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.


Trying to Acquire “The Taste” Again

January 9, 2014

By Karen

An opportunity for a preview of Downton Abbey on January 2 trumped the premier of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste. Unfortunately, I hadn’t programmed The Taste on my DVR, and then ABC took its sweet time making it available On Demand, so I’m a week late to this party. But last night I caught up on the first 2 hours not because I loved the first season, but because… well, how should I say this?… my name is Karen and I’m a Bourdainiac and I couldn’t NOT.

Let’s start with the positives…

Was it me, or did selection seem a bit less cruel this season? I even enjoyed seeing the 2 most arrogant douchebag hopefuls (one of which spent 6 whole minutes preparing raw tuna) get rejected.

New judge Marcus Samuelsson is a vast improvement over the personality-free Brian Malarkey. I don’t know anything about Samuelsson except that he has 6 James Beard awards, but he’s lively and a good foil for the other three.

Bourdain seems to be going more after Ludo Lefebvre and his chronic dickishness (which Ludo calls “passion”). And is Ludo laying the French accent on quite a bit thicker this year? Half the time, I could barely understand him. He’s making Eric Ripert sound like a Midwesterner.

Now…

That circle jerk of an introduction to the judges, with Nigella gushing that Bourdain is “the Mick Jagger of food.”

That metaphor would make a little sense only if Mick Jagger were renowned as the world’s foremost LISTENER to music.

I don’t hold Bourdain accountable for such silly hyperbole, although I hope it still makes him wince. He’s riding the wave, hanging out and having fun with accomplished working chefs and being allowed to coast on 13-year-old laurels, which he readily admits where never in the same league.

I didn’t pay much attention to who got picked because there’s no sense in forming attachments before the herd-thinning gets serious. Tony’s team includes some dysfunctional misfits he personally identified with and hopes to whip into a juggernaut. Some of the other judges’ picks seemed capricious, and I suspect more for dramatic potential than love of their food.

And somebody claimed one androgynous cook strongly reminiscent of the first season’s winner.

The actual competition begins tonight. Now it’s on my DVR because if ABC continues its relentless bombardment of No!No!, UNICEF, and ASPCA commercials, which I was unable to skip on On Demand, I’ll definitely end up hairless, with a child and a puppy.

But I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the show’s basically ridiculous premise — a taste.

Who the f**k sits down to a meal and decides whether it’s good or bad by jamming every freaking thing on the plate onto one forkful and cramming it in their mouth?

I think what The Taste ultimately accomplishes with its little white spoon gimmick is to diss each component of all the cook’s efforts and to honor none.

THIS JUST IN…

Bourdain is apparently in the process of opening some sort of international food market in New York City.


“The Taste” Gets Downright Gory

February 27, 2013

By Karen

I’ve sunk too many Tuesday nights (and blog posts) into Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste, to abandon it now. But it certainly didn’t bode well when ABC made Wife Swap, featuring 2 has-been reality bimbos, the lead-in to Taste’s new 9 p.m. slot. Even worse, one bimbo was talent-free Kate Gosselin, doing her best to destroy the other bimbo’s marriage. But that’s another post (which I’ll never write).

I think The Taste started the night with 10 contestants, and 3 would be doomed.

The show has only 8 weeks, and they wasted 2 weeks picking 16 freaking contestants so, inevitably, they now must dish out the bum’s rush in bunches.

So much for giving viewers a chance to build allegiance to anyone.

Another pair of “renowned” chefs I’ve never heard of, Frederick Morin and Dave McMillan, judged the immunity challenge. The bar for celebrity guest status has never seemed so low.

This week’s bold twist was to give the winner of immunity a pass on landing at the bottom, no matter how execrable the dish (which was how it played out last week for Gregg).

The night’s theme was guts, and Gregg literally “hogged” this segment by blowing up a pressure cooker trying to boil a pig’s head.

But for the 3rd week in a row, Ludo picked Gregg’s dish to compete. (It’s all about taste, remember? Destroying the kitchen has nothing to do with it.) And for the third time, GREGG WON FREAKING IMMUNITY.

Ludo continued to scream and swear at his team like he hates them — all except his lone female, who returned his goo-goo eyes, like it would get her anywhere.

But Gregg was just getting started with the drama. Cooking for the final challenge, he severed part of a finger (or cut it deeply, we never got a reliable diagnosis). But he soldiered on, and his dish turned out badly.

That’s when Ludo felt compelled to appear impartial, so he roundly bitched out 9-fingered Gregg for his very existence in front of the judges, displaying not only his towering lack of class, but also schizophrenia.

Tony’s team merrily drank its way through prep time, so perhaps it was no coincidence when he got porked in the judging. He lost Uno, who played it “too safe” with BOORRIINNG! shrimp heads, and Ninamarie, who doesn’t like cooking guts and couldn’t make liver delightful enough.

So Bourdain’s down to bitchy Diane, and Nigella’s still got her Mississippi trailer girl Lauren (the night’s sole survivor on the bottom).

Ludo and Malarkey have several apiece. For the record, Adam on Malarkey’s team was the 3rd one sent home.

Next week (which Tony called the “semi-finals”) has something to do with love, and 3 more will get cut.


Trying Not to Hate “The Taste”

February 13, 2013

By Karen

After 2 weeks of competition, Anthony Bourdain pointed out that his team on The Taste is the only one with no members gone, and no dishes ranked on the bottom.

But that’s not to say we’ve been allowed to see Bourdain do any stellar mentoring. In fact, he thoughtfully selected tongue and kidneys as his team’s ingredients for the immunity challenge, and seemed to drink his way through their prep time.

Sure, Tony, you love eating guts, but WTF?

Not surprisingly, no one on his team won immunity. Instead it went to Gregg, the arrogant cooking teacher on Ludo’s team who’s apparently the male bitch-on-wheels counterpart to Tony’s Diane.

I left the room briefly and missed the introduction of the 2 guest judges. Like Gabrielle Hamilton’s last week, their participation seemed gratuitous and negligible,  and I still don’t know (or care) who they were.

But I am figuring out that for a team to win continued mentoring from the guest judge is the kiss of death. This week Ludo’s team won it, and Ludo lost Shawn, whom Ludo personally and petulantly kicked to the curb because Ludo had promised to do so if Shawn’s food went unloved again, which it did.

So much for impartial decisions based on ONE spoonful of food.

This week’s theme was to pair food with wine and, once again, a home cook on Nigella’s team made the “sweet” mistake. She paired a Reisling with some berry dessert and got her ass handed to her for it, although she wasn’t sent home.

OK judges, we get it. Anybody who likes sweet is a total rube with a palate as refined as a slab of cement.

They’re down to 12 cooks now, and I still don’t give a rat’s ass who stays and who goes.

The only person I haven’t come to loathe is Nigella. Bourdain’s so overdoing the jaded world traveler schtick, I actually applauded Shawn when he bristled at having his food dissed by “a guy who hasn’t cooked in 20 years.” (I think it’s closer to 13 years, but whatever.)

What makes for lousy food TV is fleeting glimpses of entire meals crammed onto spoons before the judges wolf them down and discuss them each for a nanosecond.

ABC is boiling it down to 3 arrogant pricks (Nigella excluded) being capricious, and mostly condescending and mean, to hapless schlubs trying to eke out 15 minutes of fame.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stick this out. The only annoyance missing from The Taste is Padma Lakshmi.


“The Taste” Finally Gets Down to Business

February 6, 2013

By Karen

According to Eater, Anthony Bourdain’s ABC cooking competition, The Taste, lost 1.3 million viewers when it dragged out team selection over 2 weeks. It debuted with viewership of 6.1 million and took the time slot.

As a die-hard Bourdainiac, I resisted Betty White’s Off Their Rockers and stuck around last night to watch the game begin.

Tony’s all-female gang named themselves “Fierce.” As the first challenge got under way, Bourdain observed his cooks and said he was pleased to have no men and no “bleeping chest-beating.”

Despite claims of putting a fresh spin on food competition, the first challenge was to cook for immunity, the night’s theme was “comfort food,” and the cooks had one hour to prepare each dish.

But they introduced a “surprise guest judge” as sole taster for immunity – Gabrielle Hamilton, author of that dreadful memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, that Tony claimed he wished he’d written.

Now Hamilton has the distinction of being TV’s first personality-free chef. Had she come across as any more of a nonentity, she would have been invisible.

Conversely, Ludo Lefebvre’s a certifiable asshole whose idea of mentoring is to order a team member to burn chicken skin and to panic and maniacally scream, “Mac and cheese, plate it, plate it, PLATE IT!”

In fairness, there WAS a twist. Each cook made a dish, but Hamilton only tasted one dish per team. So 12 dishes were prepared for the garbage.

Tony’s Ninamarie made a couscous Hamilton couldn’t identify (and in the next round, a chicken dish nobody could identify).

Lauren, the Mississippi trailer girl on Nigella’s team, won immunity with her chicken stew.

Lauren’s success earned for Nigella’s team mentoring by Hamilton for the big challenge, which 2 cooks would lose. The regular judges backed off so they wouldn’t know who cooked what.

In Tony’s kitchen, Diane quickly asserted herself as queen bitch, but then won the night when Tony and Nigella voted her Bi Bim Bap (whatever that is) best dish overall.

Mia’s dish reminded Tony of getting trapped in Beirut in 2006, which prompted him to tell his fellow judges he came right home and made a baby.

That moment couldn’t have been stranger if The Taste had suddenly turned into a musical, with Tony leaping onto the judges’ table to belt out a song.

Lauren insanely (with Hamilton’s mentoring?) made her first shepherd’s pie ever, which Nigella and Tony deemed “too cheesy” (is that possible?). Tony told Lauren, if not for immunity, she’d be gone.

Final judging was swift, but the contestants were all on camera in the background to hear the judges’ comments, but not see their faces.

The cooks were also the peanut gallery as 2 of their own (both home cooks) got the boot.

First to go was Micah from Malarkey’s team, who quit his job for the show. Next was Renatta from Nigella’s team, who dared make apple crumble with brown sugar, which Bourdain told her was a sin against palates as jaded as the judges’.

Slipping into Padma Lakshmi’s stilettos, Tony wielded the hatchet, but he did it swiftly, without insincere praise or faux empathy.

I predict a professional cook will win.

And I expect to see Jose Andres, Eric Ripert, Michael Ruhlman, David Chang, or perhaps Emeril turn up as future guest judges.


Screwed Myself on Bourdain Ticket

November 19, 2012

By Karen

Tickets for Anthony Bourdain’s April 23, 2013, Guts & Glory appearance in Richmond, Virginia, went on sale Friday, Nov. 16. While trying to coordinate with a small party, I waited until Saturday morning, intending to purchase a VIP ticket.

ONE. FREAKING. DAY.

VIP tickets were sold out. But I was able to get a good seat (alone, I stopped caring where anybody else sits). I’ll be in the Orchestra, 7th row, undoubtedly within spitting distance of the VIPs.

Not to belittle Bourdain, but find it unbelievable that one nondescript mention of him at the end of a long, unrelated story in Wednesday’s food section in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and a few other bits in local outlets caused this box office stampede.

I smell a rat and wouldn’t be surprised if some corporate entity bought the VIP seats as a bloc.

So I won’t have another Bourdain encounter after all, but Cats Working will report nonetheless.

Here’s a nicely done recap of Tony’s sold-out G&G appearance on Nov. 16 at Boston’s Symphony Hall. Can’t say that I’m seeing him cover any new ground here, but maybe it wasn’t included.

I caught 2 more episodes of The Mind of a Chef on PBS, which aired at 3 a.m. here. (See what I’m saying about Richmond lacking the foodie gene?)

One episode was called “Rotten,” and included an hilarious demo on how to make kimchi:

In the other, David Chang traveled to Denmark for a lesson in how Scandinavians will eat just about any flora, and even the yukky skin that forms on hot milk.

And in the Tony’s Friends Dept.…

May 11, 2013, Tony is making a joint appearance with Andrew Zimmern in Minneapolis. Even though Tony will be a distant memory at Travel Channel (and possibly in litigation over the Cadillac commercial) by then, Zimmern still seems eager to bask in the fading glory. It’s kind of sad.

Eric Ripert is on a merchandising rampage. Now he’s launching his own line of Imperial Select Caviar. A 4 oz. tin sells for $525.

Top Chef co-host Padma Lakshmi has done a spread for Playboy because it seems there’s nothing she likes better than being naked or nearly so. And you know the world’s clamoring to see a woman who gave birth at nearly 40 in the altogether.

Padma credits her svelteness, which does appear to be waning, to a “fast metabolism.”

I’m thinking it’s that — and lots of quality time hunched over a toilet bowl.

And this just in… Padma never watches Top Chef.


Bourdain Coming to Richmond – At Last

November 13, 2012

By Karen

My eyes boinged out of their sockets this morning at the news Anthony Bourdain is finally — FINALLY! — coming to Richmond. He’s gracing us with his Guts & Glory at the newly-renovated Landmark Theater April 23, 2013.

I can hardly wait.

Moving on to chocolate, the rumor of Bourdain taking the merchandising plunge — with Eric Ripert — is true. Their Good & Evil bar hit the market November 9.

Last April, Eric hacked his way through the jungles of Peru with Pennsylvania chocolatier Christopher Curtin to reach rare trees that produce cacao beans long believed extinct, and he helped harvest them.

The result is a delicacy that’s 72% cacao, weighs 2.6 ounces, and retails for $18. Each.

If anybody splurges and orders one, please let us 99-Percenters know if you could detect its dark cherry notes.

A blogger at The New Yorker recently ripped Tony a new one for his very existence, accusing him of “brutishness” and leaving a “crude hickey on food culture.” Tony shot back promptly in the third comment. He must get Google alerts on himself.

As you probably know, No Reservations wrapped forever with Tony’s visit to Brooklyn. Especially poignant was the thought that his locales may have been doomed by Hurricane Sandy. (I wondered what happened to one man’s collection of vintage cars? And will Zamir follow Tony to CNN?)

Bourdain blogged what he considers his best and worst episodes of No Res. I have to agree that Rome, even in black and white, sticks in my mind. Tony in suit and tie tooling around with Ottavia glammed up like Sophia Hepburn was so Roman Holiday.

His remaining Travel Channel series, The Layover, debuts its second (and last) season November 19. I’m waiting to see to what new lows TC will sink to stretch the illusion of a Bourdain association.

But maybe they won’t be sorry to see the last of Tony after his cuss-filled Twitter tirade when they secretly spliced gratuitous shots of Cadillacs into Brooklyn show promo, making it look like his endorsement.

It took me right back to the days they had him flash a Chase Sapphire card to pay for his meals in exotic places.

UPDATE: Just discovered that Tony blogged at length about the Cadillac incident. He’s STILL pissed with Travel Channel, and rightly so, by the sound of it.

Travel Channel is such a clusterfuck on so many levels, you have to give them credit for creative underhandedness in advertising. I just realized they recently started duplicating episodes out on Verizon On Demand to trick hapless viewers into watching the longer one laced with commercials.

Almost forgot… I caught the first 4 half-hour episodes of Tony’s PBS series, The Mind of a Chef, starring David Chang. It came on at 2 a.m. here. Thanks to Bourdain, I’ve got this obsession with finding the perfect noodle, and that’s what the first episode was about. I didn’t expect the series to hold my attention, but it totally did. Highly recommend it.

And finally, Tony’s still writing for the HBO series Treme, and did a scene for Emeril Lagasse that reveals him in a light (and with a mouth) you’ve probably never seen before.

UPDATE: This will teach me not to read Twitter before I post. Bourdain’s new CNN series is called Parts Unknown. I like that. Here’s the promo.


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