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The tongue is sharper than the knife.

Photo: BBC

Gareth Blackstock is the absurdly high-strung chef who runs his empire from the kitchen of La Chateau Anglais. His maniacal focus on his craft makes him impossible to be around; his temper is explosive, his regard for others is nonexistent, and even his customers are viewed with disdain if they fail to fawn over him properly. Inevitably, he lands himself in hot water time and again as he manages to give offense everywhere he goes; then comes the fun as he tries to work his way out of it.

Believability is key here: a chef who thinks of himself as an artist could easily have all of an artist's inflated (but fragile) ego, focus, and temperament. That others would endure his abuse to gain experience in a kitchen known for excellence so that they could build their curriculum vitae is believable; they must also know that his sharp tongue cannot possibly be free from exaggeration since he could not possibly keep his kitchen running with staff half as inept as he what tells them they are.

Gareth is played by Lenny Henry, who skillfully makes the character more than a caricature of a generation of ill-mannered superstar chefs. A bit of humanity manages to slip out from behind the foul façade early in the first series; as we watch him, we see that there is some decency under that exterior even if it, like everything else with Gareth, takes second place to his obsession to create perfection on a plate.

It's the relegation to second place that is the foundation of the difficulty with his wife Janice (Caroline Lee Johnson); if given proper acknowledgment and attention, she would probably do just fine with a husband who has all of the warmth and charm of a U.S. Marine Corps drill sergeant. It was in the scenes with her that we first saw hints of Gareth's humanity, when she helps him to appreciate that his gift is in running the kitchen, rather than running the restaurant (“I'm stupid with money,” he concludes.) Toward the end of the second series we see it again as he struggles with his relationship with Janice and finds himself relying on help from an unlikely source, a low-ranking member of his own kitchen staff upon whom he heaps extra servings of abuse, Everton (Roger Griffiths).

We're thus left to see over the course of two additional series whether Gareth will manage to bring himself under control or whether he will live his entire life as a victim, hopelessly trapped by his culinary genius.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-01-11 07:04 AM
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