Hell's Kitchen Diner's Confessional: I Didn't Go Hungry!
Gordon Ramsay | Photo Credits: Patrick Wymore/FOX
To be a Hell's Kitchen contestant, one must be hungry for fame, excellence and no small amount of drama. But to be a Hell's Kitchen diner, one must go hungry ... or at least that's the impression the editing on the reality cooking competition show has given.
With all of host-mentor Chef Gordon Ramsay's bellowing, the undercooked proteins and overdone egos apparent on the show, many a filmed dinner service has ended in tears or has been shut down well before all courses have been served. Imagine my relief (and satiation) that this was not necessarily the case when I recently had the privilege to dine at Hell's Kitchen itself.
Check out what other preconceived notions I had and how they played out through dinner service:
My expectations: Obnoxiously towering ceilings and larger-than-life decor
The reality: Hell's Kitchen is built on a sound stage, and everything appears even more exaggerated than on TV -- from the menacingly oversized, flaming HK-pitchfork logo to the stairway that winds up to the balcony where the two finalists stand behind frosted glass doors to discover their fates. The only real difference is the lighting: It's far brighter than you'd expect in a fine-dining restaurant, no doubt to better capture Chef Ramsey's apoplectic fits.
My expectations: Yelling. Lots of yelling. Punctuated by choice bits of cussing.
The reality: Even though I was only about 60 feet from the Blue Team's kitchen pass-through, i was disappointed that I could not hear any of the dialogue distinctly. I'm not sure who engineered the place, but I had a clear view of Chef Ramsay berating the finalists and the chefs barking out orders, but I had to strain my ears to make out even a handful of words. $#*!
The Fine Print
My expectations: Signing away my firstborn's kidney if I revealed any spoilers from the episode. Also, dire warnings to not look Chef Ramsay in the eyes.
The reality: I signed a standard media confidentiality agreement (no baby organs were stipulated) and a diner's release form to be filmed. All my electronics were temporarily confiscated as a measure against tweeting or Instagramming spoilers. Finally, in person, I was warned to not smoke near the HK logo because it's fed by "large propane tanks" and requested not to Yelp the place because "it's not a real restaurant." There goes my Yelp elite status!
My expectations: Ingratiating and apologetic, accustomed to dealing with fed-up, underfed diners
The reality: The food and beverage severs were super-confident, friendly, on-point and surprisingly chatty. I accidentally swatted a gnat into my guest's water glass, and without pausing to blink, the server whisked away the glass and produced a replacement immediately. Cameramen and earpiece-equipped production assistants were also stationed everywhere so they could get that VIP's wife a phone, STAT, and monitor the status of all the diners.
My expectations: A Wile E. Coyote-like appetite that is constantly thwarted. Why else would my reservation include the caveat: "It may be wise to have a snack prior to arrival, as any or all of each order cannot be guaranteed for every patron"?
The reality: Roast and baste me for Thanksgiving because I was stuffed! Although one cheery server who resembled a young Fred Rogers admitted that he attended one previous dinner service that never progressed beyond the appetizer, I received all three courses in a timely manner, and in between courses partook in the honking-huge basket offering four different types of breads.