Season 2, Episode 7: Spit in My Food and Call Me Stupid: The Mean Brit Chef Invasion
There’s a certain kink that most Americans have. A certain psychosexual pathology that lives within us. We aren’t proud of it, but we don’t shy away from it either. We don’t want our kids to have it, but we can’t help to expose them to it.
Our shame was on full display in 2002 when Simon Cowell, a black t-shirted Brit with a vague music industry job, crushed the dreams of thousands of prospective American pop stars. In this bizarre display of cruelty, we watched our fellow countrymen line up to sing and then receive a humiliating tongue-lashing from this overseas invader. We loved it, because we’re shameful little piggies.
We said, “Oh that Simon Cowell is SO MEAN,” then we lined up for another helping of hate. We couldn’t believe he made those nice people cry, then we giggled and smiled. This guy really just said mean things to people. HOW? Was it the accent? The game show, The Weakest Link, served a purpose as well, with dismissive English host Anne Robinson telling individual Americans “You are the weakest link, goodbye” as if she were talking to any stupid, arrogant American who thought they were capable of anything. It was like having Old Money aristocrats at your party for New Money lottery winners. They see you, and what you are is pathetic.
We didn’t know what it was, but we knew that we’d discovered a weird new part of our American identity: We needed to watch superior British people humiliate Americans on reality television. Like any American addiction, one wasn’t enough. Give us more. More British snark, more aggressive Britishness, please attack more than just our singing and intelligence! Tell us our food sucks too!
One man in particular was ready to heed the call in our quest for British-American Reality TV humiliation: Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay, a tall blonde former footballer turned award-winning chef from Scotland had already begun his celebrity-chef empire in the UK by first appearing in two documentaries and eventually getting his own show, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, in 2004, along with Hell’s Kitchen, also in 2004. In these shows, Ramsay’s brash style and vulgarity was complimented by his seemingly genuine concern for the welfare of the people he worked with, so long as they displayed a willingness to follow his commands.
It wasn’t long before American TV Execs recognized that Ramsay’s quasi-handsomeness coupled with his ability to eviscerate simpletons would play very well in America, so in 2005, the US Version of Hell’s Kitchen premiered on Fox. Americans who thought Simon Cowell was rough learned a whole new universe of British cruelty, and they couldn’t help but feel some strange sexual gratification from it. I’m not trying to kink shame; this is an objective assessment. For one thing, Ramsay didn’t withhold swearing. That’s part of his brand. Parents covered their kids' ears while simultaneously feeling the tingle in their loins–yes, middle-aged Midwestern Lady, that’s a mean British chef telling a hayseed American line cook that their steak is too well-done.
We needed more Ramsay. More swears. More tall British men telling us we’re worthless. So Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares came over to the US in 2007 as simply Kitchen Nightmares, a new Fox reality show with your favorite dominator.
Throughout Ramsay’s run as an international superstar sexual humiliation expert, Jamie Oliver, a more soft spoken celebrity Brit chef was plotting his own American adventure. Oliver is/was a much different personality than Ramsay. He first appeared on American TV screens in the early 2000’s, as reruns of the BBC program The Naked Chef, an intimate home cooking show, appeared on the Food Network. I remember getting stoked to watch the Naked Chef as a twelve year old, and then realizing there was no nudity. None. Oliver soon became a big hit in the UK, opening restaurants, hosting cooking shows, and slowly becoming something of an “activist” for what he deemed to be healthy eating.
Although both Ramsay and Oliver attempt to display genuine caring for their subjects, Oliver offers a kinder, more patronizing kind of superior Brit. While Ramsay called people “disgusting,” “pigs,” and pretended to gag and/or run to a bathroom after eating someone’s food, Oliver just wanted to HELP these poor imbeciles.
Jamie Oliver’s 2010 series, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, followed Oliver on his quest to change these stupid, backwoods, fat American slobs into proper healthy Brits, capable of colonizing the world or, I guess, just not dying of ALL the ailments that Jamie was so worried about. Oliver’s crusade against obesity took him to Huntington, West Virginia, where he exposed those hayseeds for not knowing shit about nutrition! What a bunch of idiots! But not to worry, our British knight was there to save these backwards mountain folk from themselves through the power of healthy eating. There was a particular way in which certain castes of American society enjoyed this program, because it confirmed the class and regional biases that so many cling to.
For instance, watching these West Viriginian kids struggle to identify a vegetable appealed to the sensibilities of New Yorkers, Californians, Connecticutians, and pretty much anyone who wanted someone to look down on. And what better person than a rich Brit to say, “Hey look, there are a bunch of you who are gross, stupid, and too stubborn to change.”
There we were, a country of masochists, craving a sadistic tongue-lashing from some wild-haired British chef, and we’re gifted two drastically different people with a similar purpose: to get incredibly wealthy by making us dummies feel like dolts.
In the mid-aughts, many Americans, whether we admitted it or not, felt hopelessly lost. That wasn’t a huge change from the previous decades, but post 9/11, in the midst of the war on terror and Bush’s second term, we kind of got the feeling that our flag-waving, rah rah patriotism, support the troops but don’t ask why they’re fighting, was sort of, well, stupid. There was the obvious backlash once the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t the slam dunks we had hoped for, that the bloodlust we assumed so quenchable turned out to be insatiable, that the 2,000 Americans and the tens of thousands Iraqis killed by 2005 was only the beginning.
Were our fearless leaders wrong? Were Americans…the BAD GUYS? Was it possible that we could gain some insight into our failures through the inheritors of an older, more refined empire? Yes, but they shouldn’t hold our hands. They should slap them.
So we turned to the things that made us forget but also FEEL. Food feels good. So too does watching people embarrass themselves. These are always elixirs to ease a troubled mind. In Hell’s Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay gave us the humiliation we craved, but with a plate of food at the end. Not just any plate of food though, a plate that had been placed by the old empire.
Part 2A: Hell’s Kitchen (2005) AND Kitchen Nightmares (2007): It’s Exhausting to be Gordon Ramsay
Gordon Ramsay is a six foot two inch hunk of Scottish sass and swears. He wields his chef superpower of brash arrogance to bully us, and we love it. Well, we love it until we’re the ones being punished.
Ramsay was born in Scotland to a working class family: his mother was a nurse and his father held a variety of jobs. He admitted in his autobiography that his father was abusive and drank too much. Ramsay started working in kitchens at a young age once his budding football career ended due to injury.
Since then, Ramsay opened a bazillion restaurants and received 17 Michelin stars through his Gordon Ramsay Restaurant group. There is no doubt that he knows how to cook stuff well. He’s really good at it.
But that’s not WHY we first turned to Gordon Ramsay in 2005. He’s the quintessential Tough Love ideal that we pretend to love but usually hate when it’s being tough-loved right in our faces. He is ALWAYS at eleven. His boundless energy seems to radiate from his hair-trigger temper and a pomposity reserved for men of the British and French persuasion.
I still remember watching the premier of Hell’s Kitchen. Though the memory is foggy, no one can forget the first time they became Ramsay aware. Most of what he said was bleeped out, and he was noticeably meaner than Simon Cowell, America’s soft introduction to shit-talking Brits. I recall thinking: well, this guy is a bit much. But I also wanted to watch him because I’m a freak, just like the rest of ya.
In the first few minutes of our introduction to this tough-talking chef and introduction to the premise of the show (Ramsay is seeking to open a restaurant in LA and wants a head chef to run the kitchen, so 12 chefs are led to operate a restaurant under Ramsay’s supervision), he is appalled at the trash these chefs serve up. He is okay with two of the 12 dishes, but all other dishes were poorly received: Ramsay spat out Andrew's "Absolute Penne", calling it "absolute dogshit", found Mary Ellen's endive dish boring, and Wendy's fried rice unimpressive. Ramsay also spat out Jimmy's stuffed chicken after finding it overcooked outside and raw inside, calling it a "dehydrated camel's turd"
Hell’s Kitchen US is STILL GOING strong at 21 seasons. It follows a reality TV competition format where chefs compete on teams to complete dinner services at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. One or more chefs are eliminated each episode until the final chef wins a chance to serve as head chef at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and a big cash prize (now it’s $250,000).
The format isn’t what makes the show interesting, apparently. What sets the show apart is Gordon Ramsay. People watch because they want to see the man yell at people and think of creative ways to bully them. I haven’t watched a single episode of Hell’s Kitchen since 2005 because I don’t think it’s Ramsay at its finest. I want to see Gordon Ramsay plucked out of the sanitized TV set environment and into the grotesque kitchens of America’s worst restaurants.
What really gets me going is Ramsay’s other project of the aughts: Kitchen Nightmares. I won’t shy away from the fact that, in the last six months, after watching dozens of Kitchen Nightmares eps from the aughts, I am sort of a Gordon Ramsay fan. I might just be a sucker for the format, but there is something endearing about him.
Kitchen Nightmares came to the US in 2007, an offshoot of the UK’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Though the show ended in 2014, it lives on through youtube, and the Kitchen Nightmares youtube channel has over 6 million subscribers.
Kitchen Nightmares is so fantastic because it brings the esteemed chef into dirtball kitchens around the US, and he attempts to transform the failing businesses into money makers again. The show depicts Ramsay as uniquely capable of inspiring disgruntled employees, turning weak managers and owners into empowered leaders, and making awful menus better with some common sense adjustments.
It seems so obvious when Ramsay makes the necessary changes, and we the viewers are allowed to gawk at people stupid enough to run their businesses into the ground. The structure of the show puts Ramsay’s supposed genius on full display:
First, he enters the restaurant he has been charged with helping, and comments on the bad decor, usually poor service, and then hate-samples a bunch of menu items. This is interspersed with hectic shots of the kitchen and front-of-house staff in disarray or apathy.
He usually spits out something. He compares it to a kind of animal excrement or vomit. 50% of the time he pretends that he’s going to be sick after eating something. He has some probably pre-written zingers about items: “chimichanga? Chimi chuck it in the bin.”
Second, he meets with the staff and owners and begins to investigate why things suck. He will almost always say that the food is horrible. Then he sits in on a dinner service and things always go poorly. You get a lot of footage of customers talking trash about things blow at that restaurant.
The next day, Ramsay ALWAYS does the pantry raid. Half the time, he discovers expired food and really milks how disgusting it is to hold rotting food. Then he does something to inspire people. He will provide the feckless owners a place to feel strong, or bring arrogant owners down by treating them like pure shit.
Then the BEST part: he does a restaurant makeover, a menu revamp, and relaunch! Yes, we love to see people get embarrassed, but we love even more to have our Brit Daddy help people in need if they express the desire to change. This show offers redemption!
The show ends with a more successful dinner service, and customer footage always shows people happy with their food and the new decor. Of course, Ramsay is triumphant.
There’s only ONE episode in the show’s history where Ramsay doesn’t stay to help, and it might be the best episode of reality TV ever.
"Amy's Baking Company" is the 16th episode of the sixth season of Kitchen Nightmares, and the 82nd episode of the series. The episode first aired on May 10, 2013, and centered on Gordon Ramsay attempting to help Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, owners of Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, the husband-and-wife owners, ran a clean and efficient operation (or so it seems!). Gordon was shocked at the kitchen wasn’t disgusting and the baked goods tasted great. THEN we, the audience, were given a peek into how Amy and Samy dealt with customers.
In footage of the previous night’s service, dissatisfied customers are berated by Samy and Amy. Samy threatens to fight a guy as they chase them out of the restaurant. The scene is stunning for its chaos and latent violence–we can’t believe that two people this absurd actually exist. But they do. And they’re proud.
When Gordon is unhappy with the lunch service food, he realizes that Amy and Samy can’t take criticism, at all. That’s a big no-no for Gordon. Though he sits in on the dinner service for as long as it takes Samy to square up with Gordon, ready to FIST FIGHT him, and then Gordon eventually calls it off and walks out. It’s clear that dead-eyed, delusional Amy and hothead Samy, both decrying haters and people out to get them, aren’t capable of saving.
In the next season, Kitchen Nightmares followed up with Amy’s Baking Company, who had leaned into their heel image and started merchandising, with shirts that said “here’s your pizza, go fuck yourself” and “I speak feline, MEOW”
The saga of Amy’s Baking Co teaches us a bit about the Kitchen Nightmares mission. First, it displays that the two most absurd people in the world live in Scottsdale, Arizona. But you probably assumed that already. Second, we see that you CAN outcrazy Gordon Ramsay. It is possible to stand up to him, but only by torching yourself and your business in the process. It took two people with zero self-awareness and a commitment to physically and verbally threatening their customers to defeat Gordon. Is it worth it?
PART 2B: Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (2010): Jamie Oliver thinks poor people should stop being so stupid
We start with the VoiceOver that tells us how Jamie Oliver is on this noble mission to change food culture in America. The VO tells us “One man will try to save 50,000 lives.”
“I’m here to show America that a small difference can make a big change.”
Huntington, WV is considered the “most unhealthy town in America.” Jamie Oliver starts quickly by talking to a local radio host, Rod Willis, who hates him. He’s like, shut the fuck up, Jamie. We don’t want your HEALTHY FOOD. I don’t wanna eat “lettuce.”
-Rod Willis is clearly playing the “heel” in episode one, because he says the classic, “I don’t think he’s gonna change us.” That’s what you’re supposed to say!
-I watch this and think Jamie Oliver is the heel though. Rod Willis, for as much as he’s
-He visits an elementary school cafeteria and talks about how gross the school food is. He is self-aware and knows that the people don’t want him there. He says something along the lines of, “I’d be mad too. Who am I, this English guy coming in here and asking all of these questions.”
-”They get pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch. Welcome to America.”
-He does a great thing where he criticizes the kids as they’re bringing their trays up to be thrown out. He’s all snarky as he chucks their food in the trash. He says to one girl, “ya didn’t like the kiwi? Ya didn’t like the bread roll?”
-This poor woman, a lunch lady, has a breakdown when Jamie confronts her with the fact that she is serving unhealthy food to the schoolkids. She cries and says “I’m killing em’, I’m killing em’.” and Jamie says, “Yes, you are.”
-What the fuck??!
Jamie gets the “help” of a local pastor who says shit like: God wants you to take care of your body. Which, okay. That’s fine.
Ultimately, Jamie’s quest to de-fatify Huntington, WV is a mixed bag. Ultimately, like nearly everything from this time period AND our current time period, Oliver misses the point. In fact, for all of his health crusading, Jamie Oliver routinely missed the root causes of mortality that he continually attributed to bad choices.
-Yes, according to health metrics, Huntington, WV was and is an “unhealthy” city.
-No, it doesn’t have to do with chicken nuggets at school. It has a whole lot more to do with deeply-ingrained generational poverty.
Data from last year indicates that Huntington is the poorest city in West Virginia:
“Among the five places in West Virginia with available data and populations of at least 25,000, Huntington ranks as the poorest. The typical Huntington household earns $33,012 a year, compared to the statewide median household income of $48,037.”
“32.1% of the population in Huntington, WV (13.9k out of 43.3k people) live below the poverty line, a number that is higher than the national average of 12.8%.
-That’s nearly triple the national average.
Jamie Oliver rode into this impoverished West Virginia city on his high horse to tell people that they were gross and they needed to make better choices. Jamie Oliver, a man worth an estimated 400 million in 2023 had the gall to tell people who have historically struggled with poverty in the aftermath of the Great Recession to make better choices. Don’t kill your kids, he said. Maybe with some of your resources they too could eat what you call “healthy” food. If the lunch ladies that he guilted didn’t have to struggle to afford their modest lives and the school system wasn’t horribly underfunded, they could do better. But fuck off, Jamie Oliver.
Not too long after Jamie Oliver’s food revolution, Huntington, WV became famous for a new American epidemic: opioids. West Virginia remains the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. There are 90 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people in West Virginia, and Huntington has experienced significant opioid issues. There were periods over the past ten years where 1 in 10 residents of Huntington abused opioids.
In 2022, Huntington and Cabell County lost a case against the three largest drug distributors in the country that would have provided them with 2.5 Billion in damages to be used to combat the crisis. Once again, those affected by systemic issues are not provided with systemic support. Jamie Oliver’s crusade against “unhealthy” foods was another example of how personal responsibility won’t change shit. In the Jamie Oliver world, maybe those poor people should have made healthier choices rather than get an oxycontin prescription from a pill mill.
Or MAYBE, Jamie Oliver missed the point entirely.
I just have to say something. I’m not coming for Jamie Oliver’s kids. But listen to the names of his five children: He has five children with his wife Jools: Poppy Honey Rosie (born 18 March 2002), Daisy Boo Pamela (born 10 April 2003), Petal Blossom Rainbow (born 3 April 2009), Buddy Bear Maurice (born 15 September 2010), and River Rocket Blue Dallas (born 7 August 2016).
PART 3: How does the Mean Brit Chef Invasion represent the time period?