At this point in his career, Gordon Ramsay could technically coast on his larger than life reputation. He has Michelin stars, multiple television shows, and a following that includes the famous, the infamous, and the typical homegrown cook. He can even manage to mollify scandal, as when a notorious "mistress to the stars" suggested that she and the high profile celebrity shared a series of "intimate" encounters a few years back (an allegation Ramsay vehemently denied). Now, with his food service empire shaken by the recent economic crisis, the curse-word king remains a pop culture fixture. Last month, DVD distributor BFS released the first series of the entrepreneur's entertaining cooking-cum-chat show The f Word. Series 2 is now out on the digital domain, and while missing an important ingredient for any fan of Ramsay and his resilient public persona, it's another foray into food, fun, and one incredibly fascinating overblown public personality.
For the second series of The f Word some things have changed, while others have remained the same. Opening up The f Word restaurant in London, Ramsay invites 50 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 this time around? Aside from claiming that each entree is something that anyone can and could cook at home, Ramsay's diners are asked if they would be willing to "pay" for each dish. The final number of paid tickets is used to determine which of the four amateur "brigades" will return to help the chef prepare his grand finale meal. During the course of each episode, the chef also 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.
In addition, the overall series has a collection of unique themes. The first time around, Ramsay focused on a campaign to get women "back" in the kitchen. This time, he wants to bring Sunday lunch back to British families. 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. This series, they are raising their own hogs for a succulent summer feast.
Finally, in between all the celebrity chat and special reports from presenter Janice Street-Porter, Ramsay treats his customers to a competition. Famous faces step into the kitchen and match signature recipes with the master. After each one is complete, they are judged by a panel of specially chosen eaters. The winner earns f Word bragging rights. In case you're curious about the kinds of foods offered during the eight installments within this three DVD set, here's the individual dishes presented:
Episode 1 - Salad of Red Mullet, Saddle of Lamb, Summer Pudding
Episode 3 - Scrambled Eggs with Wild Mushrooms, Steamed Black Bream, Gratin Savion
Episode 4 - Summer Soup, Rabbit Fricassees, Rhubarb Soufflé
Episode 5 - Asian Calamari with Bok Choy, Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Leg, Crepes Suzette
Episode 6 - Prawn Toast with Cucumber Salad, Lemon Sole in Paper, Plum Tatin
Episode 7 - Onion Tart with Fried Quail Eggs, Breast of Duck with Gooseberry Sauce, Four Minute Chocolate Mousse
Episode 8 - Crab Rolls with Fresh Mango Salsa, Beef Filet with Mushroom Gratin, Hot Chocolate Fondant
Episode 9 - Scallops with Summer Truffles, Pressed Belly of Pork, Roast Lion of Pork, Baked Apples, Apple Tart
Clearly, by Series 2, the producers of Gordon Ramsay's f Word have figured out which side of the entertainment bread this chef's shtick is buttered on...and it's the curse-word laden confrontational surface that gets the thumbs up. Mostly gone are the man on the street moments about food trends (though returning correspondent Janice Street-Porter does showcase a different "unusual" foodstuff each episode). In their place? More shots of Ramsay screaming like a banshee at his proletarian crews. Complaining, not cookery, is the main focus here, with the high strung superstar foodie faulting everything from egg frying to salad dressing. As the F-bombs pour forth (left intact this time around as Ramsay's show switched to a more adult-friendly time slot for its second year's broadcast), we face a kind of creative conundrum. What makes something like The f Word work is the complete and utter passion for food. Ramsay will just not settle for second best. But with a foursome of novice helpers in the kitchen, the outcome can't help but be a bit amateurish, thus leading to more and more hurled epithets.
Ramsay is also a bit of a hypocrite this time around. Last series, he raised turkeys to take to the slaughter. It was Christmas Walking Bird for one and all. This time, it's pigs, and the sizeable step up the food chain seems to really effect him - at least, for a while. He loves these animals and makes sure they have as many amenities as possible during their stay in his back garden. He even takes them to a pig judging competition. In the penultimate episode, when his beloved prized sows are finally brought to the abattoir, Ramsay balks as they are electrocuted, bled, and then boiled in scorching water. The look on his face suggests that he is genuinely moved. He takes it very hard and appears to have an epiphany of sorts - that is, until he returns for the finale and practically drools over the lean meat he is about to prepare. Such mixed messages are the hardest part of The f Word. One minute, he's joking about some obscure ingredient. The next he's commenting on how the British no longer eat items like jellied eel.
The use of unschooled brigades is really the show's highlight. You'd think that merely mixing up the ingredients for a ripping chocolate mouse or grilling a few pieces of fish would be nothing for these self-professed gourmets. But the minute Ramsay actually makes demands of them, the second he stops being a celebrity and starts being a boss, the majority of these crews crumble. Watching them take the hit is part of The f Word's charm. It's also the show's major element of dissatisfaction. Watching people fail over and over again is not the most entertaining of broadcast pastimes, and when you've got cocky policemen or priggish college kids who really don't know what they're doing in a professional kitchen, the flop sweat can be stinky indeed. At least the celebrity cook-off challenges take the right approach. Thanks to their own inherent fame, Ramsay is less overbearing and the time they spend together is incredibly appealing. Overall, this second go round with The f Word shows some vast improvement over the lame chat show stylings of the first series. Things aren't perfect, and when dealing with someone like Ramsay, that's rare indeed.
Someone at BFS needs to speak up and explain why a box set supposedly containing nine episodes of the second series of The f Word ends up only offering eight. A quick glance at the DVD case indicates (in very, very small print) that Episode Two is omitted from the collection "due to clearance issues." Those in the know may recognize this installment as the legendary meeting between Ramsay and UK pop idol Cliff Richard. Rumor has it that the former hitmaker was/is livid over the inference that he used the verboten curse word during the program and will not allow his likeness to be part of this DVD release. Oh brother!
Anyway, the show is presented in a letterboxed, 16x9 transfer in the UK, and 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.
Oddly enough, this DVD presentation of The f Word is "Unrated", meaning we get to hear every fiery F-bomb in all its gratuitous 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. There is a single bleep however, and it's for the apparently illegal use of the "C" word. Along with the ever-present buzz of Babybird's "f Word" song, used for the theme, the aural elements here are excellent.
As with the last f Word box set, we are given a bare bones presentation that really does a disservice to this series and its chef. At the very least, BFS could offer up some recipes, or a link to the official website where one can obtain the makings for these mouthwatering delights.
There is something slightly addictive about Gordon Ramsay, his relentless pursuit of success, and the overriding need to make sure everything matches his own meticulous standards. Even when he's way off base, he still manages to inspire and intrigue. Perhaps this is why, through all its second series growing pains, The f Word still makes for mesmerizing television. The box set may be befuddled by a humorless Cliff Richard however, meaning that a Highly Recommended must be dropped down a notch. Without all nine installments, we are forced to find this version of the show stuck in the Recommended region. With Hell's Kitchen and Nightmares still making waves on both sides of the Atlantic, Ramsay will always be a high profile personality. But as long as he cares more about the food than the fame, shows like The f Word will remain fascinating and highly entertaining.
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