Gordon Ramsay sold his soul to the devil, and as penance he has been forced to name his shows things like Hell's Kitchen, Motel Hell, and Kitchen Nightmares. How else to explain this ex-soccer playing, loud mouthed Brit's dominion on Fox? He's not immediately likable at all. Like Judge Judy, he has built a career on giving uncensored straight talk to idiots, words that smack you across the face at first with their seemingly unnecessary harshness. Fuck me, you fucking doughnut! Pull your head out of your ass! This looks like regurgitated dog shit! Piss off out of here, you donkey! He and Simon Cowell have singlehandedly reversed any Jeeves and Wooster stereotypes of British men we may have held. An entire generation of kids has grown up here thinking that England is full of assholes.
Well, I have always been an Anglophile and I enjoy all things British, especially the assholes. I got it from my mother, who is well-steeped in UK baddies. "Oh yes," said my mom when I was a kid. "They cut her head right off. They didn't mess around." This was my intro to the Tudors. My mom told me that when they beheaded Mary, Queen of Scots, her little dog ran out from under her skirts. I pictured Toto.
It's no shock then that we have bonded over Ramsay, this century's brashest cleaver-wielder. "Gordon's had some work done," she emailed me after the first episode of this season's Hell's Kitchen. I think she's right. The deep creases in his brow and cheeks are gone. She and I watch his shows mostly to revel at how incredibly stupid human beings can be, but we dissect them through emails between each other that are our own strange brand of intimacy. "I wonder if they nuke a bunch of Hot Pockets at the end and pass them out for the guests to eat in the car," she said, referring to the fact that guests at Hell's Kitchen never seem to get fed. And if she doesn't like an episode, she tells me, "I got a lot of knitting done." I picture her in the chair I know she sits in, nestled into her warm house in frigid Minnesota. She's a knitting machine... a liberal, Jesus-loving, White-Stripes-listening, Grand-Theft-Auto-playing, reality-TV-loving knitting machine.
A few years ago, we vowed that when we went to London together we were going to eat at a Ramsay restaurant. Before dinner, we took a cab to Green Park, next to Buckingham Palace. My mom sat on a bench with her knitting and I walked around the park. For some reason, as I walked away from her I thought about her death. She would still be with me in spirit but not in body. I would miss her dearly. As I walked, I felt the phantom sadness of missing her and had a taste of what that would be like. As I rounded the bend and began to move back towards her, I felt supremely lucky to be approaching my mother there, alive, hands furiously weaving a pair of mittens. She looked up at me and smiled. "Couldn't get a table," she told me, referring to Gordon's reservation line. I was actually sort of relieved. Most celebrity chefs' restaurants are godawful anyway.
Our favorite Ramsay show has just begun, Masterchef. The spiel is that it's "America's best home cooks," but everyone is chosen in what has to be the reverse process that they use on the working-class Hell's Kitchen. They are all telegenic and quirky. We both agree that this season is already lagging. My mom gave me a six-paragraph rundown of her analysis, complete with this in-depth psychological profile of a contestant: I never thought being rich and stylish and living in Malibu could be a handicap, but it sure seems to be for that guy. I suspect we'll find out he has a backstory that will make him more sympathetic, but meanwhile, I resent the hell out of him and I'm sure the other contestants do too. I am not proud of this and will try to work on it.
We think alike, Mom and me. I know immediately when I see something on TV whether or not she will love it, hate it, laugh at it, or dismiss it as bullshit.
I think that must be the hardest thing about losing someone — seeing things that you know they would love but being unable to share it with them. Or walking through the park and not seeing them waiting for you there, on the bench, knitting.