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A Hell of a Hangover: Kitchen Finale Viewing Party

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I had been looking forward to settling in on my comfy couch in some comfy only-wear-around-the-house clothes with some snack foods and my television-watching co-conspirator to watch the season finale of Fox's Hell's Kitchen for a couple of weeks now. I say "couple" of weeks because those programming devils split the finale into two parts and unecessarily stretched the drama over two of my Monday nights for an hour apiece. But instead of seeing how things wrapped up in reality's most treacherous kitchen as planned, I found myself on the restaurant-dense stretch of La Cienega Boulevard at the recently opened upscale Indian eatery Tanzore nibbling on pinky-finger sized samosas and sipping a mojito thanks to the folks over at EaterLA, who threw HK finalist Bonnie Muirhead a viewing soiree to celebrate her--

Well, now that all's said and done, it's safe to say it wasn't a victory for her. But we all celebrated anyhow.

The show itself (projected on two wall-sized screens and shown on a smaller wall-mounted television) fell in line with this season's extreme sense of overdramatization and cooking mishaps. Both finalists were saddled with brigades of chefs composed of their ousted teammates, many of whom had questionable cooking talent to begin with, let alone enough panache and dedication to see a former rival through to a win. In their separate kitchens for their separate personally designed restaurants (throw some wallpaper and some art over the existing walls), Bonnie and competitor Rock Harper were in charge of getting their food out and doing their best Gordon Ramsay impersonations in order to both heighten the viewing tension and demonstrate the winning qualities of a head chef. And there was yelling aplenty, as on Rock's side the bumbling Josh burned crabcake after crabcake, and on Bonnie's side her girl-powered team fell into lapses of awkward silences and the sting of having not made it to the final herself put a little snipe in Julia's style. The episode itself was kind of a snore, with more attention paid to the editing choices that might amplify the excitement rather than the details of the restaurants each chef created (didn't they even get to name their restaurants?) or the full menus. We were narrated details about only one appetizer, entree, and dessert choice each, so when a chef called out an order for an item we didn't know about it was just plain confusing and not very interesting, proving once again that not much about this cooking competition is about cooking. (And, Bonnie, can it get any more "I just went to cooking school" than a toasted goat cheese salad? Sigh.)

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After every table was served and every customer had filled out their comment cards, the exhusted finalists retired to the dorms to wait it out, while the home audience got to watch an awkward series of shots of Ramsay in his "office" while he "thought" about the night's events and "decided" who would walk away with the job of Head Chef at the Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas. When he was ready, he escorted Rock and Bonnie through the hallway bearing the scorched remains of their losing teammates' photos and hook-speared chef jackets and gave them one last pep-talk. Hands poised on a pair of doors--one which dramatically would open up "to their future" and the other a total dead end (obviously, right?)--Ramsay counts to three and reveals... one last set of commercials!

Those gathered at Tanzore who hadn't seen the two previous seasons of HK totally fell for the fake-out, which was funny to see. Many in the crowd were personal friends of Bonnie's, and presumably most did not know the results, since all the contestants were sworn to secrecy and contractually obliged to keep their lips zipped. I, however, had accidentally uncovered the results thanks to someone on the East coast having posted an online comment about Rock's victory, and was torn between hating the fact that I'd spoiled the suspenseful ending and loving tormenting my fellow party-goer and HK co-conspirator, who felt certain Bonnie had won because "why else would there be this party?!"

Well, this is L.A., and this is Bonnie's hometown, and we love to party, even if when Ramsay finally gets to his "three" in the countdown the door handle turns only on Rock's door. At Tanzore the crowd overruled the show's audio with chants of "Bon-nie! Bon-nie! Bon-nie!" while Bonnie cheered the loudest and accepted hug after hug from her pals. Despite the loss, the 26-year old nanny/personal chef and recent culinary school grad with the background in acting (oh, how shocking!) showed us she's got class by thanking us for being there to view the show with her, and then downing a shot at the bar.

So Hell's Kitchen's third season is over, and Rock, the executive chef from Virginia, gets to start his new job and enjoy his quarter of a million dollar paycheck, and everyone's fifteen minutes of fame seems to be coming to an end. Soon after the credits rolled on last night's ep my fellow HK devotee and I slipped out of the charming and upscale Indian restaurant and headed back to our own real lives. Now that the months of silence are over, it's time for Bonnie, and all those who were sent home from the Kitchen before her, to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to their "real" lives too. And it's not just Rock who should be celebrating, because they are all survivors of this ridiculous genre of television we've grown collectively to love--perhaps even worship--which bears little resemblance to any reality. With Ramsay's amped up f-wording, endless nights of cooking Beef Wellingtons to order, and suffering through countless punishments of physical labor, Hell's Kitchen is an experience I certainly don't envy; heck, I saw the casting call posted on the board at the culinary school I went to and walked away from it with a firm shake of the head and an exclamation of "Oh, HELL NO!"

Having the guts to put themselves out there is reason enough to hoist a drink or two in their honor, and that we did for Bonnie last night at Tanzore. Cheers!

Photo by Lindsay William-Ross for LAist