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Kitchen Nightmares

A television show with chef Gordon Ramsay.

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I wish there were more food and less drama

  • Mar 1, 2011
Rating:
+3
One of the stranger trends in modern TV programming is the requirement to have a British person yell insults at people who think they have talent. American Idol, Restaurant: Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares are built are the premise that you can only get better if a British person takes a steamroller to your ego. Personally, I approve of this trend, since firstly, I'm British, and - secondly - I can yell for a paycheck. 

*** Needless to say, this review features strong language. ***

Gordon Ramsay swears a lot. While everyone's getting all upset about Melissa Leo dropping one edited F-Bomb at the Oscars, Ramsay drops it about 1,500 times per hour on TV. There's literally no TV network who would dare broadcast him live. He even has a show called "The F Word", if that didn't deliver the hint clearly enough. 

Anyway, Kitchen Nightmares is the Fox version of an English show and is exactly the same except that Fox completely screwed it up in that way that only Fox can. Much of the calmness and focus on food has been ditched in favor of casting heroes and villains and turning the most mundane event into some Jerry Springer-style drama. The threat of violence hangs thickly in the air, perforated by the bleep machine running on overdrive as yet another clueless owner gets told he's a f***ing donkey-slash-idiot.

To give full credit, Fox have shot this quite cleverly with 6-8 ceiling-mounted remote control cameras and two handhelds, which enables them to get reaction shots out of everyone, especially since most of the show is shown out of sequence. For example:

RAMSAY
YOU F***ING DONKEY! YOU'RE COOKING SHIT!

CHEF
THIS IS MY F***ING RESTAURANT YOU F***ING JERK!

CUT TO: Reaction of shocked-looking customer apparently interrupted by the tirade from the kitchen.

This little editing trick is used liberally - if anything can be considered liberal on Fox - so the program can follow this simple storyboard:

ACT ONE: Show how badly a restaurant is doing ("In the shit," as Gordon would say), have Gordon vomit all over their food ("You're serving shit"), show how the owner's marriage or family are breaking up.

ACT TWO: Watch the restaurant fall over on a packed dinner service, customers complain about waiting or bad ("shit") food, and the owner in denial.

ACT THREE: Gordon brings in fresh food and creates a new menu (which looks fantastic before dinner), the restaurant relaunches successfully but *only* after one snag in the kitchen is fixed. Owner admits mistakes, saves marriage and another kitten is born.

In the British version, the restaurant could only be saved when a tangible problem was addressed, such as - big shock - the food. In the American version, the obstacles have a Hollywood-style ethereal quality and tend to be about "taking control of the kitchen", confidence, commitment and all the things that movies have told us are good over the years.

That's not to say the US version doesn't have its moments, but it's like the difference between British and American movies - awkward silences and deep thought versus explosions, fights and robots. I of course prefer the latter just like everyone else does, since Avatar wouldn't have worked with Anthony Hopkins playing a sexually repressed butler on Pandora, and also because I'm secretly as shallow as a cake dish. 

Some of the best moments include:
  • A guy called Peter from New Jersey who thinks he's "Joey Two-Shoes" and living in the Sopranos. Muscle necks, "how yoo doin'?" and street fights ensue.
  • A delusional actor-turned-chef in LA  who balances obnoxiousness and stupidity (obnoxity?). Note to kids: going to LA to become famous will likely lead to a life in the food service business.
  • A guy called David Leonard in New York who is one of the most unpleasant people to ever appear on TV. And that's saying a lot for a network that specializes in unpleasant people.

So what did we learn?

Well, four seasons into this recurring nightmare and loyal viewers can tell you a few things about the restaurant gig:
  • Don't start a restaurant, ever. That $100,000 job that you're bored of is infinitely better than working 24/7 as a food slave trying to rescue their house from foreclosure.
  • Don't go into business with friends or family. Really, don't.
  • Use fresh, local, wholesome ingredients - not frozen shit from Sysco.
  • Clean your damned kitchen. Don't wait for the cockroaches to keep the salmonella company.
  • Create a short simple menu. Diners don't need a Cheesecake Factory-style phonebook.

Personally, I would also add that having your joint appearing on national TV probably doesn't hurt either. In the meantime, don't hesitate to contact my agent if you're short of a yelling British person.

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March 05, 2011
I'm not gonna lie, I LOVE the British version on BBC, maybe that's because I love Brits yelling obscenities and thoroughly enjoy Brit wit. I think the fun of this show is seeing a bit of the drama and praying to the gods that you haven't eaten anywhere that Ramsay frequents- I used to do that when I lived in LA and was watching the Fox American version- waaaaiiiittttt....did I eat there? Are you suuure? So, that added some fun drama on top of the show as well. As usual, great review :)
March 07, 2011
Thanks - I would really like to check out some of the restaurants after the remodel, but it seems like most of them don't make it anyway. It would be interesting to know how much the producers pay the owners for the experience - I suspect many of them use the cash to shut down their eateries and start a new life. Just remember: don't start a restaurant! Ever!
March 08, 2011
Don't worry, I won't! Maybe a bar but, not a restaurant ;p I bet you you're right- that they all end up shutting down, which is a shame since there's so much money going into it. You'd also think that they could count on the promotion from the show to hold them over for a bit.
 
March 04, 2011
Excellent! Surprised that more people have not read this great if irreverent review. You are right about Kitchen Nightmares, they tend to follow a pattern of angst and family squabbles rather than the food. You left out that they give the place a complete make-over. I remember one where the waitresses were texting their friends rather than serving the customers. Makes you wonder why they let inbreds start restaurants. Oh, did I say something bad?
March 07, 2011
Thanks! The remodels on the US versions are definitely more elaborate, and pretty impressive too most of the time. I wish they would show 3-4 minutes of remodeling so the designers could talk about their choices, but instead they cram 24 hours of frantic construction into a 5-second time lapse, so no glory for them. It's fair to say that half these people shouldn't be allowed to eat in restaurants, let alone start one...
 
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More Kitchen Nightmares reviews
review by . December 10, 2008
In my opinion, Kitchen Nightmares is almost as good as Gordon Ramsay's other show, Hell's Kitchen. In this series, he gets up close and personal with owners and chefs in individual restaurants, often screaming insults and profanities in their faces in an attempt to renew their chances for a shot at success in the cutthroat restaurant industry.     Basically, Kitchen Nightmares is like dessert after watching Hell's Kitchen. As HealthyRache states, it takes a certain personality …
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Wiki

Famed chef and Michelin Star winner Gordon Ramsay steps out of his own five-star establishments and into some of the country's most unsanitary and unsuccessful restaurants to help them turn their businesses around or close their doors forever.

Each week, Chef Ramsay will attempt to turn one ordinary and empty restaurant into the most popular, sought-after venue in town. He reveals the behind-the-scenes realities of running a restaurant and wastes no time getting down to business - implementing signature menu items, updating dated décor and making the restaurant run as smooth as possible. With his reputation on the line, Ramsay accepts nothing less than the best when it comes to the food, staff and customer service. While still prone to the explosive outbursts and spectacular confrontations familiar to fans, Ramsay reveals a sensitive and nurturing side as he coaches, cheers and challenges the restaurant staff, all the way from appetizers through dessert.

KITCHEN NIGHTMARES is a co-production of Granada America and Optomen in association with A. Smith & Co. Arthur Smith, Kent Weed and Patricia Llewellyn serve as executive producers.

Each week, Chef Ramsay will attempt to turn one ordinary and empty restaurant into the most popular, sought-after venue in town.

Scottish by birth, Gordon Ramsay was brought up in England after his parents moved south to Stratford-upon-Avon. His first career break came while playing football for Oxford United, where he was ...

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