Friday, May 13, 2011

How to win Hell's Kitchen

Being a foodie means I love watching food shows, and Gordon Ramsay is one of my favorites.  Probably because he is such a character - and yet, in spite of his bravado has a heart.

But when I see contestants to Hell's Kitchen come in, I have to wonder- why are they not prepared? What the hell is wrong with you? Or- to quote GR --"When did you stop caring?"

So here is a simple primer of how to win Hell's Kitchen.  It isn't a game, it is a career.  Do not try to play games with people - the camera is on - start with being honest, up front.  But prepare.

The most important part of Hell's Kitchen is a chef who can taste.  You will have a taste test- and those who do well in it jump up front in GR's mind. Anyone can learn to cook a piece of fish, but learning to differentiate tastes is not a talent- it is practice. YES -- this is not natural born, it really is tasting a lot of different things and getting it right. Trust me, I'm a doctor,  tasting is learned.

There are two versions of his taste test-- one is a blind fold version where he feeds you items and you taste them and guess.  You will get fillet of beef, you will get chicken, you will get pork, you will get fennel, you will get endive.  Nothing difficult- and yet so many fail this.

The second version is he will cook something for you- then you guess what is in the dish.  How could you possible know (he has published at least one cook book a year for five years). The ingredients in it are predictable.  Learn the difference between veal and beef.  He will put bacon or a pancetta in something(they taste different - learn that).  Spices - not difficult- there may be thyme, rosemary, and sage. Garlic- oh yes, but it will be so gently sauteed on the pan that you may not recognize it unless you do it.

You learn to taste things- and you jump to the head of the class.  But wait- you do have to know to cook something too.  I couldn't believe when one contestant was assigned to the fish station and she said, "I don't know too much about how to cook fish."  What? You are going for a $250,000 a year job interview and you can't cook a bit of halibut on a grill?  If I were in that interview I would be getting lots of halibut and pan searing it until I could feel when it was done and raw.  I would buy a bag of scallops and keep cooking them until they could be cooked perfectly every time.

Risotto - there is one way to cook it-- over low heat, and stir a lot. Never cooked it-- buy some, start.

Did you know before GR opens a restaurant he has the items cooked time and time again by the local staff until they have it done perfectly.  It is just practice - you are chefs - or want to be - so practice. Beef Wellington - easy- after you cook a bunch of them, but start with a few and keep cooking until it is perfect.

Amusing when someone screws up in the kitchen and is called on the carpet and they speak to the camera and say "next time I am bringing my A-game."  Do yourself a favor- do it now. Not later. Learn to cook his food, his way.  Learn to taste-  develop your palate.

If you care- if you want a job, and if you have been selected - then look at the menu, learn to cook perfectly. Do not play games-- communicate a lot in the kitchen. Do not try to "score" points- just keep your head down and cook. Oh- and don't get drunk - chances are you will have to cook, and if you cook with a hangover And if you smoke-- stop.  It will ruin your taste buds and the taste buds are, in his words, "the jewel of the crown."

Buy all the seasons of Hell's Kitchen on DVD, buy his cookbooks.  Study them.  Then walk into that kitchen knowing that no one is more prepared than you.

Sorry Gordon- I gave away your secrets - but really,  most of the contestants even if given this won't do it- and you won't hire them, and they will wonder.  But judging most of the last few years contestants was pretty easy - predicted because excellence can be predicted. I'm just hoping a couple of them will prepare before they get there and make it interesting.