I rarely watch reality TV--it's against my religion (The Church of the Unreal) but one can hardly avoid it, and I've seen my share of cooking shows, and people in bikinis scheming to annihilate each other. I watched the first episode of this seaon's Hell's Kitchen last night by accident. Jeez. I think food cooked under those conditions is essentially toxic, no matter how well it turns out. I know that restaurant kitchens aren't like Grandma's, (and this is an exaggerated version of any restaurant kitchen) but it's such a disconnect from what cooking at its most fundamental ought to be: one person nurturing another with food.
That's hard to reconcile with my job, I know. I've eaten lots of food cooked like that that tasted delicious, and I certainly don't try to guess how much bleeping, name-calling, and fake retching were involved in its production when I review it. But I don't see how the cult of the a-hole chef makes people excited about going out to eat, or helps people understand what the art of cooking is about or if there's any good reason for this guy to get early Alzheimer's from busting all those capillaries in his brain.
Here's an interesting contrast to that spectacle, focusing on one man's morality and integrity in an unlikely context: the demise of a chain restaurant. My book club recently read "Last Night at the Lobster" by Stewart O'Nan. It's about the manager of a Red Lobster in an anonymous Northeastern mall that's being closed. (It's OK, he's going to be assistant manager at an Olive Garden.) It's short and almost plotless, but I found it very moving. Let me know what you think if you read it, especially if you've ever worked in the same setting.