His food may be divine — I don't doubt the three Michelin stars — but what Ramsay was really born to do? Rant. The man was born for it.
"It tastes like gnat's piss!" he cries. It's the unexpected humor in the delivery that kills me. "It's a f*cking carrot, you donut!" he shouts to another clueless, trembling contestant. On yet another occasion, he moans that a girl has "a palate like a cow's backside." He compares a contestant's fried quail eggs to "plastic silicone implants." It's all weirdly awesome. The worst dishes receive the most scathing comments of all: "It looks like f*cking Bovril and baby vomit!" he screams, quivering in outrage at a contestant's attempt to please him with a favorite recipe. "It looks like regurgitated dog sh*t!"
For me, the end-all, be-all Ramsay moment arrived when he screamed at season two runner-up Virginia Dalbeck last season that her scallops wouldn't stick to her pan because it was non-stick. "That's why they call it non-stiiIIIIIiiick!" he shrieked. And with his voice ascending to the heights and then actually cracking in all-out desperation in the end, oh, it's one of those sublime moments that defies description, hilarious and touching all at the same time. You almost feel bad for the guy, endlessly saddled with these clueless incompetents. (Ramsay almost achieved this same level of perfection this season when he yelled, "I can't stop the ChuuUUuurch!" over the bumbling preparations for a wedding banquet — but the voice crackage just wasn't quite as good.)
In a perfect world, and on those rare perfect occasions when only an insult will do, I too could thumb my nose at the world with this kind of snark and impudence. As it is, I'm simply awestruck. And parked in front of the TV every Ramsay night (Mondays, for Hell's Kitchen, and Thursdays, for Kitchen Nightmares) in semi-religious fervor.
With Ramsay, all the emotions are high-powered — even the low ones, and sad Ramsay is just as funny as angry Ramsay. "Deeeeearrr. Oh, dear," he'll moan in tragic tones, and the genuine sadness and disappointment in his voice doesn't make it any less funny to watch. It just makes you feel a little evil for laughing.
But Ramsay doesn't just verbally abuse his hapless subjects on Hell's Kitchen or Kitchen Nightmares. He mixes in praise, support, forgiveness, and exasperation with neverending bouts of inventive affectionate (and not-so-affectionate) name-calling. Contestants aren't just poor performers, they're Donuts, Bimbos, Gremlins, and Monkeys. And, of course, his most common designation (and my personal favorite): Donkey.
So Hell's Kitchen is now must-see TV for me. I'm not sure when it happened — maybe the tenth time he called someone "donkey," or the fiftieth time he said "f*ck," but somewhere along the lines, it hit me. I loved this guy. Adored him. I knew I'd still be petrified to be in the same room with him, mind you, but his insanity actually had started to make total sense to me. And it didn't stop there. I'd been TiVoing Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares as well, just to see what all the fuss was about on the other side of the pond. And before you knew it, I was a diehard fan of all shows Ramsay. (This fall's U.S. version of Kitchen Nightmares? Can't. Freaking. Wait.)