And what's not to love? The guy simply will not accept mediocrity. He sneers at the ordinary. He expects something special from every single person around him. I love that. Our world, so often, expects so little from people. So many of us work at computers or small desks, shoved in cubicles, often in work that is mind-numbingly mundane. I have to like a guy who cares so deeply and so passionately about something that he will not accept anything less than the best, from himself as well as those around him. Sure, he can be a raging jerkwad. But there's a depth and resonance to his behavior, and (I'm quite sure) a deliberate drama as well. Ramsay's problem (if it is one) is simply that he cares too much — about everything. You can't imagine this guy being blase on a single subject. Quality matters.
He cares most of all about the customers, but he also won't play games with those who throw tantrums just because they can. Last season, he famously told a woman who was rather obviously playing to the camera to "get her breasts off his counter." This season, he reacted to a snooty customer by telling his faithful Maitre'd Jean-Philippe to "take the giraffe back to the table, please."
But these are exceptions — most of the time, his interactions with customers seem surprisingly gracious and low-key, especially on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, where he often seems almost messianic, doing his best to save the entire British Empire from bad food, one restaurant at a time. In the kitchen, in the swelter and bustle of his particular domain, perfection is possible. The food has to be simply yet elegantly prepared, and it's got to taste delicious. As he hovers over a contestant's sauce or tastes a restaurateur's latest hideous concoctions, the fear in Ramsay's prematurely lined face is palpable. Everything has to be right. In each episode, the irritation, dread and exasperation actually seems to come off him in little squiggly lines as he wonders what the donkeys will put the customers through this week.
So for me it's not about the yelling, although it's often so stagey that I either find it hilarious or I can't take it too seriously. Because he's not indiscriminate. He doesn't yell at someone who doesn't know how to make something, for instance, he yells at those who screw up when they should have known better -- at the experienced and formally trained chef who nevertheless burns the scallops, overlooks the rancid crab, or overcooks the risotto.
For Ramsay, the worst offenders are always those who should have known better. I'm still amazed that we didn't see a small mushroom cloud over Hell's Kitchen on the day when contestant Jen Yemola tried to serve pasta she'd thrown in the trash and then reboiled. Only the quiet remonstration of Julia Williams (famous as this season's capable, quietly wonderful "Waffle House" contestant) saved the hapless customer from that tasty little confection. The worrisome part for me was the way Jen rattled off the temperature of the water as a sure-fire way to make things okay ("Two-twelve kills the bacteria," she said matter-of-factly), something that still makes me wonder if she's done it before. But even before Jen's ouster last week, I knew she had to be doomed. Nobody was going to give a restaurant to this girl, no matter how capable a chef she was. Not to someone who thought it was okay to serve food straight out of the trash, ON TELEVISION. Not ever.