Sunday, April 26, 2009

Adios, Ben Walanka!

Several weeks ago I wrote about how I know Ben Walanka, a contestant on this year's Hell's Kitchen.

It was surreal, I was seeing ads on TV for the show and I kept thinking, "Man, that guy's face in the background really looks like Ben from the Club at the Symphony Center that I worked with a few times..."

So, when the show came on one night I flipped over and sure enough, it actually WAS Ben from the Club! Crazy. Ben made it to the final four and went home this week - Ben, if you're reading this, I was sad to see you go! I hope it was great entertainment and that it'll give you a boost in your career.

It is SO strange to watch someone I actually know on a reality TV show. I would just shake my head the whole time I watched because it felt so surreal. I know Gordon Ramsey (Hell's Kitchen's head chef) is intentionally sensational with his yelling and anger, but I found the insane pressure of their kitchen to actually be completely realistic to what the busiest part of the kitchen rush looks like. I felt like I was just watching a Friday night rush in Ben's kitchen rather than watching TV, which is just weird. Ben has such a fun, easy-going personality, and I absolutely think half of his snarky comments and attitude were put on because he was playing to what the audience of Hell's Kitchen is looking for. Smart contestant!

Some of the comments Ben made I have actually heard him make in person, and the look of shock and horror when he realized a horrible mistake was just made (by him or one of the other contestants) were so familiar. One little mistake can turn an evening's service into a disaster, particularly if the mistake is made to a big-shot guest (and at the Club at the Symphony center, everyone is a big-shot).

Hell's Kitchen's depiction of the egos of the chefs and the military-like ranking and required submission are also pretty accurate. The world of fine-dining kitchens is crazy, people. Hell's Kitchen really isn't about the food at all, it's about the pressure of the kitchen. In that respect, it's right on.

Here's an interview with Ben from a little earlier in the show.

PS - a friend of mine and some blog entries about the show both made the very valid point that it's very strange that so many chefs smoke. It dulls your taste buds, so it seems like a ridiculous thing to do. However, just about EVERY chef I know smokes - I think partly because of the pressure of the kitchen. It's almost a nervous habit.

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