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?