Normally I rather despise yelling as a motivational tool. Several seasons ago, miserable in a snowboard lesson and at the vicious mercy of a 20 year old instructor well versed in this tactic, I made the executive decision to simply board on down the hill and into the lodge for a drink—mid-“instruction.” A boot camp fitness class in the park ended much the same way, with me snapping, “YOU get your ass in gear!!” at the instructor and sprinting to my car, never to return. Maybe I’m missing out on stuff because of my anti-authoritarian leanings, but this drill-sergeant-type style hits me somewhere between you’re not the boss of me and have a little respect, please. In a nutshell, I hate it. So why can’t I get enough of the king of the colossal tear-down, Gordon Ramsay?
As a raw fooder, you’re probably shocked that I even watch his shows, let alone love the guy. Not love as in have a crush on. Love as in inspired by. As in, thank you, I’m off to kick some ass now. Really. He breaks people down just enough to stop fighting their ego junk and just let it go. Post tearing them down, he builds them up. Not with false confidence or inauthentic encouragement, but by earning their respect with blunt-force-trauma honesty, and getting them to see where they’ve effed up. Somehow he then shines a light on their potential for excellence and relights burners that’ve been sputtering for years. These folks, men and women alike, frequently wrap up the show crying, hugging Ramsay in respect and gratitude; The Master Inspirer. Bloody good job.
I don’t know precisely how he does it, but I know it’s some magical alchemy of authenticity, honesty, tough love and sensitivity. He knows when to hit the gas, and when to punch the breaks. Typically a keen reader of people, Ramsay knows just how to get in there to make a difference with oh-so-irritating-folks I would’ve walked away from within the first 5 minutes. But he sees greatness amid grease and grime, clearing all the moldy, substandard frozen food out of the kitchen and replacing it with freshness, simplicity and integrity. Literally, and metaphorically.
Yeah yeah, I know it’s a t.v. show. But it’s a good one because of this hulking blonde dude with crazy hair. And I could give a rat’s ass about all the personal drama. I don’t care. Extraordinary people cannot be expected to be “normal.” You don’t get “genius” out of “stay in the box.” Which doesn’t mean that he’s got free reign to do whatever he likes, it just means that I don’t care how much of a mess his personal life is or isn’t, or about any of the gossip therein; he’s amazing at what he does. Period.
And what he does is inspire and empower others to live a passionate life, to raise our standards, to expect excellence, to get on it and take action and responsibility. I get that he doesn’t appeal to everyone. That’s okay. But he certainly speaks to me. Raptly transfixed as declining restaurant owners on Kitchen Nightmares phoenix up out of crumpled puddles of shame into adept and powerful leaders, I sense the strength in reclaiming personal power, and I feel my own strength rise up, I’m galvanized; I’m raring to go after my dreams. Exciting change can happen in and through an hour episode. This stuff is not about cooking, or interior design, or running a business. It’s about Life. And I’ll take a teacher wherever I find one. Thank you, Chef. LiveLove&BU
Photograph: Jay Brooks for the Guardian