Hell in Hell’s Kitchen

For the past fourteen years, Chef Gordon Ramsay has been berating chefs and contestants on his show, Hell’s Kitchen. Ramsay is well known for his savage insults and brutal language which he uses regularly on underperforming chefs. In the kitchen, Ramsay doesn’t hold back when he doesn’t like something, dropping the most vulgar adjectives he can think of.

But Ramsay’s insults go far beyond criticizing a chef’s food creation. Ramsay rips on his chefs’ performance in the kitchen, as well as their personal appearance and mental capacity. He regularly abuses them using disgusting and insulting language. Nor is his rage reserved only for his chefs. He regularly dishes on customers too: in one episode mocking someone because they looked like they had had plastic surgery— a procedure he himself has had done, oddly enough.

Ramsay treats people like garbage, but the funny thing is, people seem to love him for this. In fact, it could probably be argued that if it weren’t for this element in the show, there really isn’t all that much about it that raises the show above your average Food Network program. Yet Hell’s Kitchen has gone on for an incredible seventeen seasons. Here is a quick example of what it’s like in Ramsay’s kitchen (warning: clip contains strong language):

Of course, Hell’s Kitchen is “reality TV,” so things are intentionally played up and over-dramatized to get people interested. However, evidence suggests that Ramsay isn’t always a nice person in real life either. Ramsay has said some really disgusting things off camera, and after being thrown out of Ramsay’s restaurant, food critic A. A. Gill called him “a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being.”¹

Why do people love Ramsay so much, and how has Hell’s Kitchen remained so popular? Some would argue that Ramsay is just trying to push people toward excellence; but it should be obvious that Ramsay’s leadership in the kitchen is terrible, and it more often than not brings out the worst in people. Ramsay’s bullying, belligerent attitude is the exact opposite of how a good leader behaves.

Furthermore, for how politically correct our culture is, it is a bit shocking what is allowed to slide on reality TV. Contestants on Hell’s Kitchen and other reality TV shows definitely play up the drama for entertainment purposes and sometimes intentionally make themselves look ridiculous; but other times, they are mocked or made to look like idiots simply for the entertainment of the audience.

American Idol is another show that regularly entertains people at the expense of humans. In one particular episode, an overweight family comes in to defend their daughter after she is turned down by the judges. The producers have set the scene in slow motion and played dum-te-dum-te-dum kind of music, specifically to make fun of the family’s weight problem. If that’s not demeaning, I don’t know what is. Yet we all laugh at scenes like these.

Reality TV demonstrates our culture’s willingness to put down anyone for the sake of a laugh. Furthermore, reality TV regularly reinforces the idea that we are what we do. If we can’t sing, Simon Cowell will make us look like an idiot. If we mess something up in the kitchen, Gordon Ramsay will make us feel like a piece of garbage. This is all, ultimately, a reflection of our culture’s low view of humans.

As Christians, we know a deeper truth about people: they are made in God’s image, and therefore they come into the world with dignity and value, regardless of how they look or what they do. We say this often at Summit, but the reason that we talk about it so much is that, if we really believe this, it changes everything. It changes the way we treat our neighbors, it changes what we are entertained by, and it changes how we interact with those people who are frustrating, annoying, difficult, or perceived as unintelligent.

In the world’s eyes we may be ugly, we may not fit the Hollywood image, and we might not be able to sing or cook like professionals. But for God, this makes absolutely no difference, and it should make no difference to us, either. Love for our fellow humans is the greatest testimony we can have.

We can expand this further: How do we talk about those people on the other end of the political spectrum, or those people in the church across the road? What about a co-worker who is wrestling with homosexuality, or the kid next door who is loud and obnoxious? How we treat these people and how we talk about these people indicates what we really think. It matters little what we believe on Sunday if we don’t practice it on Monday. We do well to heed these wise words (attributed to Samuel Johnson): “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

I’m not saying there is no place for a good joke or that it’s wrong in every case to poke fun at someone; but what happens on American Idol and Hell’s Kitchen goes too far. Perhaps it is time for us to think about what we are entertained by and what it might be saying about what we really believe about each other. Perhaps we need a gut check. Let’s help our culture see Christians who love people and treat them with dignity, no matter how they look or what they can (or can’t) do.

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Ben Keiser

Ben Keiser is a writer, teacher, and student of theology, whose chief interests include biblical theology of heaven and earth, C. S. Lewis, and early Christianity in the first three centuries. Ben has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He resides in Colorado where you can often find him hiking in the mountains.