By Kate Ward
Updated September 20, 2007 at 08:08 PM EDT

It’s been a whole month since we’ve seen Gordon Ramsay crown the new winner of Hell’s Kitchen, and I don’t know about you, but I had been missing our little British ray of sunshine. Though after Wednesday night’s premiere of his latest show, Kitchen Nightmares, I’m beginning to wonder if the ever-entertaining hotheaded chef has traded in his knives for a ball of yarn.

As a devoted Hell’s Kitchen watcher who has never seen the BBC version of Nightmares, I was looking forward to watching Ramsay help salvage an ailing restaurant while hurling insults at hapless kitchen staffers. Because I expected Ramsay’s whip-them-into-shape tactics to consist of demands that the #$%& donkeys just cook their #$%& Beef Wellingtons and risottos already!, I have to say I was quite surprised to see a kinder and gentler Ramsay rearing his matted, pretty head. Not only was Ramsay helpful and encouraging while helping a family resuscitate a dying Italian eatery, but the chef also managed to extinguish fights instead of igniting them — all while wrapped up in a dashing tight-fitting sweater. Kitchen Nightmares seems to exist in a world outside Hell’s Kitchen, one in which Ramsay discourages attitude, praises teamwork, and is utterly baffled over the fact that people yell in the kitchen.

But a calmer Ramsay doesn’t necessarily translate in to a watchable Ramsay. Sure, the family antics featured on Wednesday night’s episode never failed to entertain (A Goodfellas wannabe almost getting into a fistfight with a bill collector? The casting director deserves a raise), but Ramsay — who always rules Hell’s Kitchen — managed to completely evade the spotlight by playing a secondary role in the restaurant’s re-launch. Sure, the chef scolded the staff for an unhygienic set-up, purchased a new kitchen for the family, and retooled their menu, but mostly he seemed to do little more than play president of the get-along gang during the last half of the show. As much as we like to see a smiling, friendlier Ramsay, viewers really tune in to see what this chef does best: cook up a nice batch of expletive-riddled rants.

So will you continue to watch Kitchen Nightmares, cuddly Ramsay and all? Or does the frighteningly bad flying-knives intro make you want to run the other way? And, finally, were you as surprised as I was to learn that teeth bleaching costs $1,000 a pop? And, of course, make sure to check the magazine for our critic’s official take on the show.

addCredit(“Eric Leibowitz”)