Gordon Ramsay Couldn’t Shake Bourdain’s Shadow

September 4, 2019

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.

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