Monday, March 5, 2012


I'm a huge Gordon Ramsey fan. No bull, no pretense, innovative thinker, quick to get the pulse of a situation, focuses on quality over quantity, and despite his reputation as an angry, drill-instructor chef, he seems to genuinely care about and enjoy the people he interacts with.

I watch pretty much all of his shows when I can. My personal favorite is Kitchen Nightmares. For those unfamiliar with it, the premise of the show is Ramsey being invited by restaurant owners to visit, advise, and help turn around their struggling or failing restaurants. A common theme has emerged in at least 90% of the episodes, both from his UK version of the show and in the US version - the owners all express their great desire for Ramsey to help them, and their overwhelming commitment to heeding his advice and to change what needs to be changed...until Ramsey actually starts critiquing and starts demanding change, which is when all hell breaks loose. The rub is simple...

Faaaaaaar more often than not, when people say they want to change, or when people say they're willing to change, what they really want is for everyone and everything around them to change while they stay the same. They want the "change" to be validation that who they are and what they're doing is right and perfect and wonderful, and acknowledgement that the wrongs and imperfections rest in the hands of everyone else.

As far as the restaurant owners and chefs on Kitchen Nightmares, what they really want is for Ramsey to tell them how awesome their restaurant is, how awesome the food is, et cetera, and that the problem is the ignorance of the clientele. Usually, the restaurants are a mess in more ways than financial, the food is atrocious, and the service is poor. They don't want to hear that. That would require real change on their part. It's easier on their psyche to believe that the restaurant is empty because the customers are ignorant. Lots of denial. I remember an exchange between Ramsey and a chef that went something like this...

Ramsey: You're serving instant mashed potatos?! Come on! Instant?! That's the best you can do?!
Chef: (defensive) The people like them. I've never had any complaints.
Ramsey: What people, you stupid @#$%?! The dining room is @#$%ing empty! Wake up!!!

That's typical. It's typical of people in general, too. Not only does Ramsey have to work on the general culture of the restaurant, but he has to bring the people involved to the point that they'll wipe everything off the table and start over in their thinking and concept, because if the people never change, the culture of the restaurant will never experience lasting change. Sometimes there are individuals on staff who see the need to change and want to change, but they aren't the owners and have no real power, they end up marginalized, and have to either leave or get swept up in and contribute to the failing culture. Sometimes the owners are loyal to terrible, unqualified, and sometimes outright lazy chefs and staff members, and come to the realization that if they keep the bad chef or staff it'll kill the business. They have to make tough decisions that could (and probably do) leave permanent craters in longstanding relationships.

Until they become totally, and genuinely, willing to change, there's little Ramsey can do to help them. Unless and until they change, he could give them Disney World and they'd just turn it into an empty, dilapidated fairground. Those who do change usually revive and recover their business. Those who don't usually end up with the doors locked - sometimes within weeks. 

Change isn't easy. Quality change isn't about comfort, about ease, about not ruffling feathers (including your own). It's about doing what's right, what's necessary, what matters. 

To my QD friends...You guys continue to be my heroes. Your ability to see the need for change, and your willingness to pursue it, to pursue quality over quantity, to pursue Christ over paradigm, is amazing. Your families will only change when they're ready to acknowledge and embrace the need for it. They'll have to acknowledge the empty dining room, and the food on the menu that lead to it, on their own. You made the right choice to leave, and nothing will ever change the quality of that choice. No one can ever accuse you of being the person wanting everyone and everything around you to change while you stay the same, because you had to turn your world upside-down just to get to where you are. That takes an incredible amount of courage. You're awesome people.

To my QD friends who are deciding whether or not to leave, my advice remains the same. You can't change your family, and you can't "fix" your family. You can only change you. Trying to change them, or willing them to change, only weakens your own stability and quality. Always hold out hope, but live in reality.

To those in positions like I was in with my ex, my advice remains the same. To "play along" and appease will only put your relationship at risk, because a toxic, codependent culture is like smoke - it wants to dominate and poison any environment it enters. You have to decide if you're willing to accept that risk. My advice is to negate it, and be the change that the situation needs.

To those in abusive relationships, whether romantic, personal, or need to leave. You can't change the other party. The longer you stay, the more of an enabler you become, and the greater your chances of ingesting the toxins.

If you're being physically or sexually abused, contact the authorities or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) for help.

For your own sake, don't be afraid to be the quality change and walk away from those unwilling to change when change is necessary. 


  1. My father's job used to be as, essentially, a corporate consultant sent to struggling businesses by the corporate office to be Gordon Ramsay. I've told him he would relate to the show...but he's an old agribusiness guy and the notion of watching chefs and restaurants doesn't compute with him.

    He encountered the exact same problems.

    On a slightly related topic: I was watching a documentary about the Amish this morning and a man explained why he felt free within the very strict rules. I think his reasoning is an explanation of why people stay in repressive religious cultures: "I don't have to make any decisions. They are all made for me. It is real liberty".

    Of course, it is not liberty. But it is a freedom that I think we all at least think we want sometimes: freedom from stress and worry.


    1. "I think his reasoning is an explanation of why people stay in repressive religious cultures: "I don't have to make any decisions. They are all made for me. It is real liberty"."

      That's true of a lot of people. When thinking critically is "sinful", it's mentally and emotionally safer to just shut down the brain. The avoidance of the corresponding punishment that comes along with critical thought gets misinterpreted as "liberty" or freedom in some form or other.

    2. Well, and I think there's laziness there too. I think fear ("making no decisions is safer") can make you stay in the system once you're in it, but I think laziness ("making no decisions is easier") is one of the things that can actually draw a person in. When you make your own decisions you have to think, and that's hard; and even worse, you have to bear the responsibility if you screw it all up, and that's harder. If you let someone else decide for you, you don't have to do those things.

    3. Absolutely. But I feel like it is mostly fear. A friend of mine is an extremely conservative Catholic and lives in a diocese (widely considered the most conservative in the U.S.) where this sort of thing is being taught by parish priests. She told me when I converted that the "great thing" about being Catholic is that you "never have to worry about anything" because the "Church will tell you what to think and do". And she emphasizes constantly that she is able to avoid the fear and worry of "making a mistake".

      [And I must add...I am not that kind of Catholic and I see in the church's teaching about following conscience and free will a totally different theology]


  2. A little OT.
    I was working at LAX for the TSA (I have since medically retired due to an injury) and GR and his family came through to get on a Virgin Airways flight. His children all look like him, same coloring and same face. He was very nice and very polite. Even blew kisses to the girls.

    He came to a restaurant in Manhattan Beach and did his thing. That was 2 years ago and today they are a thriving wine bar and restaurant. Guess he put the magic touch on them.

  3. As a person who struggles with stress and anxiety, I can definitely see how having every decision made for you would be such a huge temptation. Especially if, as QFers seem to believe, following that formula guarantees blessing and keeps the boogeyman of life's unpredictability away.

    But the truth is, life doesn't work that way. Bad things are going to happen to you, and you are going to be held responsible for your actions, whether you want to or not. You can verbally say that you are giving up decisions to God, but that doesn't mean God is then obligated to treat you that way. He put you on this earth as an active agent, so you'd better get used to that and put your brain in gear. Don't worry; ultimately he's still in control and protects us, even though he lets us have the delightful gift of free will and active agency.

    The good news really is that good.

  4. I prefer Roger Ervine and his show-- I think it's called Kitchen Disasters-- just because I like Ervine's personality better (he's a little gentler and doesn't swear so much *grin*). But it's basically the same sort of show, and I understand what you mean, Lewis.

    1. Oh yeah. "Restaurant: Impossible" I think it is. Good show.

  5. Oh, Lewis! This post is exactly what I needed for myself & a few of my QD friends & "B" who r all in abusive relationships & need to hear this ASAP!! UR so on top of it!! UR gr8! ;)

  6. Ehhoow deah gawwwd, what is thaht? Ya behrned the rosato! This i' unbelievable! Ahi cahn't sehve this crap! Ye wou'n't give thaht to a dawg... ge' out!!!!!

    Yeah, GR needs to stop beating around the bush and tell us what he really thinks. :)

  7. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who gets life lessons from watching Ramsey's shows. I love them (though the Aussie version of MasterChef is better than the US version.)

  8. I do like it, but I'm not quite sure there are any life lessons in anything he said, personally I really despise the new reality show movement in popular entertainment, I think it is doing a real disservice to our culture.

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  10. Lewis, I am so glad you recognize truth when you see it. Of course there are life lessons in Ramsey's show. Lewis just pointed out many, and there are probably more. Since God is the author of reality, you can learn a lot from observing the world as it is.

    I was just talking to my neighbor today about the responsibility we all have for our decisions and how "the cake is a lie" Christianity promises that is not true for those who submit. Supposedly, once you submit to the authoritay- husband, parent, preacher- then you are off the hook for any negative consequences of any decisions they make.

    That is nowhere taught in the Bible, and it is in complete defiance of the reality God has created. If an authoritay tells me to jump off a cliff and I do so, I will most certainly suffer serious personal consequences while the authoritay will at most suffer embarrassment. Probably though, the authoritay will find fault with something about the way I submitted- the timing, or perhaps my heart attitude- to blame for the negative consequences I suffered.

    I used to buy that line of reasoning. Pray and submit and all will be well and if it's not, God will deal with the unruly authoritay. Never happened yet. God apparently wants me to wake up and take responsibility for my own life, and if anyone is going to be held accountable, it will be people who do the holding, not God. He obviously has other things to do.