Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Volume 3, Number 15: Contemplating Life in Hell's Kitchen

(Note: I originally posted this entry to my Yahoo! GeoCities blog on May 20, 2008.)

I've been watching the latest season of Hell's Kitchen since it began over a month ago, and I have to say, you have to hand it to the majority of the contestants on that show. There are a number of things you need to have in order to coexist with Chef Gordon Ramsay for two weeks--among them, the passion, the talent, the experience, the temperament, the team mentality, and the leadership ability.

After much contemplation, I realized that even if I had all of those things, I still wouldn't be a good contestant for Hell's Kitchen. Here are six reasons why:

I tend to be methodical and relatively slow in a lot of things I do, and cooking is no exception. I still swear by anything with pre-measured ingredients (like those Hamburger Helper boxes--the only things I need to measure there are the milk and/or the water) and easy-to-follow directions that have specific parameters (e.g. "simmer over low heat, covered, for 25 minutes"). My slowness greatly reduces the chance that I'll have my garnish ready at the same time that another chef had his main course ready. My methodical nature means not only more cooking time, but more prep time as well. For example, if I had to cook risottos in Hell's Kitchen, the first thing I would do during prep time would be to determine the amount of rice that went into the pan each time and put that exact amount of rice into a series of Ziploc bags, and do something similar with whatever other ingredients went into the risotto (with the idea that it would prevent me from using too much or too little of any ingredient).

I get dizzy and/or tired after bending over and then standing back up dozens of times. I actually discovered this around 17 years ago when I was helping my little brother, then six years old, clean up his room. After bending down to pick up something and standing back up to put it where it belonged, and repeating this a number of times, I started to feel dizzy. This is obviously not a problem when I cook at home because I don't cook more than one meal in a 4-hour span. But cooking a few dozen appetizers, main courses and desserts in a 4-hour span... That means leaning over a stove or bending down to put something out of an oven or take something out of an oven repeatedly. I might start to feel faint after two hours, at which point Chef Ramsay would yell, "Maaaaaaaaark... wakey-wakey, yes?!!"

Chef Ramsay talks too fast when reading off tickets to his chefs. Add in the fact that my short-term memory is not as good as my long-term memory, and it's no wonder that I'd have to lean on the other chefs on my team to verify what I heard from Ramsay. One example came early in the second season, two years ago, when Gabe wasn't sure of what he heard on one particular order, and (in my opinion) was justified in asking Chef Ramsay about whether there should be something else on that ticket. "Two quails?!?" asked an incredulous Ramsay. "Shut the f*** up! Would you mind not being so rude?!? There's quail nowhere on that ticket--just listen, concentrate--four minutes to the window, one spaghetti of lobster, one scallops! Now, would you like me to f***ing e-mail that to your Blackberry? MOVE YOUR ARSE!!!"

I don't want to risk food-poisoning other people - As I mentioned in at least two previous blog entries, I've been poisoned by restaurant food a couple of times. The last thing I want is to cause the same thing to happen to anyone else. All steaks would be cooked at least medium to medium-well. Chicken, I'd have to stab every so often to make sure there wasn't any pink in it. I would probably overcook seafood due to the fact that one of my two food poisoning episodes involved shrimp.

I am limited in terms of the ingredients I use. I've never eaten a scallop, much less cooked one. I still don't like a number of foods, like mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, and avocadoes. I only like carrots and celery when they're in a soup, preferably overcooked. As a consequence, there are tons of items I never buy at the supermarket.

I am also very slow to expand my "comfort zone" in cooking. Twelve years ago, I was reluctant to cook anything that didn't come out of a can or a box. At that time, I would have been content to live on a diet of canned soups, canned pasta, TV dinners, macaroni and cheese dinners, and ramen noodles. Around five years ago, my cupboard still included stuff like Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee and Spaghetti-O's with Sliced Franks. I expect Betty Crocker Helpers and Freschetta pizzas to remain constants, though.

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