I’m Officially Tired of Seeing Gordon Ramsay Yelling at People on TV
“You can’t forget the bread,” Gordon Ramsay says in ‘No Pain, No Grain,’ the third episode of the current season of Next Level Chef on Fox and Hulu. “Otherwise, you’re an idiot sandwich.” The line is a callback to that meme where the chef holds two bread slices around talk show host Julie Chen’s head in a 2015 late-night sketch, making her the so-called dummy on a bun. Amazingly, after more than two decades of yelling at people on television, Gordon Ramsay is still Gordon Ramsaying. He’s committed to the same bit that now spans over 20 shows, from his early Hell’s Kitchen days, through the Kitchen Nightmares and Master Chef eras, and now on Next Level Chef.
Ramsay has had a long career as a chef and restaurateur, but he’s most famous as the British food personality who tells Americans that they’re fucking up. (Similar figures include American Idol’s Simon Cowell for singers and Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver for the general mess that is our country.) Maybe there was a time when that was exciting TV. But nearly two decades later, Ramsay’s angry man persona—just like that idiot sandwich meme—has gone stale. And it’s getting in the way of who should be the true stars: the contestants.
Nearly two decades after his first US show, he’s doing more of the same act on Next Level Chef, his latest cooking competition show, cohosted by chefs Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington, and Richard Blaise. He berates contestants over small missteps like overcooking a cheese crisp, repeats old catchphrases like “fucking raw” and the classic “idiot sandwich,” and constantly yells. In the first episode this season, we see the chef slam his head against a wall after a contestant drops a plate. In episode two (titled ‘Party Like a Guac Star,’ in case you were curious), he spends half the episode breathing down the neck of a contestant whose grandmother had died earlier that week—a fact the cook tells Ramsay at the start of the challenge.
Watching Next Level Chef, I don’t think Ramsay’s being cruel. I think he’s being Gordon Ramsay. He’s doing a character he’s done for most of his career—one that thrives on intensity and action. And in pursuit of that intensity, his shows have become increasingly convoluted, pulling focus from the contestants and their cooking and back onto Chef Ramsay himself.
Looking at his catalog, you can see how drastically (and how inexplicably) that trend has escalated. Hell’s Kitchen modified the showdown format by adding a live restaurant service to the mix; Gordon Behind Bars put the chef in a prison, where he made incarcerated men run a food business to raise money for the jail where they were being held; and Next Level Chef features…a triple-decker kitchen, a rising and falling ingredient elevator, something called Mid-Round Madness, and more rules than I have space to explain in this piece. Pitching the show to friends requires 10 minutes and a conspiracy board. Meanwhile, the actual cooking challenges couldn’t be simpler. So far this season’s have included “Mexican” and “sandwiches,” and last night was “Chinese.” There’s seemingly too much going on in the background to ask for anything more.
While these twists aren’t inherently evil, none of them feel necessary. After all, audiences seem content with the simplicity and peace of The Great British Bake Off (that is, when it isn’t busy putting its Great British foot in its mouth), and I’d argue contestants don’t actually need to be hazed for audiences to care about them. In fact, it’s harder for us to get to know someone when they’re busy juggling knives, figuring out how to braise a goat testicle, or enduring verbal abuse from an angry Brit.
Ramsay’s wrath had an unmistakable impact on food TV, pushing its stakes higher and higher. But sometimes we get glimpses of a different, wholesome Gordon Ramsay, whether with the kids on MasterChef Junior or in a famous clip where he scrapes a knife across a pie crust, showing a blind contestant how good her bake had come out through sound. It’s an incredibly sweet moment from a man who owes every dollar he’s made to the swear jar, a type of kindness I believe Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood is incapable of. This version of Ramsay’s persona makes room for contestants’ personalities to shine. It allows the chef to be present—still a key part of the show—while focusing on the person doing the cooking.
Beneath the bleeping, beneath the gags, there seems to be a kindness inside of chef Gordon Ramsay—and that’s what I want to see more of. Viewers are looking for something new, and I don’t mean yet another contestant torture device. If Ramsay’s going to stay king of the food competition, somewhere in those next 20 shows I want Heaven’s Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Sweet Dreams. I want something where Ramsay’s talent is an asset rather than a distraction. If that makes me a fool, then wrap my head in sourdough. The idiot sandwich was me all along.
Editor’s note: A former Bon Appétit employee appears on the current season of Next Level Chef on Fox.