Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's A Nightmare, I'm Actually On Board With Gordon Ramsey

I don't like mean and nasty people in real life. I don't really like watching them on television either. Surprisingly, Gordon Ramsey was neither last night on Kitchen Nightmares and he was actually making a lot of sense.

He was trying to turn around a restaurant in Fairlawn, New Jersey... Campania. I know this kind of restaurant. They're in strip shopping malls with lousy service, long waits and mediocre food. And many times they don't have liquor licenses to lubricate oneself against the difficult dining experience.

We are introduced to Joe Cerniglia, the owner/chef. He seems to be much too nice a guy to run a restaurant. Added to that, he didn't go to to culinary school, he doesn't use recipes and he likes to have A LOT of fun in the kitchen with his wait and kitchen staff. Their favorite trick is to lock each other in their walk-in fridge.

But there are big problems. We're told that Campania owes $80,000 and later we learn that they've lost probably $120,000 in the last 18 months.

Gordon makes his first visit, orders and waits for his food. He actually waits over 20 minutes for his tortellini in brodo brought to him by a waitress with the strongest Jersey accent this side of Tony. He pronounces it bland and tasteless and definitely not worth the wait.

The ravioli comes next with huge pieces of garlic in the sauce. Chicken with some kind of cranberry something on it is next. It's too dry, it's too sweet, and it's too big a portion.

Day 2 of Gordon's turnaround begins by discovering that there's way too much food in the walk-in fridge. Mussels are going bad, there's enough chopped garlic to feed all of Sicily, and, considering the restaurant only has a handful of clients, it's money down the drain.

Gordon tells Joe he must start treating Campania like a business. Case in point: that night there are 11 members of staff in a mostly empty restaurant. Gordon says some of them must go home. Joe is forced to choose. He has trouble sending some of the waitstaff home, but he does.

They get serious and the dinner service seems to be ok until things get busy and then backed up. They're getting slow, so slow, in fact, that someone is ordering take away pizza while still sitting in the restaurant.

Gordon lectures Joe on portion size. "I've never seen such humongous portions.""You're throwing 1000's of dollars down the drain."

The next day, Gordon visits Joe's wife and family. He realizes there's a lot of pressure on Joe. Looking into the weepy eyes of the wife, Gordon declares that the business can be turned around.

This whole thing, this episode is kind of not that fun because they all agree with him. They decide his idea to have a signature dish - meatballs - is a brilliant idea. It looks like it's even Gordon's recipe. Didn't Grandma have one that she brought from the old country? They also cut the items on the menu drastically and stick to a smaller number of well-made, freshly cooked dishes.

To sell the idea of the meatballs, Gordon has teeshirts made up with up touting them and he even gives them a personalized van. Gordon's main advice to Joe is not to lose heart. He says, "Don't take it personally, just take it seriously."

The whole crew comes back to work. Gordon has sent a design team to change the outside of the restaurant to make it look more inviting. They also tweak the dining room and give him a new stove. Head Chef Gene has tears in his eyes when he sees it. Gordon snuggles with the owner's wife. He also provides smaller plates to better control the portion size.

They reopen. The restaurant is packed. Things start off fine, but they take a dive. When the tension mounts, Joe decides it's time to take a stroll in the dining room to chat with customers. Things go crazy and people are waiting 2 hours for their food.

Now this is funny. Outside the restaurant, one disgruntled customer is arguing with a pleased one. They're actually screaming at each other. Only in Joisey... The cops show up. Peace is restored.

Josette, the Jersey girl, wins server bingo, which involved the servers selling one of every dish on the menu. (It was an abbreviated menu.) She won a hundred dollar bill.

At the end, things do go well. Joe's mom cries. Gordon the Softie hugs her. Gene the head chef is told by Gordon that he proved he was a real head chef. They break the old big plates in the kitchen. Goodbye to the big plates...Hello profits.

Gordon was positively warm and cuddly, and more importantly, he gave constructive criticism without destroying their egos. It was impossible to disagree with any of his suggestions. It was almost heartwarming.

I WAS kind of disappointed, though. The folks in the restaurant were all good-hearted, fun-loving and eventually hard-working. There were no thieves or layabouts. AND there were no bugs or floods or mold. What kind of challenge is that for Chef Ramsey?


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I found that they really liked to exploit the northeastern Guido stereotype on that show. It makes me worry that the rest of the country thinks that those of us from the tri-state area and have Italian heritage have big hair and taaawwk a certain way. (Okay, I do have big hair, but it's naturally like that. There isn't much I can do about it.) I haven't watched Kitchen Nightmares for a while now because it seemed to be the same show every week.

I would love to know if the changes Ramsay makes in the restaurants actually stick!

On a different note, my gravy didn't taste weird at all from the brining. In fact, I would have liked it if the flavor of the cider in the brine came through more in the gravy. I would definitely brine again. I think the brining helped rescue the turkey from being dried out after it suffered in the oven so long due to the faulty thermometer.

Sue said...

You're right about that, and not just with Italians. I haven't watched alot of the shows, but the one in the Indian restaurant was painfully stereotypical.

I looked at the menu for Campania and there were meatballs on it, but it had a lot more choices than the menu Gordon gave them (which he said was one of their problems).

Interesting about the gravy...I've decided cheap thermometers from the supermarket are the way to go...

garry said...

I like the BBCA version better. It doesn't seem to be so formated. You can almost set your watch to the scenes where the owner almost clobbers Gordon, then again when there's tears and hugs and promises that may never be kept.
My take about all the shows being from the northeast is that they are a short commute from his place. That being said, they did do one in Cal.,but he has a place in LA as well.
The show about the Indian eatery still bothers me, I mean, how can they NOT clean up before he gets there with the camera crew?
I enjoy your site, it's nice to know that I'm not alone in wishing for the old days of The Food Network.
p.s. Alton Browns brined turkey recipe brought about the best roast turkey that I ever made. I've made it three times already, fantastic.

Sue said...

Hi Garry,
I have only seen bits and pieces of the BBC show and you're so right, it's better. And the people have so much more character. Here they're just lazy layabouts...THERE, they're lazy layabouts with charm! Even their bugs have more personality.

Interesting about Alton's turkey...I can't bring myself to do one, because to me an unstuffed turkey is an unhappy turkey.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Sue, have you ever seen Alton's turkey show? He holds up signs that say, "stuffing stinks" and crowds the screen with them. YOu definitely don't want to watch it if you haven't seen it. Step away from the brine.

Cynthia said...

Oh geeze, sometimes it can't always be high drama (lol)

Sue said...

I've only watched bits and pieces of Alton and the more I hear about him, the more I dislike him. I can't get Jennifer's
(I think it was on her blog)
story about him dissing his fat fans out of my head. What a jackass!

Hi Cyn Dear,
You're right. This one didn't have that much drama. And the truth is I don't really like watching cockroaches and rats, so I should be happy...

Kathy said...

I also love Ramsey's show on BBCA better. He actually makes people do all the work and doesn't bring the expert designers or the free equipment like the show here in America. That being said I love Gordon Ramsey, he really sems to have a softer gentle side (and he is hot) Next week the final show of the season is in Moorpark, CA at The Secret Garden.
I have met the chef/owner and he is very arrogant so I am eager to watch (I guess is a guilty pleasure) When I asked Michelle_The Secret Garden's owner about the show, he said it was edited to make him look bad and that Ramsey's new menu made him loose a lot of business (and yes he want back to his original menu)
I am sure they do some editing for extra drama purposes but knowing this Chef personally I have no doubt Gordon Ramsey had a great excuse to be mean and nasty. I wanted to punch him in the face myself and I am a woman!
Now, wouldn't you clean up your place if a camera crew is coming to visit? That would be common sense and as we all know most people lack that.
Sue I love your blog!

Sue said...

Hi Kathy,

I have to make a point of watching the English version. That’s great that you know the next restaurant they’re doing. Was it really bad before? And isn’t it a bad sign when Gordon Ramsey pulls up to revamp your restaurant?

And, YES, I’d clean up, unless maybe they had to sign something that said they wouldn’t…

Kathy, thanks for the shoutout.