the Gordon Ramsay multiverse

are TV shows that involve Gordon Ramsay the ultimate depression watch? I say yes.

When did I first discover the immensely comforting power of Gordon Ramsay calling someone a FUCKING donkey?

It started with Kitchen Nightmares and a Christmas gift of a TV in my teenage bedroom. Those were the heady days before Netflix, when the options were what was actually on TV, what you had remembered to record, DVDs you owned, or the shows on 4od.

Before Ramsay, it was DVDs, when the TV didn’t yet have a proper box. I’d rewatch Hilary Duff classics - A Cinderella Story, Raise Your Voice, The Perfect Man - or boxsets of Desperate Housewives as backdrops to get ready for school in the morning, then as the last thing before bed.

Pure, uninterrupted watching was rare. I liked to multitask, doing my revision with Gilmore Girls playing then changing the channel when The Big Bang Theory came on. I saved deliberate watching for Skins. I despaired when I overdid the same familiar DVDs, then rejoiced when the box got wired up and the wonders of on-demand became available.

Soon, I was seeking out ‘morning’ shows - the kind of show that required little mental energy, wasn’t so gripping that you couldn’t stop it midway through (to make breakfast and leave for school on-time), wasn’t too emotionally heavy. Come Dine With Me filled that slot at first, but then Kitchen Nightmares USA came into my life.

It was perfect. I stuck it on on weekday mornings, then whenever there was nothing else and I didn’t want to hear my thoughts. On a Sunday, I would sift through the mess accumulated from days when putting things back where they belonged felt like an impossible task, Gordon Ramsay decrying chicken that was FUCKING PINK as I went.

When my university boyfriend fucked my then best friend in the halls toilets while I was in the stairwell below, I retreated to my bedroom for a week, eating soup and watching Gordon look stunned at how someone with no culinary training was running a restaurant.

When OCD - though I didn’t know it as that at the time - kept me awake with the certainty that I hadn’t actually closed the front door of the shared house, that a shadowy figure was surely about to creep in and stab each of my housemates, then me, I covered up those thoughts with Gordon introducing yet another menu refresh involving a proper steak, scallops, and a corn succotash.

These days, when depression weighs down my limbs so I’m stuck to the sofa, unable to do anything else, I can at least put on Kitchen Nightmares, or other, equally important, parts of the Gordon Ramsay multiverse: Hell’s Kitchen (US edition, of course), Masterchef Junior, Hotel Hell, the new and excellent Gordon, Gino & Fred’s Road Trip.

What is it about TV shows involving Gordon Ramsay that makes them so ideal for a comfort watch? I think it comes down to just how reliable they are, how each one sticks to the same formula.

In Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon will eat some frozen and reheated food and throw his arms in exasperation as the ‘chef’ introduces him to ‘Chef Mike’ (for non Ramsay-heads, that’s a microwave, an item that Gordon once threw out of a window in rage). He’ll come up against owners who have no idea what they’re doing, but are stubborn, or despondent, and he will tell them to ‘come ON’ then gently coax them with an order to ‘take a breath, we go again, yes?’, then reward their efforts with ‘finally, some good fucking food, yes?’. He’ll introduce a new menu that invariably flattens all of the restaurant’s original personality, and looks… you know, fine, but that is ‘simple’ ‘good’ food that streamlines service. He’ll stand outside the restaurant and speak in his strange stacatto: ‘Wow. That was. A challenge. But I hope. The Phoenix. Will rise from the. Ashes.’

In Hell’s Kitchen: A ridiculous challenge that tests a skill unrelated to cooking (can you put pigs, chickens, and cows into their specific pens? Okay, now we can cook with pork, chicken, and beef), a bollocking when the scallops are overdone or the wellington is FUCKING RAW or the risotto has to go in the bein, one team sent out of the kitchen in an ashamed rage.

You can watch any episode of any show in the Ramsay multiverse and you’ll soon figure out its routine and rhythms. It’s a reliable thing you can lean on when everything else feels unsteady.

Then there’s the sheer joy of Gordon Ramsay as someone on TV.

Look, I’m not particularly excited about Gordon Ramsay’s cooking. He seems to do a lot of quite plain gastropub stuff and has a strange obsession with beef wellingtons. But regardless of the food, Gordon Ramsay is a man who is made to be a TV chef. He adores it deeply - not the cooking, necessarily, but all the TV ridiculousness.

He loves to spend hours getting absurd makeup and prosthetics applied to his face to disguise him as an old lady, all under the guise of lulling restaurant owners into a false sense of security - despite the facts that they have knowingly signed up to Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours To Hell And Back, there are cameras everywhere, and even with a floral dress, Gordon Ramsay is very clearly still Gordon Ramsay. He practically dances with glee in those costumes, and usually does the big reveal too early, because he simply can’t wait for the shocked gasps and applause.

He adores coming up with those challenges in Hell’s Kitchen, and the little pranks and competitions with Gino and Fred. Look at him as a contestant is getting dunked in a pool of water because their teammate thought watermelon ice cream was cucumber flavoured, or when Gino is stomping around outside the motorhome. He literally giggles.

I love that there is this multiverse, that the shows don’t really acknowledge each other, that somehow Gordon is managing to run a bunch of restaurants, film multiple shows (including one in which he apparently has to work for 24 hours straight??), and also go on TikTok to swear at people cooking meat in dumb ways. Sometimes Gordon will bring in Jocky to help out a failing restaurant, but he’ll never casually compare a Hell’s Kitchen competitor’s food to a Kitchen Nightmare, or acknowledge how kind he is on Masterchef Junior.

I love that there’s a sneaky, hidden message in Kitchen Nightmares, that says: no matter how hellish this situation is, we can at least pretend to fix it. I don’t care that an estimated 85% of the restaurants featured in the show are no longer in business, that is a stat I refuse to acknowledge. What’s key is that Gordon will come in, make you feel absolutely shit about the rotting squid in your fridge or the thick grime behind the ovens, but then he’ll sort it all out - even the tense family dynamics, resolved by showing the critical dad a video of his daughters saying they just want to spend more time together.

In the Gordon Ramsay multiverse, fucking things up will have ramifications, namely that you’ll be sworn at, called a donkey, or have food thrown at your shirt, but it will be okay in the end. In Gordon’s mind, total failure can be cleaned up with some new booth seating areas and crabcakes.

In the pits of depression and despair, when my mind has decided that today I’m unable to do anything apart from think about how shit I am, it’s not gentle reassurance I need, or an understanding ear, but the voice of Gordon Ramsay, telling me to take a breath, do it again, come the FUCK on, yes?

Reading recs: