With the writers’ strike in the news, it was almost inevitable that networks would respond in their usual way – greenlighting an absolute turn of reality TV. Now, reality TV is not my kind of thing at all, but among the schedule, I saw one name that was like music to my ears – the return of Gordon Ramsay and his Kitchen Nightmares. It’s a fantastic show, overproduced within an inch of its life and all the better for it, yet still boasting a surprising amount of energy and heart. There’s a huge audience for it, and it’s great to hear that Ramsay’s work is still not done.
The formulaic nature was perfectly designed to evoke as much drama as possible
The show ran for five series and a few specials in the UK, but it was the US version that has truly become a thing of legend. For seven years, Ramsay went around America, spending a week with failing restaurants and trying to help turn things around. What this typically meant in practice (almost invariably, given the show’s adherence to formula) was Ramsay sampling a meal and finding all the food to be dreadful, butting heads with an owner who refuses to believe they could be doing anything wrong, watching a dinner service collapse, finally making a breakthrough about the need for change, doing up the restaurant and then observing a largely successful dinner service that always sees one last bump on the road.
The formulaic nature was perfectly designed to evoke as much drama as possible, and even among those similar patterns, characters emerged and swiftly became infamous. Joe Nagy, the Mill Street Bistro owner who saw every bit of criticism as a desire to start a fight. Dillon’s, one of the dirtiest restaurants you could imagine. The meme-worthy Nino (the show’s social media has run with it for years). And all of that pales into the background when faced with the absolute batsh*t insanity that was the legendary Amy’s Baking Company.
The story … of a fundamentally kind man who genuinely wants to help
Often, your response to the things you see is stunned disbelief. It still baffles my mind that the owners can look at dirty kitchens, expired and rotting food, hideous décor and a myriad of other problems, and be confused by them. Ramsay has the patience of a saint, I tell you – people ask him to come to explain why things are going wrong at the restaurant, and when he answers them and refuses to take excuses, they attack. It’s confusing to think about, but it makes for superb television.
Ramsay developed a reputation for a foul mouth and a fiery temper, and it certainly is deployed here, but – and this is the key thing – only when it has to be, when there’s no other way of getting through to pig-headed owners and chefs. As cheesy as the words that fade in and out of the main credits are (‘drama’, ‘shutdown’, ‘emotion’), they do tell the story, one of a fundamentally kind man who genuinely wants to help. It’s sweet to see him joking with the customers and respecting the staff, and trying to help resolve emotional problems when he can.
The show is about winners and heroes as much as it is the pantomime villains
It’s not always a show about bluster, despite its reputation, but rather about solving the problem facing the restaurant in whatever way Ramsay can. This may be couples falling apart under the pressure, families falling out, people struggling with addiction – I love those human moments, which make the show for me. One of my favourite episodes, ‘Zocalo’, sees Ramsay try and help a good man called Greg who is working every hour of the day to keep a restaurant afloat while his family and his wife essentially sit idly by. Ramsay’s attitude in this episode is truly golden, and ‘Zocalo’ demonstrates that the show is about winners and heroes as much as it is the pantomime villains.
A teaser trailer for the eighth season has dropped on TikTok, and we can already see some of the old highlights somehow still being issues – Ramsay using his bare hands to find rotting food in storage, raw food kept with cooked food, and owners look on in seeming confusion. It’s a show that knows what works, from that brilliant violin noise of drama to the frequent shutting down of the kitchen, and I’m sure it will continue to work on Ramsay’s return. The chef’s presence on our screens is a very welcome one, although I dread to imagine what nightmares will have manifested in his absence.