I am not a fan of reality television. I find it almost universally shrill and boring. But a couple years ago, I found myself getting addicted to Hell’s Kitchen.
I can’t pretend it’s somehow a more noble type of reality show. It’s just Survivor in a restaurant. You have the same personality types developing the same antipathies and alliances and melodramatic relationships, all captured with the same suspicious video editing.
It might be Chef Gordon Ramsay that draws me in. We are fascinated by that which we most fear, and I get knots in my stomach just watching him tear into the hapless idiots milling around in his kitchen. So I can’t help but drift into fantasies of how I would do on the show.
• • •
At the outset of the season, when the contestants prepare their signature dishes and present them to Chef Ramsay, I unveil a plate of thinly sliced raw fugu. Ramsay takes a mouthful and nods enthusiastically.
RAMSAY: This is extraordinary. Where did you study?
ME: I haven’t.
RAMSAY: You haven’t?
ME: I guess I’ve just always liked pufferfish, so whenever I was bored growing up I’d just screw around with it.
RAMSAY (agog): You can’t… You can’t just “screw around” and figure this out.
I shrug. We see a series of reaction shots of the other contestants looking at me with envy and awe.
• • •
During service, I firmly but modestly take control of the Blue Team, quelling their infighting and playing to each man’s strength, getting every dish out perfectly and on time. In an unprecedented move, I then cross to the Red Team and inspire them in the same way. We see reaction shots of Chef Ramsay desperately trying to come up with something mean to say.
Cut to: a candid interview with another contestant, a wiry, tattooed, chain smoker in a filthy bandana. The caption reads, “Brick: insane asylum cook and arsonist.”
BRICK: I normally wouldn’t respond well to some guy telling me what to do, but the man has good leadership skills.
Cut to: a female contestant with striking, pale blue eyes and long, black curly tendrils of hair. Caption: “Stacey: lingerie model and wine heiress.”
STACEY: On one hand, I wish he were a woman, so he could join us on the Red Team. On the other hand… I’m just so damn glad he’s a man.
Cut to: interviews with a couple of the diners.
MALE DINER: This is just amazing.
FEMALE DINER: I have to be honest, I’m not sure what I’ve been doing with my mouth all these years.
• • •
In the contestants’ quarters, when the women of the Red Team, inevitably, begin wandering around in their panties, the rest of the Blue Team gushes forth with misogynistic comments, but I demur. This charms the normally cynical and snarky denizens of Television Without Pity, and its message boards are filled with complimentary posts.
• • •
I win, of course. Chef Ramsay chooses me over Stacey and strides forth to give me a manly handshake. He wipes a tear from his eye. Stacey slips me her phone number in the ensuing celebration.
• • •
And then, of course, there is the more realistic fantasy of what would happen…
• • •
During the opening episode, I lift the lid to reveal my signature dish: a jar of peanut butter with a spoon sticking out of it. Next to the jar is a ramekin of chocolate chips.
RAMSAY: And what the [bleep] is this?
ME: You pour some chocolate chips into the peanut butter, and you eat it with a spoon.
Ramsay looks back at me, speechless. Cut to: an interview with me.
ME: I should have offered smooth and crunchy peanut butter, and then semi-sweet, milk chocolate, and maybe white chocolate chips. Like a flight.
RAMSAY: I’m not going to sully my mouth with this. This is a [bleep] insult.
• • •
During the service:
BRICK: Dave, you’re on appetizers, so get ready to churn out them roasted beets with crème fraîche.
ME (raising my hand): I’m sorry, what is crème fraîche?
RAMSAY: Awwww, [bleep] me! Are you [bleep] joking?
• • •
NARRATOR: But Stacey’s interest in Brick isn’t the only thing that’s “heating up…”
My risotto bursts into flames. I reach for some baking soda to smother it, but the baking soda also bursts into flames. I back away from the stove and bump into the sink, which bursts into flames.
RAMSAY (moaning): Ohhhhh, god.
Cut to: a candid interview with Brick.
BRICK: Dave is a menace. Right now, I’m not interested in the competition. I’m worried he’s gonna kill somebody. He’s hitting me on a lower level of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Cut to: Chef Ramsay putting out the fire. He then extends a hooked finger toward me and sneers.
RAMSAY: Come here, you! What the [bleep] d’you think you’re doing!
ME: Just… I’m just finishing up the risotto, chef.
RAMSAY: Get out! Get the [BLEEP] OUT OF MY KITCHEN! You DONKEY!
• • •
The first elimination sequence. All the contestants stand in the kitchen.
BRICK: My first nominee is Dave.
RAMSAY: Well, obviously.
Reaction shot of me blinking with my mouth hanging open in shock.
BRICK: And my second nominee… (reaction shots of every other team member, while the soundtrack pulses forth with a crescendo of perturbed violins) …is also Dave.
RAMSAY: Dave, come forward. Tell me why you deserve to stay in Hell’s Kitchen.
ME: I know I haven’t had a chance to prove myself just yet, but I have such desire in my heart–
RAMSAY: Get the [bleep] out! You’re a [bleep] embarrassment!
ME: Yes, chef.
I take measured steps, trying not to run out of the room, as my skin tries to climb up my back to escape.
The Banquet of Life is a bi-weekly look at one man's life through the food he eats.