Gordon Ramsay simmers down in “Kitchen Nightmares”

By Tom Comi

Gordon Ramsay is infamous for being hot-tempered in his cooking competition Hell’s Kitchen, but he deserves a lot of credit for showing the amount of restraint he does on Kitchen Nightmares.

You would actually think it would be the other way around. In Hell’s Kitchen he constantly blows his top against aspiring chefs (or those still trying to find their way), whereas in Kitchen Nightmares he is already dealing with established cooks who are running a restaurant (mostly into the ground).

The premise of Kitchen Nightmares (Fridays on FOX at 8pm ET) is that struggling restaurants solicit Ramsay’s help to salvage their business. And because it would make for horrible TV if the worst of the worst weren’t chosen, we are exposed to some of the most depressing situations imaginable — including rats, unsanitary kitchens, expired food and apathetic employees.

Most remarkably, the very people who seek out Ramsay’s expertise are oftentimes the same ones who are too much in denial to fix the very problems they ask him to fix. We witnessed that firsthand in last week’s season premiere when Ramsay traveled to New Jersey to rescue a soul food restaurant called Blackberry (pictured above).

Despite being $200,000 in debt, owner Shelly Withers was too stubborn to accept the drastic changes Ramsay told her needed to be made in order to remain open. The decor was dreadful, the food was worse and staff morale was lower than the little revenue coming in. Her mother (Mary) and Sous Chef (Mateen) implored her to listen to an expert on the many things wrong with her establishment, but she refused to accept that she was the problem.

As he does in every episode, Ramsay sat down and ordered several items from the menu, including pork chops, mac and cheese, chitlins and collard greens. Not only did the food literally turn his stomach, but he later went on to find a dead mouse inside the front doorway. When he confronted Withers’ fiance (who serves as the restaurant’s manager), he was accused of planting the mouse for TV purposes.

This is where I honestly expected Ramsay to blow his top, and he had every right to do so after his credibility was questioned. And even though he had some choice words for his accuser, he deserves major kudos for not walking out on the spot. No, instead of letting the restaurant continue on its downward spiral, he accepted an apology and carried on.

The most inspirational part of this show was how the staff embraced Ramsay’s vision. With Withers pouting in her office and refusing to take part, her employees all stepped up to the plate and wholeheartedly accepted the changes to the ambiance, menu and kitchen routine. Amazingly, Ramsay was able to transform the restaurant in spite of its clueless owner, who reluctantly admitted at the end that she liked the changes.

The Chef heads to New Jersey again in tonight’s show to visit Leone’s (pictured right). We have no idea if he will be able to turn around the Italian eatery, but we look forward to seeing if he can once again keep his emotions relatively in check. And given some of the conditions, food and people he has had to deal with in Kitchen Nightmares, that in itself is a major achievement.


Top photo: © 2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: David Lang

Bottom photo: © 2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Credit: Jeffrey Neira