Psychologically, what is Gordon Ramsay's problem?

Gordon Ramsay ™ Reality TV and the suicide of boss Joseph Cerniglia

This week a cook from a Gordon Ramsays US showed himself killed. Dan Glaister looks at the fragile relationship between the world of reality TV and the pressure of the hospitality industry


For viewers, it was just another example of the host's bullish roar - the kind of saucy, badass attack that draws millions of viewers to Gordon Ramsay, turning him into one of the most famous people in America.

"Your business is about fucking swimming down the Hudson," said the Scot Joseph Cerniglia, chef and owner of the fidgeted New Jersey restaurant Campania.

Burdened with debt of $ 80,000 from buying the restaurant, Cerniglia found itself in the hands of Ramsay and the team at Fox TV taping an episode of the first US series of Kitchen Nightmares in which the alternately exuberant and demonic chef follows the tried and true TV formula to visit a troubled company and yell at people.

Ramsay is not John Harvey-Jones, the BBC gentleman's advisor. Ramsay says it is as it is, and then some, glorifying the labors of others, gleefully exposing their shortcomings and - lastly - vomiting their work into the nearest trash.

But in the case of Cerniglia, the reality of his situation caught up with him earlier this week. Three years after he first appeared on the Ramsay show, the 39-year-old Cerniglia was found dead, his body dragged from the Hudson River, after a witness reported seeing a man jump from the George Washington Bridge.

It's not the first time a contestant has met her own life on a Ramsay show: three years ago, Rachel Brown, a chef who shot himself in her Dallas home on other Ramsay shows, Hells Kitchen, shot himself. Neither is it the first time that people who appeared on TV have problems later in life. Of course, no one is suggesting that these deaths are directly related to their appearances on reality TV. But it sparked a new debate about the genre.

Dr. Bruce Weinstein, AKA the ethics guy and columnist for Bloomberg Business Week who watched the mores of reality TV believes that "a rattle on the level of brutality ... it's nastier, it's grosser, it's tougher" took place Has.

"Going back to the first series of Survivor, it was sneaky, but it reaches a level we haven't seen before."

Weinstein suggest that the conflict and drama that is creating reality television are wholly detached from reality. "These programs are made like drama," he says. “What we see is not reality unfolding, but reality as it is shaped by a group of people. Aristotle told us that the essence of all drama is conflict. What the producers of these shows are doing is to maximize the conflict. "

And who better than the weak to kick the public - the economic engines of reality TV -? And when audiences crave a roller coaster ride of emotions, sweat, heat, tantrums and bad balance sheets, look no further than gastronomy.

The hierarchical structure of the restaurant's kitchen and the tendency for chefs in management to move an area in which many have little experience, manna reality is producers. According to the Nation Restaurant News, 5,500 restaurants closed in 2009 in the US, out of a total of 578,353.

“Dentists and chefs,” says David LeFevre, who has the success as a chef at the Water Grill in Los Angeles starting his own restaurant. "They are the two most hated, highest risk occupations."

The tension in the kitchen, says LeFevre, is easy to explain. "It's very hot, it's a very small room and there are a lot of people," he says. "You have a deadline every two minutes. You're nice to do air traffic control with tickets. They try to get all these planes and tickets to land at the right time, but those planes have to be hot and tasty and flavorful. To me, the monkey belongs on the back."

All of which, he says, lead to the kind of tension that has caused some, like Ramsay, to rise to the top of ratings - and which have caused others to sink below.

LeFevre points to the example of one of the greats of French cuisine, Bernard Loiseau, among whom he served the Michelin star La Côte d'Or before Loiseau killed himself in 2003. "Here you are in a pretty stressful environment that is hot and noisy, and you add to the stress of running a business." It's a lose-lose situation. "

Cerniglia's sister has insisted that participating in the show should not adversely affect her brother. "He liked Gordon and the show was great," she said. "The show was great for business travelers too. It really helped a lot. There aren't any harsh feelings at all from our family, Gordon Ramsay, who is a wonderful person. His behavior on the show for the cameras played out."

Ramsay, declaring himself a dignified one, stating, "I was fortunate enough to spend time with Joe during the first season of Kitchen Nightmares. Joe was a brilliant cook, and our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and co-workers."

But on the occasion of Cernigia's death this week, some critics have gotten used to problem with Ramsay's unique selling point: his manner. "Smart Chef [s] Lead Kitchen by sharing, teaching, with all due respect, inspiring," New York French chef Eric Ripert wrote on Twitter this week. "Don't offend, abuse, humiliate your team ... Nothing personal against Gordon Ramsay, but he's a poor inspiration for professional chefs in his shows." Ripert, a judge on reality TV show Top Chef quickly clarified, that he wasn't to blame Ramsay for the death.

Mary Sue Milliken, head chef and co-owner of Border Grill in Los Angeles, argues that Ramsay-style screaming may have something to do with gender. “Maybe because we're women,” she says of herself and co-owner Susan Feniger, “we don't have the kind of egos that lead to it. Managing your personality is your passion, isn't it? And we made a very conscious effort to find other ways to manage our kitchens. "

She also suspects Ramsay's stereotype of the chef demon is somewhat peculiar to TV. "In 29 years as a chef I've run into guys were maybe 30-40% of the persona that Gordon Ramsay exudes," she says. "There were a few chefs who were like that, but I don't think it's not that widespread anymore. But the Gordon Ramsay Persona makes popular TV." I met him and he was very nice to me. "

LeFevre, however, realizes the difficulty of staying calm in the heat of the kitchen.

"I have my challenges with my temper," says LeFevre. "It's something I work with on a daily basis. When it's extremely stressful, you need to be very firm and clear and concise about what needs to be done. Other times you can be calmer." I have to know where I am to get in the mood for my food to be brought out. "

And while Ramsay can be glorious to his peers, it's not about winning the audience. Trailer for the current series of Ramsay Devil's Kitchen, also on Fox, makes it sound like Gladiator: "Fighting reaches epic proportions," it proclaims.

But several former participants have the standard $ 5m confidentiality agreement that everyone must unsubscribe before participating in the program, indicating that much of the fighting and brawling and crying is excessive.

But as a media analyst and former TV producer, the Richard Crew notes, few people recognize themselves on reality TV. "You have to see the reality that this public persona of yours is. Unless you are incredibly narcissistic, it must be quite a shock to see this person: is this really me, or do they have this person manipulating me?"

As with the ingredients for a gourmet meal, it takes a phalanx of people to achieve the right mix of personalities for a reality television show. Potential participants are subject to psychological evaluations prior to admission. Once the participant is reminded, they will be asked how he felt at his grandmother's funeral and what his attitude towards promiscuity was.

“Part of the reason that psychologists are involved, screen out people who aren't eligible for this type of experience,” says Crew. "But the other reason is to identify characters that will be attractive and entertaining to viewers." That show was certainly part of Cerniglia's personality. "

A psychologist who was a counselor on survivors has compared reality contained TV with the Stanford Prison experiment of 1971, the students who saw their roles as prisoners and guarded the norms of acceptable behavior.

"The main business in LA is reality TV," Crew points out, "and the challenge is because it's not fiction, just above, you can't do it, so you have to manipulate it and make it as entertaining as possible."

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