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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Bravo, Bourdain!

July 26, 2013

By Karen

I’ve been engrossed in a Dexter catch-up marathon, so I was watching people getting hacked to bits in the hours leading up to Anthony Bourdain’s debut as a talk show host, subbing for Piers Morgan.

Yet I was feeling a weird, elated anticipation at seeing Tony take on a new venue.

I don’t watch Morgan, and I was surprised to see a studio audience. But Tony’s personal appearance experience served him well and he didn’t let all those eyes in such close proximity rattle him. OK, his teleprompter reading seemed a tad stiff, but that’s a skill he’s never needed much.

I think I detected some underlying nervousness, and it was gratifying to watch him power through it.

First guests were David Carr from the New York Times and David Simon, whom Tony introduced only as creator of The Wire. Then I think he mumbled Simon was his boss on Treme, and Simon added he was Tony’s boss “too briefly.”

Somebody, tell me. Has the Treme gig ended? I don’t get HBO.

As they discussed legalizing drugs, I really appreciated Bourdain’s uncanny ability to know when to shut up and just listen.

He’s the Anti-Lauer.

Next topic was the NSA scandal and Edward Snowden. Tony neatly tied it to travel by asking, “Where would you rather spend the rest of your life? Venezuela or Russia?”

Simon said he’d never been to either country, so Tony offered, “Venezuela. You’ll eat much better there.”

That segment seemed a little uptight, with Tony reading pre-written questions, but at least he got the hard part out of the way first.

Then on came Tony’s besties, chefs Mario Batali and Eric Ripert. You could almost feel the room thaw.

I thought their assessment of whether the “hostile work environment” Paula Deen allegedly created in her restaurants was any worse than Gordon Ramsay’s behavior toward his staffs on TV (complete with video clip) took an excellent slant on that story.

Tony was totally in his element now, with no cue cards needed.

They also discussed Justin Bieber’s recent peeing into a restaurant kitchen mop bucket that had Tony up in arms on Twitter. Batali said he would “kick (Bieber’s) ass,” and Ripert pronounced it “drunk and stupid.”

Then they had a negroni, a concoction of Bombay gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Sounds disgusting to me, but I think of gin as liquefied Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, Batali and Ripert weren’t invited to the great cronut tasting. Tony brought out some guy from Grub Street and the cronut’s inventor, Dominique Ansel.

The audience got to taste a cronut and a DKA.

(Just Googled DKA. It’s “Dominique’s Kouign Amann,” a version of a Breton pastry that’s sort of a caramelized croissant. And Ansel’s website text has so many embarrassing mechanical errors, it SCREAMS for my day-job proofreading services.)

But anyway, Tony, who’s on record for hating sweets, had never tasted a cronut. He LOVED it, and the DKA. The audience was split, so no clear preference was established.

I’ve been thinking writing is his only fall-back for later career, but now I can see Bourdain hosting a talk show about travel and food (in that order). But not like The Chew. More sophisticated, geared to well-traveled viewers.

He’s got a quick, dry wit, and you never know what’s coming out of his mouth next. And he can harness the profanity. I don’t think he had to be bleeped once. He’s also got the inventiveness to take a done-to-death story like Paula Deen and turn it on its ear. Not to mention he’s not exactly hard on the eyes.

Bourdain, congratulations! Cats Working gives you 12 paws up. You hit this one out of the park, and we hope more opportunities like it start rolling in.


Brian Malarkey Out at “The Taste”

June 28, 2013

By Karen

It’s official, at least according to Eater.com. Brian Malarkey will not be returning as a judge for Season 2 of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste.

Quel dommage.

Malarkey’s fondly remembering the experience as one where his wise counsel resulted in the Season 1 winner — who already happened to be Charlie Sheen’s personal chef.

As if those almost-gratuitous “mentoring” scenes that included Bourdain drinking with and Ludo Lefebvre berating the cooks had anything to do with anything.

There’s no definitive word yet on the return of Ludo, but I wouldn’t miss him. I just hope this news on Malarkey is an indication of some major retooling, although it’s not evident from the audition process. This from the FAQs

“You must serve one plate of food to Producer’s food experts. You will not have access to any equipment to heat your food and the dish you choose to serve should be one that can go without refrigeration for several hours. When preparing your dish, please take every effort to preserve your food to avoid spoilage and to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses. We suggest transporting your food in a portable cooler to prevent spoilage. You must bring your own utensils including the plate, knives, forks, spoons, etc. You will only be given a few minutes to plate your dish (once you get into the audition room) so bring whatever it is you need to do that!”

Filming of the series is planned for September.

In the meantime, I’ve been watching Master Chef, and I’ve come to absolutely loathe that bald POS whose name I don’t even want to know. He verbally eviscerates and threatens the cooks every chance he gets, when he’s not spitting out their food or hurling their plates into the garbage right in their faces.

He makes Gordan Ramsay come off as a nurturing, caring cream puff.

I’d like to see Bourdain and Nigella Lawson go head to head with teams they actively lead. Maybe with an impartial third guest judge on tap for a tie-breaker who’s not Ludo.


OMG, it’s True. ‘The Taste’ Will Return

June 14, 2013

By Karen

I’ve been hoping it was just a rumor, but ABC really has renewed Anthony Bourdain’s wretched cooking competition for a second season. They’re even churning out fantasy hype like it’s “America’s greatest new cooking show” and the contestants will be “mentored by the biggest stars in the business.”

Hellooo?? What “business,” exactly? ABC, do you have any idea when Bourdain last worked in a kitchen? Or what talent(s) his current celebrity is built on?

(Hint: It ain’t cooking.)

The official casting call has gone out for the next batch of hopeful, hapless schmucks.

The dates aren’t set yet, but they’ll audition victims in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Nashville — that last locale undoubtedly to snag a trailer-trash token for diversity, à la last season’s Lauren, who turned out to be surprisingly adept.

They’re still clinging to the faux-democratic approach of giving everyone from “college students to restaurateurs” a shot. It just virtually guarantees wildly varied results and unfair outcomes.

But I detect maybe two rays of hope for this train wreck:

1. Tony and Nigella Lawson alone appear in the promo (below), with no mention of Season 1 judges Ludo Lefebvre or Brian Malarkey. Have they dumped the dick and the dead weight?

2. Tony and Nigella say the show is “all about the food.” Does the food have a hope of showing up on PLATES this time?

I’ve lately been following Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef (the latter of which I soon loathed as much as Top Chef for its stupid gimmicks and one cold, bald, prick of a judge who thinks he can see into men’s souls).

But the thing Ramsay’s machine excels at is selecting cooks with personalities, and then giving them the screen time to make viewers care.

Let’s hope Season 2 of The Taste brings the cooks off the back burner and lets the show be about THEM.

Not about judges hanging out for fun and profit, fulfilling their ABC contracts by throwing out offhand assessments of morsels so small they often couldn’t identify them, and disappointing a gamut of celebrity chef wannabes who made the mistake of thinking The Taste’s absurd format gave them a prayer of being discovered.

In case you missed Season 1, want to know who won it? Not one of the earnest, talented home cooks, or even a restaurant worker. No. The winner was Charlie Sheen’s personal chef.

So much for diversity.


An Idea for Bourdain’s Ultimate Cooking Competition

March 28, 2013

By Karen

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.)


“The Taste” Takes a Final Bow

March 13, 2013

By Karen

Waiting for the season finale of Anthony Bourdain’s cooking competition, The Taste to begin, I caught the first hour of the season premiere of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen on Fox.

Talk about contrasts. Ramsay had 20 contestants fly in to LAX, then immediately flew them to Vegas, where the winners of the first competition (the women’s team), held before a live audience of 2,500, were rewarded with meeting Celine Dion and seeing her show, while the men rode a bus through the desert back to Los Angeles.

Ramsay’s a jerk, but he makes The Taste seem quaintly low-budget.

But back to The Taste. Tony’s buddy and (Khristianne’s all-time idol), Chef José Andres, was guest judge.

Four contestants (and judges) were left: Diane (Tony), Sarah and Gregg (Ludo), and Khristianne (Malarkey). Nigella, having lost her entire team, became a roving mentor. The first competition required preparation of 3 different spoonfuls each, and would end in elimination of one cook.

Ludo devoted most of his mentoring to Sarah, tossing little snipes at Gregg. Remember, Gregg had been Ludo’s favorite spoon 3 weeks straight.

All I can say is, with friends like Ludo…

Tony gave Diane the benefit of his insight into Andres’ tastes, and agonized when it looked like Diane might be eliminated because Tony made her put tomato caviar on a prawn, which “stole” the prawn’s flavor, according to Andres.

Andres’ judging stood up to the pettiest kvetching you’ve ever heard on Top Chef. He complained of not enough “acid” on many spoons, and that a date Sarah served was “too big” for him to taste properly.

Gregg smelled victory when Andres pronounced his prawn perfectly cooked, and was stunned to be eliminated, but then he uttered the best put-down of the series…

“I’d rather lose doing it myself, than win having my hand held.”

Ludo pretended to be shocked, SHOCKED, that Gregg was gone, confirming my earlier diagnosis of Ludo’s schizophrenia.

So, Khristianne, Sarah, and Diane were charged again with creating 3 spoonfuls apiece.

Diane, superb sportswoman that she is, said, “I sure as heck don’t want to lose to a home cook.” (meaning Sarah)

And Tony said that viewers should want Diane to win “because she wants it so badly.”

In your dreams, Bourdain. In her TV debut, she wants us to think she’s a bitch. Bitches should never triumph.

As the final moments approached, I realized I didn’t give a rat’s ass who won.

Sarah cooked for Ludo’s sweet spot, and everyone declared all 3 of her spoons simple, yet well-executed.

So she came in third.

I don’t remember Diane’s spoons, but the comments weren’t all rosy, and she ended up “close, but no cigar.”

Khristianne, from the judges’ comments, thought she only had one good spoon out of 3. So she WON.

The actual judging was a blur, and I’m thinking it was deliberate to spare some judge from looking like an ass. But after 8 weeks of sitting through this train-wreck, I call a foul because viewers deserved to see which judges picked the winner.

Confetti fell as Khristianne received her trophy of 2 huge spoons on a pedestal. Tony congratulated Diane on winning — nothing.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Bourdain shared some final thoughts with Entertainment Weekly.


Bourdain Moonlighting on MasterChef?

June 6, 2011

By Karen

This is confusing…

While Anthony Bourdain was at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in mid-May, Digital Spy reported that he and Marco Pierre White filmed guest spots on the Australian version of the amateur cooking competition, MasterChef. That show was inspired by Gordon Ramsay’s original show in the U.K. Ramsay also does an American version, and Season 2 happens to premiere tonight on Fox at 8 p.m. (ET).

Australia’s Herald Sun reported that Bourdain will appear as a “mentor” on a NYC episode of the Aussie MasterChef when they fly some contestants to the Big Apple for a week. No air date was given. 

Now back in November, Hollywood Reporter asked Bourdain his opinion of MasterChef and Tony called Ramsay’s U.S. version “dreadful,” citing Top Chef as the “benchmark” for assessing such shows.

Yikes! If any show where Padma Lakshmi’s “expert” opinion counts for anything is where Tony sets the bar, how could anyone else possibly crawl any lower?

Also while in Australia, Bourdain did a Quick Fire interview with Not Quite Nigella where he seems to be going off the idea of someday moving to Italy, and Ottavia apparently has a lot to do with that.

He also gave an extensive interview to SBSfood and rattled off a quick recipe for pork rillettes.

If you follow the Bourdains on Twitter, you probably know that on the evening of May 24, Ottavia worked on the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck parked at 17th St. and Broadway in NYC for a few hours to raise money for Doctors Without Borders (Tony promised to match whatever she raised), and Tony showed up before his book-signing at a nearby Barnes &Noble to watch his better half sling a few cones.

Eater.com has many video clips of the Q&A Tony did later at B&N.

Travel Channel posts video of Tony chatting with ZPZ producer Tracy Gudwin about flipping underwear in a pinch on the road. She’s the woman who had to have a leech pulled off her ass in Malaysia.

TheDailyMeal.com ranked the top 25 Most Successful Chefs in America, and Bourdain made the list at No. 18, one notch above Emeril Lagasse. But from what I could gather from the story, this ranking was based on no facts and much wildly irrelevant conjecture (like the annual sales of Les Halles).

Eater continues to post scenes from Treme that Tony wrote. This one stars Eric Ripert.

Bourdain blogs on Inside Treme about the “real” Le Bernardin.

Art imitates life in Bourdain’s Treme connection. Janette, the character he’s writing for, will be working in a NYC David Chang-inspired restaurant called Lucky Peach, which is the name of Chang’s new real-life magazine.


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