As any reasonable person would, I sort of detest Gordon Ramsay, but I also love him a little bit. I love his bouncing manically on the balls of his feet and letting his many tics run wild when confronting someone. I love that he came from nothing, survived working for Marco Pierre White, worked very, very hard, and Made Something of himself. Sure, it’s seemed, in the wake of last year’s revelations that many of his restaurants are doing dismally, that what that something is is the Dennis Hopper of the culinary world, everybody’s go-to bad guy. As Hopper did, though, he plays the role with verve, gusto, and irresistible energy, and I love that his forehead is even more prolifically creased than my own, even though he’s not even 50. (Not even 50. I just said that didn’t I?)
About Gordon’s best-known imitator, Restaurant Impossible’s Robert Irvine, I have no mixed feelings. I can’t stand the guy.
His show’s format is almost identical to that of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. He visits a struggling restaurant. Provided he’s able to get his gigantic muscles through the front door (Men's Fitness, the abs fetish magazine, once named him one of the 25 Fittest Guys in America), he samples the cuisine, and invariably pronounces it appalling, just like the place’s décor. The owner/chef curses him, whereupon Robert gives the owner/chef a look that says, “I could probably bench-press your freezer, pal. But if you really want to be embarrassed, do your worst.” There’s a commercial break.
Irvine teaches the chef, who apparently stuffed himself with crow during the break, how to cook while his (Irvine’s) decorators are transforming the dining room physically for not a dime more than $10,000. He smirks self-satisfiedly while the restaurant’s owners weep with gratitude at how gorgeous and successful he and his team have made their restaurant, and rides off into the sunset.
My own favorite moment, present on every show, is that at which the great man frets into the camera, to build the sort of suspense that will inspire viewers to sit through commercials, about the impossibility of his decorators finishing their work on time. “How about, since you're the one who specified the deadline, you simply postpone the opening by 48 hours, then?” I commonly hear myself muttering.
As best as I can determine, this expert on running a successful restaurant has never actually run a successful restaurant, though at one point he fibbed sufficiently convincingly about his qualifications to inspire a couple of investors to offer to help him open a couple, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
In fairness, Irvine’s decorators are slightly more on the ball than Ramsay’s, who almost always make a hideous restaurant look hideous in a slightly different way. On the other hand, I can’t stand Irvine’s accent being unable to decide between British and American, his mouth reminds me of a cat’s anus, and I find his bullying pretty half-hearted.
I won’t fail to note that I like Jamie Oliver for having spearheaded a campaign a few years back to serve British schoolchildren reasonably nutritious food, rather than the unspeakable crap to which they were accustomed. Given a choice, the kiddies of course preferred the unspeakable crap. You can lead a horse to water…