A kitchen nightmare

Here’s a riddle: when is a smug git not a smug git? Answer: when he’s a TV chef. The current vogue for objectionable men bellowing over a hot stove is truly one of the signature cultural innovations of our age, right up there with Jamster ring-tones and Vernon Kaye (world, these things we bequeath you). However, even in what is a veritable renaissance of televised culinary aggression, Gordon Ramsay stands out. And alone. Possibly next to a lake or a mountain range, staring resolutely forth and composing an inner monologue to the soaring trills of Take That about just how bloody important it is that his fishing trip goes well.

The return of The F Word (9pm Tuesday, C4), Ramsay’s swaggering vanity piece/cookery magazine show, is frankly a marvel. A couple of series ago, a slickly edited pigeon hunt which looked precisely as if Guy Richie had made a biopic about himself was Ramsay’s premiere moment of insufferable ego frenzy. Next to the new episodes that scene now looks meek and self-effacing. From the opening sequence, which consists of Ramsay striding purposefully down a corridor looking like a dehydrated Dirk Kuyt, to the individual recipe section illustrating his masterful handling of a frangipane tart, the show is essentially propaganda from a dystopian future in which the chef has seized the reigns of power and is now known as ‘Feeder of the People, Protectorate of the Nation‘s Kitchen’.

Not a single moment is wasted not conveying just what an impressive guy he is, as the programme flits between various incarnations of his heroism, like The Triumph of the Will with an indie soundtrack. Ramsay the inspirational catches an octopus and, before our very eyes, turns it into a stew. Ramsay the wise meets with the proletariat (Katie Price) and teaches her the correct and proper way of making Chicken Kiev (soon to be renamed Chicken Ramsay). Ramsay the benevolent tells a fellow chef that he enjoys his rice dish. But wait: the saffron ravioli is over-seasoned. What Ramsay giveth, Ramsay taketh away.

The cunning innovation of this series is a competition between professional chefs, a move utterly distinct from Masterchef: The Professionals, in which professional chefs…compete. The interesting aspect in this spectacular piece of plagiarism is that we can compare notes between Michel Roux Jr, who outranks Jesus in the genial charm stakes, and Dear Leader. At one stage of the proceedings, Italian chef, Diego Da Re, dubbed ‘Our fiery Venetian’ (which must make Ramsay positively volcanic) complains about the pastry brushes for the ravioli. Incensed, Ramsay berates him for his ingratitude, snarling, ‘[This kitchen] is a palace and I don’t expect guys like you to start complaining about a fucking pastry brush’. If the rest of the show is the televisual equivalent of listening to some smug prick in a pub boast about his car, this is like watching him hector the valet: the point at which mere arrogance is replaced by the kind of bullying narcissism that defines Ramsay’s role. His defenders claim that his aggression is really evidence of his passion for food. It’s not. It’s evidence of his passion for shouting at people.

In what can only be an attempt to somehow reconcile us with his basic insufferableness, Ramsay surrounds himself with a coterie of even more monstrous guests, rather like Mussolini palling around with Hitler in order to look like the nice one. Chief irritant is, of course, Janet Street Porter, surely determined to set the record for most simultaneous horrified screams of, ‘Oh god, not her’. The tactic is successful, as after two seconds in Porter’s company, it is a remarkable relief to be back with the Crinkled One. It’s a fairly pyrrhic victory, though, to be more likable than Janet Street Porter, one roughly equivalent to being considered the moderate face of international terrorism. Fortunately, if you’re viewing on 4OD, you can just skip her entire section, thus bypassing the dilemma of whether to run away, cover your ears or throw a hatchet at the screen. For anyone who still watches TV the Victorian way, my only recommendation is to look away from the screen and turn off the volume. You’ll still actually be able to hear her, though, because the mute button can only do so much.

Initially, there would have been some degree of balance here. I might conclude that if you get past Ramsay’s ego, the cynical, flashy editing and the intolerable music, there’s actually some genuinely interesting information about cookery and the culture of food. As it turns out, though, his ego can’t actually be surpassed, and so the show is of absolutely no value to anyone. On this basis, I propose a movement to drain The F Word’s audience to zero. Start small, but convince everyone you know, until eventually Ramsay is left entirely irrelevant and alone. Together, we can make this happen. Down with the tyrant. Viva la Revolucion.


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