasterChef Junior with adorably precocious kids. On adult MasterChef, the withering insults flow, but he leaves the heaviest dickishness to fellow judge Joe Bastianich.

I love Hell’s Kitchen when Ramsay, in bleep-filled fury, strips culinary bozos of their delusions of competence. He’s similar on 24 Hours to Hell and Back, trying to save failing restaurants by berating and humiliating the owners in front of their customers. I was also a fan of Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell. Not so much The F Word.

Bottom line: I’ve seen a lot of Gordon Ramsay. Uncharted was something else.

Ramsay denies ripping off the Bourdain formula, saying he got the idea in Cambodia during a 2004 visit. But comparison was inevitable because both men’s series focused on travel and food. Ramsay’s big twist was his trademark move: turning the food into a competition with a tight deadline.

Ramsay’s mission was to learn as much as he could about the place’s cuisine in a week, then to prepare a feast against a local chef, with invited guests blindly choosing which dishes they preferred.

To make it a “fair fight,” Ramsay gave himself the disadvantage of cooking outdoors with unfamiliar ingredients. He always managed to create something edible, but his dishes weren’t always the favorites. His willingness to come in second showed, at least, an attempt to be humble.

To develop his menu, Ramsay roamed around and had people show him where ingredients such as eels, ants, beetles, grubs, plants growing on cliff sides, fish and game were sourced. Gathering them was often physically grueling, showcasing that 52-year-old Ramsay works out a lot.

What Uncharted never showed was Ramsay strolling through city or village markets, looking effortlessly chic and cool in a rumpled shirt and jeans.

Also missing was the stunning cinematography that Bourdain’s Zero Point Zero film crew had honed to Emmy quality. Uncharted captured what it needed of Ramsay, but any tourist could have shot the uninspired B-roll.

Another glaring omission for Bourdain-spoiled viewers was compelling narrative. Ramsay’s voiceover was often nicely self-deprecating, but light on wit and insight.

Ramsay did break new ground by introducing the Ugly American’s cousin — the Ugly Scot. He mocked locals for going to extremes to snag ingredients. He spit out what he was served a lot. Apparently not a drinker, he missed those opportunities to bond with his hosts, settling instead for a quick sip of the local brew, then insulting it with a puckered face.

Most irritating to me were Ramsay’s ever-present deadlines, which he enlisted everyone into helping him meet.

“I want to hear all about your history, your culture and your cooking techniques, but I’ve got this feast to prepare in the morning, so chop-chop!”

Bourdain had a production schedule, but I can’t recall ANY meal in ANY of his series where he ever made his hosts feel like he didn’t have all day or night to spend with them, eating, drinking, just shooting the shit and enjoying himself.

If Gordon Ramsay accomplished anything with Uncharted, it was to unwittingly remind us of the extraordinary soul we lost with Bourdain’s passing.

8 Responses to Gordon Ramsay Couldn’t Shake Bourdain’s Shadow

  1. Anita says:

    Karen, thanks for a review of this. I saw it but couldn’t bring myself to watch. I felt it was a rip off of Anthony’s work and you confirmed that with also pointing out the big differences.

    I live near Lake Tahoe and visit every 2-3 months and Ramsey just announced a Hell’s Kitchen there. People are very excited but I’m a little cautious. It’s such a beautiful mellow area (except for summer) and would hate to see his hyper caustic energy infest the whole town. I guess we will see what happens.

  2. catsworking says:

    Anita, I do remember Ramsay mentioning that he was opening a Hell’s Kitchen in Vegas or thereabouts. I really don’t know get why he’d want to. The only thing to recommend the one he has now is that it’s staffed by nitwits and he screams at them to give the customers ulcers.

    I actually watched all of Uncharted, but faded out on the last episode in Alaska because I have zero interest in that place, thanks to Palin, and Ramsay started killing animals, a la Bourdain.

    Both Ramsay and Bourdain did episodes in Laos, and since I happened to have both on the DVR, I got to compare them. For Ramsay, it was more like he was competing on a game show. Tony actually asked political questions that his hosts were afraid to answer for fear of government retaliation.

    If Ramsay gets another season of Uncharted, I’ll probably take a pass.

  3. dellachiara says:

    It will be a long time before anyone worthy of stepping into Bourdain’s shoes comes along, and I’ll wager a bet it won’t be a currently known TV chef. Marcus Samuelsson tried – it was okay, but not as interesting as Tony. Ramsey is just too abrasive and obnoxious, without any of the charisma, charm, and brilliance of Bourdain. Can’t think of anyone else who would come close. Perhaps one day a stranger will come along out of nowhere, like Bourdain did. He won’t have to try to copy Bourdain; he’ll have his (or her!) own bright light to shine into the dark pit that food/travel television more often than not tends to be. Meanwhile, I’m happy to watch Bourdain reruns.

  4. catsworking says:

    dellachiara, I agree 100% with you. I see no one out there right now to pick up the torch. One day a new face will come along and have a new voice we find unique and refreshing, but he will be compared to Bourdain and must be original enough to survive that.

    We were lucky to be here while there was a Bourdain and to appreciate him. He was one of a kind. Sometimes when I’m watching a rerun, an old song starts running in my head: “There will never be another you.”

    I’ve got all of A Cook’s Tour on DVD, and almost all of No Reservations. I’ll be dipping into those when I need a Bourdain fix, although I just checked the DVR and I see CNN will be rerunning some episodes of Parts Unknown over the next week. The one with Eric in China where Tony loads him up with hot spices is one of them.

  5. dellachiara says:

    Indeed, there will never be another like him. They broke the mold after he was born. Which is as it should be. I miss him so much and wonder what he would have to say about current events. I can use my imagination and hear him in his own voice letting ‘er rip… lol!

  6. Ida says:

    Not to defend Ramsay but does he say anywhere that he wants his show to follow in the footsteps of Bourdain? I watched a couple of episodes and while I don’t really like Ramsay as a television personality (he doesn’t have the personality to carry a show quite frankly), I didn’t think of Bourdain/Parts Unknown at all. I thought Ramsay’s show was more reminiscent of Jamie Oliver’s format, of a Brit abroad who has to learn from the locals and then goes and cooks a meal in the local style and then the locals have to eat it and critique it. Oliver does that in both his show in Italy and in the US (maybe others too). I thought Ramsay’s show was more comparable to Oliver than to Bourdain.

  7. catsworking says:

    Ida, I haven’t seen Jamie Oliver’s show so I can’t compare. But Gordon Ramsay has never said anywhere that he wanted his show to be like Bourdain’s, nor was he trying to copy the format. I forget the exact year now (2012 or 2002) was when he said he first got the idea for it, and it’s pure coincidence that it finally came to be after Bourdain’s show ended.

    I personally think Ramsay should stay in the kitchen. He’s not much of a people person, and he just makes an ass of himself when he tries to mingle with locals because everything has to be a competition with him. Maybe he’s different when no cameras are around, but on air he’s simply too full of himself.

  8. Ida says:

    You hit the nail on the head there:

    ‘he just makes an ass of himself when he tries to mingle with locals because everything has to be a competition with him’

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