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'Hell's Kitchen' recap: The best/most shocking/most talented/most life-threatening season yet?

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The 6th season of Hell’s Kitchen premiered last night to the usual superlative-laden hyperbole — this season is promised to be ”the most shocking ever” with ”the most dedicated competitors yet” who will ”risk life and limb” to win the competition! Well, we’ll see about that, because yesterday’s two-hour episode yielded a bunch of crybabies and only a couple of standout competitors.

Of the 16 men and women vying for a job as head chef of Araxi restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia, home of the 2010 Olympics, only a few made a good first impression on Screamin’ Gordon Ramsay. Suzanne, who disappointed in the “cook your signature dish” challenge, proved levelheaded in the kitchen and managed to slice and de-vein her shrimp properly during the second hour. And though the spacey Amanda didn’t impress S.G.R. with her margarita French toast or by putting the salmon in the freezer instead of the fridge, she proved a competent shrimp peeler and could turn out to be the kooky girl who actually knows her stuff. Or, you know, she could get kicked off next week. Either way.

The not-so-great ladies included “Crazy Eyes” Melinda, who apparently forgot the lobster tail from her signature dish of poached lobster and Portobello mushrooms, then decided it was a smart idea to throw away eight perfectly good pasta appetizers because their scallop counterparts weren’t cooked properly (she got kicked off after the first half), and Lovely, who is an executive chef at a children’s camp in Illinois but probably won’t cut it in Hell’s Kitchen‘s fast-paced environment.

Since the men managed to clean up during both challenges, not too many emerged from the pack as truly good or truly terrible. On the good side were Jim, who prepared an impressive Ahi tuna with soy ginger vinaigrette during the first challenge, and Kevin, who coolly commandeered the meat station when diner owner Louie got kicked off the show mid-dinner service (he was on the terrible side, along with the hotheaded Joseph.) In Louie’s absence, Ramsay decided to bring back the ever-humorous Robert, who left for health reasons last season. I’m sure he’ll hang out for a while, because Ramsay seemed to like him a lot. Though, to even up the teams, Ramsay put Robert on the women’s side.

Louie and Joseph both get points immediately docked for sexist comments about the women having to clean the kitchen after losing the first challenge — Louie: “Women are the best at cleaning, so it’s right up their alley,” and Joseph: “Women cleaning where they should be” — but they are both also horrible in other ways. Louie was completely out of his element cooking finer cuisine (though I’m sure he makes a mean omelet), and Joseph, although he claims to be 27, has not matured past the age of 15. He’s defensive about every piece of mild criticism and completely defiant of authority. No wonder they cast him — he’s talked back to S.G.R. during every interaction they’ve had so far, and couldn’t even answer the simple question of who the men nominated for elimination without making sure we were aware that he was doing it his own way. And when Ramsay called him out on it, Joseph decided the best way to solve their disagreement was by throwing off his coat and challenging him to a fight in the parking lot (ooh, fight!) — which of course we ended on, because what would Hell’s Kitchen be without a good cliffhanger ending? For my money, although it would be the best thing ever for Ramsay to just kick Joseph off next week, they might let him stick around a bit simply for the drama.

The people I’ll be watching are Suzanne and Kevin, who I thought performed the best in the kitchen, along with Tek, although she didn’t particularly stand out — I just liked her demeanor — and Jim, who was pretty amusing in his interviews. We didn’t hear much from Ariel, so hopefully she’ll stay long enough for me to form an opinion. I think Dave could fly under the radar for a while with his casual attitude, and like Amanda, Van could also turn out to be an unsuspecting dynamo.

What were your first impressions of the latest batch of Hell’s Kitchen contestants? Are you tired of Gordon Ramsay’s incessant screaming? I’m pretty sure Fox must pay him by the decibel-to-profanity ratio. That, or he suffers from the same voice immodulation disorder as Will Ferrell’s character in that one SNL skit. Are you excited for a new season of the show?

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