The hook of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," which ended this week, was the explosive temper of Gordon Ramsay, the chef turning one of a small crowd of amateur cooks into a professional. Ramsay shoved food into people's chests, swore, called names, and generally berated everyone down the path to self-improvement. It was fascinating at first, even if it ultimately grew monotonous in an "if you've seen one vein-popping rant, you've seen them all" sort of way.
Every show tries to end with a shock, and the twist at the end of "Hell's Kitchen" turned out to be a tamed, supportive, downright avuncular Ramsay. The same guy who screeched nonstop for weeks took finalists Ralph and Michael under his wing with nothing but warm fuzzies all around.
Ramsay had Ralph and Michael run their own restaurants for an evening, charging them with handling everything from choosing the décor to dressing the staff. And aside from a few slams at the frumpy outfits on Ralph's servers and the androgyny of Michael's, Ramsay loved almost everything. He loved the food, the ambience, and the way both finalists handled the former contestants who returned to act as kitchen staff.
In fact, it was Michael, usually a specialist in the "passive" part of "passive-aggressive," who ramped up his inner Ramsay so he'd appear assertive enough to earn the victory. In a particularly baffling turn, he looked up abruptly and accused those working in his kitchen of cooking in a manner reminiscent of amorous elderly people. Whatever the literal meaning of that insult may be, it came so completely out of left field that Ramsay himself had to snort-laugh at the transparent effort to look tough.
In the end, Michael won. So perhaps the show did its job, which was apparently to prove that only a rampaging jerk can make a great risotto.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.