TV Chef Gordon Ramsay is a Shaman… Sort of – by Jim Aldrich |


April 6 by The Running Son

TV Chef Gordon Ramsay is a Shaman… Sort of

by Jim Aldrich

“Idiot!” Chef Gordon Ramsay yells, his hair blond, his face red. “In 15 minutes this will be the biggest shit-hole in Wales!”

Sit through a cable marathon of Chef Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and you’ll hear these words over and over again. It’s Chef in the face of someone or another, spitting his words as much as yelling them. If Gordon Ramsay is one of the top celebrity chefs in the world, why is he reduced to petty name-calling and theatrics?

As I see it there are at least two motives for his provocative, boundary-busting approach. First, looking through the cynical lens, it could be a ratings angle– pure and simple. It happens plenty, especially in the increasingly competitive satellite/cable era. It would go something like this: Chef Gordon Ramsay humiliates the restaurant front-of-house for awhile, just berates the hell out of them to within an inch of total groveling collapse. Then, suddenly magnanimous, he plays good cop and buys their forgiveness with an uber-fab restaurant remodel, and hugs all-around.

I have a rather jaded friend that tends to believe it’s all “cheese”, but not me. Uh-uh. Chef Ramsay interests me. He has a skill, and I’m not talking about cooking skills. When he is humbling some general manager in front of his staff, he’s doing it with a purpose and for the benefit of that general manager, or whomever…if you’ll bare with me.

For context on my opinion about yelling at people face-to-face, I have a big issue with the methods used by the US military in Basic Training. A big issue, and really it’s for the same reasons I have a problem with parents screaming at and humiliating a child. We may think we are inoculating our children and soldiers against future indecision, but we are really creating a breeding ground for resentment, self-denigration, emotional compartmentalization, and worse.

So in general, I don’t like a direct attack at the person. But there is something spontaneous, and at the same time intentional, when Chef inevitably confronts the proud, stubborn owner/operator of some failing Greek hole-in-the-wall. It’s true, Gordon’s time is limited. He has just a single week, the length in real-time for each episode. But what is the use of confronting these struggling owners if there is no guarantee they will see the light, drop their stupid ways and turn their money-pits around?. I’ve concluded that Chef Ramsay knows what the former radio talk-show “counselor” Dr. Laura Schlessinger knew, and what Spiritual teachers, gurus, coaches, counselors, psychologists, parents, pastors and shaman have always known…namely, that a precise, well intentioned, and timely “strike” can accomplish, in its short aftermath, what years of life lessons might never have.

And most important of all: in the end, Chef Ramsay (and any guide worth his salt) looks at his student as a whole and valued person, the human being that she is, and deftly raises her up to stand, as it were, on the weight of her own inherent strengths. Then she can finally experience and implement a set of human capacities not as much newly found as long-forgotten. Eventually, curiosity will draw her off on her own, where she will develop and execute her own unique and individual style.

TV Chef Gordon Ramsay may not be willing to describe his “craft” in this particular language, but your local Shaman might.

Man I’m hungry. 😉




The Running Father Blog


4 thoughts on “TV Chef Gordon Ramsay is a Shaman… Sort of – by Jim Aldrich |

  1. Yes thats the spirit I remember from the OC Register opinion pages back in 97.

    “He who has eyes to see, let him see.” It fits here. No, I don’t expect 1/2 hour episodes to translate salvation to every slack-jaw that steals away to watch them. But a certain perspective is helpful in keeping a man on the path, *on* his path.

    In a way we’re talking apples and orangutangs. There is common ground in any discussion of the quality a single reality show verses the downward trend in programming on the macro scale. But when the tone is one of easy musing and levity, concerned about personal insights rather than social change (and we should discuss social change), it’s too awkward for me after making, by contrast, delicate observations, to then make *any* argument, and especially not one about how reality television will save souls, or ratings. I’ve made neither claim, and I wont.

    You made a million valid points, of course. “Quality will survive, but not for free. Free TV will survive, but without quality.” 80 years ago we had no TV, and 80 years from now we may not have TV or theater, or home computers as we know them. We may have a greater chance at surviving these changes by extracting what nourishment we can from the scraps that come down the feed. Who knows, if enough people start to watch TV with a discriminating but spiritual eye, and reflect it on the pollster questionnaires, maybe in the future programs like Kitchen Nightmares will film with the intent to communicate the common, human phenomenon of transformation. Then it won’t take such a light attitude to spot the message. Then we wont have to dial the spiritual sensitivity meter up so high that we can’t focus out and easily discuss other questions.

    More important questions though? I don’t think so.

  2. If I’m not honest by confessing I know who this is, I wouldn’t be able to write naturally. So, anonymous… done.

    I should probably seriously consider the effect of throw-away TV on culture, or more to your point its effect on viewership, or more to the embedded point (I’ll take a chance although you said just the opposite) of the loss of free TV altogether by public rejection, forcing those who cant afford cable or a dish to rely on the Internet, and of course we’d all have to pay for that privilage.

    What I want to say is, don’t be hatin on Chef Ramsay!

    Obviously, Ramsay is just one out of an enormous group of stylized reality TV super-consultants. They all go into a hotel, a family, a restaurant and have run-ins with financially spiraling control-freaks trying to save face when they should be saving their asses.

    Gordon Ramsay plays his roles. I don’t like Hells Kitchen, but I do like the BBC produced F-Word. I wrote on Kitchen Nightmares because it’s based around making restaurants better, even ones I might visit and get poisoned at in Pomona or Glendale (unlikely I know). More to my purposes, the show is about transcending the ego, and new beginnings, which have undertones of myth and archetype enough to chew on for years, cooked properly.

    No sir, his Medusa-effect has got me. And I’m consciously entombed. If sensational pop-reality programming is the only way the messages of cycle and process get across, and where themes of rebirth, fatherly encouragement and excellence are presented to be thoughtfully engaged or dismissed by a powered-on tuned-in culture, then so be it I say. We could do worse than Chef Ramsay. Lets talk about Amish Mafia and Real World #6,173 or wherever they’re at now. At least American Idol and X-Factor have real talent. ;”)

    So when do I get a critique on my run-on sentences?!

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh, Running Son, wouldn’t it be nice to think so? Wouldn’t it be nice if the viewers of Kitchen Nightmares ended each program reflecting on process, rebirth and transcending the ego? Why is it necessary to see Gordon Ramsay dubbed in Spanish in Mexico, where 30% of the people don’t have enough to eat and couldn’t care less about a Greek restaurant in New York improving its process or getting a makeover? I’ll tell you why: because the attraction of Chef Ramsay is the same as the allure of a circus freak show. Mexicans watch Hell’s Kitchen for the voyeurism of it, not for the transcendence. The same is true for the other reality shows, such as the one where a woman comes into a home and removes all the possessions in order to teach people how to organize, and the other woman who puts someone’s entire weekly food consumption on a table to shame them into changing their eating habits. (Sorry, I don’t know the names of these shows because I never stop on them when channel surfing; I just know that they exist.)
      There may be a subtle undercurrent of spirituality in these shows, but it is totally lost on the typical Mexican viewer looking at details in the background of each scene, trying to pick up clues as to how the other half lives. Mexico represents a lucrative new market for this genre, as the consumers are not as sophisticated or demanding, and many times, due to poverty, there are no options. The only option for the majority of the population is tuning in to one of 2 networks: Televisa and TV Azteca. The peasants aren’t taking a break from plowing the field by watching The Walking Dead on a Samsung Galaxy; they’re in the farm house watching Chef Ramsay on a 12” black and white, perhaps experiencing the same spiritual transcendence their ancestors did while gazing into a fire. Maybe less.
      The decline in quality of free American TV may be intentional. If traditional shows are sometimes difficult to sell to discriminating markets in the US, instead of trying to re-create Seinfeld, why not just create mediocre reality shows, let them run their course on free TV, and then export them to the third world, where they are seen as high-quality entertainment compared to the locally-produced garbage. (BTW, you’ve never seen bad TV if you haven’t seen a Mexican game show or Mexican morning talkfest modeled after Good Morning America.) Evidently, producing a show with writers and actors for free TV is such a risk that it only makes sense to create content for a totally different market: the connoisseurs that are already conditioned to paying for the privilege of watching what they want, when they want. Quality will survive, but not for free. Free TV will survive, but without quality.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Gordon Ramsay may not be the hot topic of conversation at this week’s National Association of Broadcasters confab in Las Vegas, but the “Gordon Ramsay effect” will surely be discussed. The NAB is concerned that the number of homes without television (“Zero TV homes”) has reached 5 million in the US, up from 2 million in 2007. Analysts say programming featuring charisma-challenged celebrities such as the vitriolic Ramsay, the Kardashian family, and the clueless judges on American Idol, coupled with the proliferation of options, such as the internet, Netflix and Amazon, explain why Americans are abandoning the tube like never before. The biggest concern for the NAB is that Zero TVers tend to be younger, single and without children, a desirable demographic niche that the broadcasters may have lost forever.

    The problem is not that Americans don’t want TV. Antennas Direct, an online retailer that sells antennas capable of accepting free digital signals, expects to sell 600,000 units this year. It appears that Americans are tired of high cable prices and throwing away valuable time on shows that are on the air because they are cheap to produce. Americans are willing to watch well written, edifying programs (such as this year’s surprise hit “The Bible”) but have decided to call the TV industry’s bluff when it comes to the overwhelming number of reality shows that have dominated the airwaves in the last 10 years.

    Gordon Ramsay may have caught the last wave of the reality phenomenon. The new generation of television consumers has the power of the internet in their pocket and may not know or care about tacky TV like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, or Ramsay’s embarrassing excuse for a cooking show.

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RFB editor Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013

RunningSon aka Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013 | This site is dedicated with the deepest gratitude to Dr. Cláudio Naranjo, whose writings gave me life.

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