I regularly play Go on Friday nights with an old friend. We’ve been battling one another over the Go board since the mid-80s. Usually when I play Go, Tuffy P goes out to the movies. Well, last night Go was canceled, and Tuffy was at the Cineplex with a friend, and I was kicking around the house.
It was cold up in the big room above the garage we call The Tree House, so I got a fire going in the woodstove and settled in to do a little reading. The fire roasted me into a deep sleep, a wonderful hour long nap with one cat purring on my chest and another purring above me on the back of the sofa.
When I awoke, somewhat groggy, I turned on the television. It was on a station which carried a program called Hell’s Kitchen, a cooking game show featuring that abusive British dude with the pomped up hair. I hadn’t watched one of these things in some time so I decided to leave it on and see what was happening.
The show reminded me that I’m totally over celebrity chefs. As Old Weird Bob said, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. Hell’s Kitchen is a show in which an unhinged, nasty, potty-mouthed, abusive jerk shouts at and humiliates the contestants. Even stranger is that they take it. “Yes Chef”, they chant as he calls them names and publicly demeans them. They’ll take anything, as long as they have a chance to win the prize. The prize is an opportunity to become an abusive asshole chef just like the host, at one of his restaurants no less.
Running a restaurant must be a terrible job, given that so many people who do it scramble to become television game show hosts instead. History tells us that only a small percentage of restaurants make a go of it for a very long time. The hours are crappy. I suppose creating menus can be a creative and fulfilling experience but actually cooking in a restaurant must be terrible. Not only is it a pressure cooker of a job, you have to make the same thing the same way each time. How boring is that?
I enjoyed watching cooking shows on television growing up. There was Julia Child, totally charming in her awkwardness, infused with her passion for French Cooking. There was Graham Kerr, The Galloping Gourmet, who drank a lot of wine and cooked up some interesting dishes. And there was James Barber, from out west, who with his shows The Fry Pan Man and the Urban Peasant, showed people how to make yummy dinners in big cast iron pans. All fun entertainment with an underlying love for preparing food.
It all started going downhill when somebody decided the world needed entire networks full of food-themed shows. Overdose-overload. The need for unending amounts of content drove network execs to go crazy on game shows. These people managed to strip out all the love and humanity from cooking. It isn’t a competition, folks.
To what degree is the abusive celebrity food game show host a reality in the restaurant business? I’ve never worked in the food industry so I welcome comments from those who have. I have heard about some very well-known chefs in Toronto who are reportedly horrible assholes to work for. Are those stories true? I’ve also read in the newspaper about some famous American restaurateurs who were outed for skimming percentages from their employees’ tips. That’s pretty low, isn’t it? Then there is Mario Batali, who stepped away from his food empire in 2017, after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, going back decades.
I’m sure there are some chefs out there who are fine people, and good people to work for as well. Still, I’m done with the arrogance and puffery and abusiveness of today’s television chefs and I’m done with a television network that sucks all the love out of cooking. I like food, and I like cooking. Time to take back the kitchen. It’s all over now, baby blue.