Mind Your Language

Ruby Saha, Columnist

There’s something strangely satisfying about watching someone let a stream of four-letter words fly. I’m as prone to quotidian profanity as anyone else, and watching someone like John McEnroe flay an umpire alive is one of my terrible guilty pleasures.

There’s an incredible energy that comes out of a Mel Gibson or Christian Bale-level explosion, that elusive frisson of expletive-laden evisceration that the everyday F-bomb just doesn’t quite cover.

That said, I’m a lot less enthusiastic about foul-mouthed personalities like Gordon Ramsay or Anthony Bourdain. I think my dislike of them comes down to the fact that they’ve built careers around being assholes. It doesn’t matter which episode I land on among Gordon Ramsay’s cornucopia of television shows; at any given moment, I’ll be faced with his craggy, Marianas Trench-lined face drawn into a deep, wave-shaped grimace, the beginnings of an “f” frothing from his lips before the 1000-hertz “bleep” sound shields my sensitive, young ears.

Gordon Ramsay is easily the most censored person on television, and frankly, it’s boring. I get the “realism” argument, which is that every restaurant kitchen is a boot camp of verbal carnage, and Ramsay’s only putting a spotlight on the characteristic cruelty that occurs behind the Michelin stars.

But there’s nothing exciting about watching him make mincemeat out of his contestants. His bleep-laden tirades are as predictable as they are nasty: You look like a bleeping [insert animal of the day]. I’ll ram that pumpkin right up your bleeping arse. You disgusting pigs. You fat-arse. You bleeping bleep!

It’s crude, cruel and lazy, and I’m bitter because he’s managed to build a multi-million dollar empire around it.

Anthony Bourdain is another one of those “asshole chefs” (without the excuse of being British) that sets my teeth on edge. It’s not so much that I mind his bad boy, “gourmet anti-hero” shtick; it’s certainly more enjoyable than watching Ramsay scream at people, and it helps that Bourdain’s easier on the eye. But, as Tamar E. Adler pointed out in a New Yorker article, Bourdain turns food into a sport: “In the land of Bourdain, no dinner is complete without stentorian grunting, cursing, and beating one’s chest.”

Like Adler, I miss the Kitchen Confidential-era Bourdain, who painted a frank and vulgar portrait of the restaurant industry’s dirty underbelly.

His tell-all was as funny as it was useful — never order fish on Mondays; mussels generally “wallow in their own foul-smelling piss in the bottom of a reach-in”; specials are restaurant-speak for near-expiration — and briefly put me off seafood, which, if you know anything about my love for fish, is saying something.

Sadly, Bourdain’s self-consciousness over his post-Kitchen Confidential fame leads him to lash out at other “celebrity chefs” like Paula Deen — “she revels in unholy connections with evil corporations, and she’s proud of the fact that her food is fucking bad for you” — and Alice Waters — “[She] annoys the living shit out of me … There’s something very Khmer Rouge about [her].”

It doesn’t really matter if he’s right; it matters that he chooses to do it as crassly as possible. Both he and Gordon Ramsay resort to ad hominem attacks that are lazy and unimaginative. I love food, and I love profanity, but I have no interest in perpetuating or supporting this asshole culture.