Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay opened his first restaurant in Chelsea, Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, in 1998 and has gone on to create an empire of restaurants worldwide. After a couple of documentaries about him, his first television series in the U.K., Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, premiered in 2004 and has aired five seasons so far. An American version of the show, Kitchen Nightmares, debuted in 2007 and will be returning for a third season in 2009.
The premise has Ramsay show up to failing restaurants where he's given a week to help turn them around by trying to break the owners and staff of their bad habits and failed mindsets. He tries their food, watches them in action, and then offers suggestions ranging from new menu items to complete restaurant revamps.
Much like American Idol judge Simon Cowell, Ramsay is both brutally honest and usually correct in his assessments. He appears to sincerely want people to succeed, but he won’t lie to them. He has quite a foul mouth, but with this uncensored version I found myself no longer noticing the profanities. Another similarity between AI and RKN is the participants’ self-denial. Some of the people Ramsay encounters resist change, likely because it is an admission of their own mistakes and failure, but if their ideas were so good in the first place, they wouldn’t need his help.
The beauty of the program is that there’s no guarantee Ramsay can save the restaurants. By the time he arrives, it may be too late to recover from the mounting debts and limited abilities of the owners and chefs. He leaves them the tools to help improve their situation and then returns a few months later for a visit to see how things are going.
Series one includes four episodes. Bonapartes in Silsden, West Yorkshire was run by Sue, an owner new to the restaurant business. Her 21-year-old chef had never cooked an omelet before and his scallop dish literally made Ramsay ill. The Glass House in Ambleside had a very stressed-out owner and a head chef who held back the talents of his staff. The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, Wales had been a Michelin-starred restaurant under chef Franco Taruschio. When Ramsay arrived, there was no head chef, so the viewer got to watch as they interviewed and tried out prospects. The executive chef at Moore Place in Esher, Surrey relied too much on a deep fryer and microwaves. Ramsay introduced carving chickens tableside.
The DVD set also includes Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – Revisited which followed up on all four restaurants and aired during Series Two. Much of the material is re-purposed from the original episodes with Ramsay returning a year or so later to check in. The DVD allows the option to jump straight to the new material. The most notable visits were The Glass House, because Ramsay took two talented chefs to work in a London restaurant of his, and Bonapartes, which then only had the pub open. Sue had talked to the London Evening Standard in a story that alleged the show faked how bad things were. In June 2006, Ramsay took the paper to court and won.
Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is extremely engaging as is its star. The behind-the-scenes peek behind the restaurant doors is fascinating and eye-opening. It should be mandatory viewing for all who are considering going into the business.