If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen — or at least retreat to your own kitchen, where it’s your stove, your rules.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Hell’s Kitchen, you know that the pace of the show is fast — lightning fast. It’s an emotional and physical roller coaster, but with a few sticks of butter and stirs of the pot thrown in. Unfortunately, beloved chef and television personality Julia Child wouldn't have found the show's kitchen to be a welcoming environment, no matter her prodigious culinary skills.
Contestants on Hell's Kitchen are pushed to their physical and mental limits, as could be seen in Thursday's finale, and the show isn’t alone in its model. Shows like Iron Chef, Top Chef, and Chopped have contestants working against a clock, as if cooking is some sort of athletic feat. In these shows, what matters is the drama, which is often dished out by the judges or hosts of the show, like Gordon Ramsay.
In comparison to the hosts, the contestants are rather disposable. On most shows, we get a new set of contestants every season, or even every episode. Their stories are often forgettable, as are their personalities (Iron Chef may be the exception, as it has a rotating set of competing chefs.) That isn’t to say the contestants are boring; rather, that none of them really stand out from the others. We don’t mourn their loss at the end of a season or episode. Instead, we're excited see the show devour a new set of contestants.
Why wouldn’t Julia Child have done well on one of these rapid-fire reality competitions? In addition to disagreeing with the very nature of the food prepared on these shows, she would simply have been too large a contestant (I'm referring, of course, to her outsize personality, and not her considerable height.)
Julia Child was dedicated to breaking down the barriers that made cooking seem scary or intimidating. Daunting dishes became simple with her guidance. The ticking clock, fanciful ingredients, and theatrical judges and hosts would have been entirely out of place in Julia’s kitchen, just as her welcoming demeanor would stand out in chef Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen.
We learned in the film Julie & Julia that Child was a force to be reckoned with. The fact that Meryl Streep was called in to play Child shows how much of a character Child was in real life — the type of character who wouldn’t have cowered before a hotheaded judge or host, because she was a diva in her own right.
As Emily Nussbaum points out in her New Yorker article “To Stir, With Love,” the “stand and stir” method popularized by Child stands in stark contrast to the thrill-a-minute nature of reality competition. One emphasizes the love and hard work that goes into preparing a home-cooked meal; the other stresses the dexterity and skill required to master a kitchen.
There is no doubt Child was a skilled chef, but if she did things her way on Hell’s Kitchen, she would have been kicked out well before the finale.