Thursday, 24 June 2010


I’ve recently been binging on Hell’s Kitchen on Hulu.

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I had started watching some reality cooking shows with friends who are addicted, and then decided to try this one on my own.

I like Gordon Ramsay for the same reasons I like Nurse Jackie – they get sh*t done and done right and they take the heat for cutting corners when it comes to convention.

When did that become a crime?

When did we get so namby pamby that we forgot that what Americans are good at – in fact it may be our only real achievement -- the drive for excellence by any means necessary.

A few years ago, I got to work on a Gordon Ramsay show. I’d heard the same things everyone heard about him – his ranting, his cursing, his mean-spiritedness. I was afraid. And then he came to work. He was the most focused, professional, in the zone person I’d ever seen. It made him, as far as I can tell, completely neutral except in respect to the job at hand. He was a master. He came in, solicited brief, to the point opinions from several people who had been watching developments before he arrived. He listened more energetically than most people talk. He’d never met me, but listened to me as if I must be super-smart, completely informed, and 100% on his team – therefore that’s what he got from me.

When he interacted with the people on the show, his passion was so evident as to be completely contagious. He is judgemental – a taboo in our current society – but his ability to judge is not only earned by his experience and acumen, it is desirable. People need to hear what he has to say. People who are in trouble, or not good enough, need his advice. For Ramsay, not making the grade is, in fact, a fixable problem. So when he is giving you the tools to do it and the lessons you need and you don’t step up, then his passion comes out as anger. But it is still passion seated in the desire for excellence and order and right.

When did we become so politically correct that we are socially, culturally, and emotionally incapable of passing judgement on the vast difference between right and wrong, between crap and fantastic, or even that huge space between good and great.

In this economy the difference between a good restaurant – or any business – and a great one isn’t just stars on a review – it is the difference between having a business and not having one. Can we afford to hold back our intuitive capabilities to tell best from better in this climate? Is it not the time for us to say goodbye to cruise control and get back to striving?

So we can all spend our days ranting about poor customer service, or maybe we can all get back on the horse and realize that some of our greatest failures of late – from the oil spill, to the economy, to the education of our next generations -- may come from cutting the wrong corners.

Excellence inspires passionate problem-solving, transcends ego, and makes Darwin proud.

Excellence has a price – one we used to be willing to pay.

Watching Gordon Ramsay require it, and seeing people learning by submission, a necessary step in the learning process – even and especially for creatives – makes me remember the country I was raised in, makes me remember that doing it well is more important than what “it” is. That as a civilization, we have the choice to have a kick-ass planet if we are willing to commit our energy, time and ingenuity to that.

Nurse Jackie and Gordon Ramsay make me feel there’s an order in the disorder, there’s still a good fight, and that just maybe the world does not have to slip into the abyss of corruption, stupidity, and gossip.

Just maybe showing up with our best for the people around us, and also demanding it of and for ourselves, is enough.

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