Gordon Ramsay may be a lot of things - loud, obnoxious, brash, arrogant, opinionated, foul-mouthed, egotistical, hilarious - but there is one thing that he is not, and that's un-talented. The man behind several sensational high end eateries in England and abroad may talk the haute cuisine talk, but with his many Michelin stars and critical acclaimed restaurants, this member of the Order of the British Empire can definitely walk the good food walk. With series like Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen, only one side of the Scottish firebrand is usually seen. While he can be compassionate and understanding, most fans come looking for him to drop the F-bomb like parsley on the side of the plate. Leave it to the able entrepreneur to understand all facets of such a reputation. He even named one of his more interesting TV experiments The f Word. Except, in this case, the middle term is not one referencing fornication. As with everything Ramsay deals with, it's all about the "food".
The basic premise for the first series of The f Word is rather simple. Taking over a space in London, Ramsay sets up a slick, chic restaurant. Each week, he then invites 60 special customers to come and taste his current wares. Each time, he creates a unique three course meal - starter, main dish, and pudding - and then gauges the reaction and response to his latest inspirations. The twist here? Each entree is something that, according to Ramsay, anyone can and could cook at home. During the course of each episode, the chef steps inside his own kitchen and gives us step by step instruction on how to make the recipes. Even in the commercial setting of the show, he walks us through his delicious designs.
Along with the regular members of his staff, Ramsay also auditions several "commis" giving them a chance to work with him and, if they survive, earn a job at one of his restaurants. Out of thousands of applicants, he picks 12. Then, each week, two (or three) step into the f Word to prove their mantle. In addition, every series has a unique theme. The first focused on Ramsay's campaign to get women "back" in the kitchen. In essence, this means offering his skill and services to ladies who can't cook and feel embarrassed because of said inferred limitation. There's also a more personal aspect to the show, as Ramsay tries to raise his four young children to appreciate the food they eat. Up first - raising their own Christmas turkeys (FYI - we do seem them slaughtered - humanely - at the end of the run).
Finally, in between all the celebrity chat and special reports from food critic Giles Coren (and occasional input from journalist Rachel Cooke), Ramsay treats his customers to a competition. Famous faces step into the kitchen and match dessert recipes with the master. After each one is complete, they are judged by a panel of specially chosen eaters. The winner gets served in the f Word. In case you're curious about the kinds of foods offered during the nine installments within this three DVD set, here's the individual dishes presented:
Episode 1 - Foie Gras on a Bed of Lentils, Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb, Bread and Butter Pudding.
Episode 2 - Pumpkin Risotto, Roasted Monk Fish in Mussel Broth, Apple Pudding.
Episode 3 - Tagliatelle with Wild Mushrooms, Venison with Chocolate Sauce, Rhubarb Crumble.
Episode 4 - Pigeon Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Brill in Red Wine, Poached Pears in Crepes, Chocolate Fondant.
Episode 5 - Watercress Soup with Poached Egg, Roasted Chicken in Morel Mushroom Sauce, Chocolate Cheesecake.
Episode 6 - Roasted Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Puree, Beef Wellington, Trifle.
Episode 7 - Bean Soup with Tiger Prawns, Roasted Pheasant with Braised Cabbage in Bread Sauce, Chocolate Brownie.
Episode 8 - Duck Breast Ravioli in a Jerusalem Artichoke sauce, Pan Roasted Sea Bass in a Sweet and Sour Pepper Sauce, Fig Tart.
Episode 9 - Oyster Soup, Roast Christmas Turkey with the Trimmings, Chocolate-Chestnut Tart.
When Gordon Ramsay is in his element - thriving kitchen, fresh food being prepared in a simple, classical style - he's an artist. His blunt persona and fabulously foul mouth can easily be seen as serving the needs of his dishes and his customers. That's what being a perfectionist is all about. But when he's out of his element, when he's attempting to trade quips with smug, stodgy food critics or country-specific celebrities, everything he stands for goes slightly askew. The man is a master of haute cuisine, not talk show chit chat, and yet the otherwise enjoyable f Word constantly puts the maestro in entertainment harm's way. It has to be said that Ramsay is much more laid back here that during those wrath and brimstone performance art moments of his other shows. Sure, he throws the ultimate four letter curse around like it's freshly ground pepper, but he's trying to be friendlier and less forward here. This is a show about cooking, not about oversized personality. As a result, we get much more of a hand's on feel to how Ramsay made his reputation and why his restaurants remain so critically and commercially acclaimed.
It's interesting to see how things have changed since Graham Kerr and Julia Child once ruled the broadcast how-to field. When Ramsay announces his "Getting Women Back in the Kitchen" campaign, built around helping disgruntled female cooks to fall back in love with their pantries, a fiery Feminist response makes it sound like he's arguing for a return to the "barefoot and pregnant" paradigm of 50 years ago (he clearly is/was not). Similarly, his competitive nature makes the guest recipe spot frequently uncomfortable. He often refers to the other people's dishes as "baby sick", "turds" and "garbage", yet he tends to lose much more than he wins. Even the weekly segments where his children learn lessons about growing their own food (and in the first season, raising six turkeys for Christmas dinner) appear to be met with a hyperbolic over-reaction that borders on the insane. Clearly, controversy is being ballyhooed for the sake of some ratings points (the series and its host are still wildly popular in the UK), but beneath the seemingly outlandish ideas are some interesting, inventive recipes.
This is where The f Word truly shines. Give Ramsay a freshly honed knife, a farm raised pigeon, some thyme and bay leaf, and an inherent knowledge of what makes food fabulous, and the series sores into a taste bud tantalizing atmosphere. During one installment, he makes a Beef Wellington that literally makes your mouth water, and when ditzy actress Martine McCutcheon finally discovers her cooker and turns out a full blown Sunday lunch, including roast, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding, it's enough to put you off your microwaved mini-meal or Vegan repast all together. From scrumptious desserts to slightly avant-garde appetizers, Ramsay is truly a culinary genius. As was stated before, you can't earn all those Michelin stars and recognition from royalty and not have something special. As with many shows just starting out, The f Word contains a few uneven elements that keep it from being an outright success, but with Ramsay in the driver's seat, the series can only improve (and oddly enough, it did).
Presented in a letterboxed, 16x9 transfer in the UK, the anamorphic Region 1 DVD version of The f Word maintains such a theatrical framing. The 1.78:1 image is translated over from PAL to NTSC with skill and care. There is no ghosting, lag, or any other element we come to expect when formats travel across the Atlantic. The visual element here is bright, detailed, and very well put together. Hats off to the various directors for keeping everything from tumbling over into chaos. One word of warning, however. This critic was sent Screener copies of the three disc set, a huge white label announcing the "promotional" aspect of the product. As a result, the following comments may not apply to the box set you buy come B&M time.
Oddly enough, this DVD presentation of The f Word bleeps out all fornication-referencing curses until the final Christmas episode. We then get to hear the chef in all his blue moves glory. It's a little off putting at first. Like witnessing South Park without the censorship intact, the rhythm of Ramsay's speech initially seems off. With the expletives included, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 captured his crudeness magnificently. Along with the everpresent buzz of Babybird's "f Word" song, used for the theme, the aural elements here are excellent.
As stated before, the discs sent to this critic by BFS were labeled as promotional screeners. Yet beneath the big white sticker, it appears that the actual discs were provided. Whether or not the bare bones treatment of this series will stand once the title is released in February remains to be seen, but as of this writing, The f Word is underserved by a lack of supplements. Ramsay, the series, and the astonishing recipes he creates deserve better. Luckily, you can travel over to the program's website - http://www.channel4.com/food/on-tv/f-word/ - and catch up on all the added context this DVD package fails to provide.
There's a moment of genuine honesty in the first series of The f Word, and it comes in a rather unusual form. While showing some prisoners how to make a leftover turkey curry for their fellow inmates, Ramsay challenges one of his incarcerated helpers to an onion cutting competition. When it's over, the look on the celebrity chef's face, and the reaction to the result, proves that beneath the rough and tumble exterior breathes a man who truly is passionate - and perfect - at what he does. Sure, there's a distinct dichotomy between the personable and sometimes pleasant fašade he puts on for The f Word and the driven, uncompromising chef in the kitchen. While uneven, the series still deserves a Highly Recommended rating. When it comes to the food he adores, Gordon Ramsay is nothing short of sensational. As a TV personality, his efforts can be rather hit or miss. The f Word illustrates this effortlessly. It's a good, not quite great, entertainment.
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