Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – What’s Better? US or Brit Version?

Both the US and BBC versions of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares are required viewing in my house. Both my wife and I are huge fans of the show and of Gordon Ramsay. We started watching the BBC version some months before the US version on FOX and were excited by the thought of having him go “toe to toe” with American restauranteurs and chefs who are less reserved then their British counterparts. There would definately be fireworks, and our hero Ramsay would surely battle through and succeed. All the ingredients for compelling viewing, especially during a fall season which has been mediocre at best.

For full disclosure, I am a transplanted Brit, living here for the last 13 years. I am becoming more American with every passing year, but trying hard to hold on to some small piece of my Britishness.

The basic premise of the show is that Ramsay goes to a failing restauarant and determines why it’s failing and puts together a plan to turn it around within a week. Invariable the reasons for failure are:

1. A chef with an ego who is still living in the past

2. An owner who is being dominated by their chef

3. An incoherent and long menu

4. Over-priced mediocre food

5. No differentiation from the local competition

Ramsay approached this in a really thoughtful, intelligent way in the BBC series but always was very direct with the restuaranteurs he dealt with. It always seemed that he developed custom solutions for each restaurant he dealt with.

While the US version has maintained the basic premise, there are specific and I think meaningful changes in the tone of the show. Ramsay himself is an exaggerated version, a caricature of the BBC show. I guess he is maintaining a consistent persona with what he portrays on Hell’s Kitchen. Think of it as the Simon Cowell effect. When Brits come to the US they all of a sudden get meaner and that’s what the US audience seems to want. There are plenty of examples of this stereotype.

The other change is that in the US version, the show pays for a makeover of the restuarant, no such thing in the UK. I guess it isn’t enough incentive to have an internationally renowned chef help you turn around your business and save it from certain failure. Or is it just a result of Americans having superior bargaining skills compared to their British counterparts? 

One of the biggest changes is that the whole thing seems to be canned by which I mean that it’s pretty much the same solution in all cases and it all happens way too quickly. This is where it loses it’s more authentic, real feeling that the BBC show has, making the US version more about a battle of wills – Gordon versus the clueless owner or arrogant, clueless chef.

While I prefer the BBC version due to its realness, I think the US version is great theater, and so very entertaining. A classic moment from this week was when he referred to a customer as an old bag and told her she was speaking out of her behind. Moments like this make the show too much fun to stop watching. But if you get a chance, watch the tamer BBC version, trust me, you will enjoy it.

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