So my husband used to be a line cook and he likes Gordon Ramsey TV shows and I started watching them with him, and for some strange reason I really liked Hell’s Kitchen in particular. I really don’t know why. It’s one of those high drama cutthroat competition style reality shows that I don’t normally enjoy, but all the old episodes are on Amazon Prime and I’ve been binge watching them while knitting & crocheting and working on my knits business on these cold, dark winter nights.
If you haven’t seen it, here are the basics: it’s a competition reality show in which chefs are pitted against each other for the prize of becoming executive chef in a big glam fine dining restaurant like one of Ramsey’s or one similar. Basically a huge career boost. Most are professional cooks/chefs, but at least in the old episodes there were often one or two hobby home chefs too. Do they have the passion? The culinary skills? Can they hack it? Because it ain’t called Hell’s Kitchen for nothing.
They live in a dorm above the restaurant (yeah it’s really a sound stage but hey, it’s reality TV) while on the show and have to endure long days, early wake up calls and punishments for losing various team and individual challenges that include typical restaurant grunt work type stuff like shucking king crabs, hauling in & sorting the day’s food & wine deliveries or cleaning up the dining room up after a lunch service for kid football players and cheerleaders. (Yep, huge mess!) Challenge winners not only get out of the grunt work but get prizes like a spa day while being served wine & food by the losers. Or a magazine photo shoot with Ramsey, or dinner with other famous chefs. It starts with over a dozen competitors and ends with the final two, each getting to design and run their own restaurant in one half of Hell’s Kitchen. And there is plenty of drama. On the last season I watched, two chefs were taken out by injuries and health issues. Ramsey yells and curses at them during service and calls them all donkeys in his British accent (Ah, that’s why I like it, he’s funny & entertaining.) and there’s the usual backstabbing, scheming and exhausted venting & whinging into the camera by the competitors.
So….what can you learn about knitwear design from this? Not much, you might think. But surprisingly, I’ve learned a lot and thought it would be fun to share. Take it all with a grain of salt of course. (pun intended)
Collaborate and build rapport. It pays to be collaborative as well as being “every man for himself.” To win you must shine as an individual but you can’t get far without cooperating with your team and winning some team challenges too. Also when it’s down to the last two and they’re running their own restaurants, guess who their kitchen brigades are? Yup, the competitors who’ve already been eliminated. If you backstabbed them all to get to the final two, hey, good luck with that. Karma’s only a bitch if you are, as they say. It pays to get along with people in the knitwear design world too, well, just in life, really, because you never know who might play an important role in your own future.
Presentation matters. In the culinary world it doesn’t matter how good it tastes if it looks like a pile of shit. You can make great knit and crochet patterns too, but if your presentation isn’t appetizing, no one’s going to actually try them. Especially if you’re a young designer (or chef) still building your credibility and reputation.
Work your personal brand. When it’s down to the last two, a huge part of the final cut is how they design their restaurants and menus and how they treat their brigades who are cooking for them. This is where they can really shine as an individual and show the art of their culinary knowledge & experience by evoking the mood they want, by showing their personal brand and style. We do this as knitwear designers from website or social media right down to how we write our patterns and emails to customers.
True grit. Even the competitors who are more on the gentle side have to dig deep for inner badass - they don’t have to mimic Ramsey’s aggressive style but they have to be tenacious, focused and passionate about their work and standards in order to win. You need these qualities in knitwear design too, whether you’re an indie designer or working for a magazine or company, and regardless of how soft & pretty your brand and designs might be. You won’t last long without a backbone underneath it all.
Enjoy the rewards. When you get those times where you can relax a win of any kind, like the chefs who win the challenges, go all in and enjoy the pleasure while it lasts. Because you don’t know when life is going to give you another truck full of king crab to shuck or a dining room full of kids to clean up after. (What is the knitting equivalent of shucking king crabs anyway?)
So there you go. Some lessons learned. I have several more seasons to watch and the current one to catch up on so I’m gonna let you go but I’d love to hear from you if you like his shows too or have any thoughts about it.
Side note before I go: my hubby booked us a reservation at the Caesar’s Palace Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen on our next trip to Vegas! It’s a real restaurant, not the studio where the show is shot, but it’ll be so fun! Yay!