Kitchen Nightmares? Wait a minute. Wasn’t Hell’s Kitchen the Gordon Ramsay show on Fox?
Well yes, it’s still one of them, and the third edition of Hell’s Kitchen is scheduled to premier next Monday, June 4, at 9 p.m. Once again, it features a dozen would-be chefs who try to impress Ramsay with their cooking skills to win the contest. This year’s grand prize: a gig as head chef at a new Italian restaurant at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Spa and Casino in Las Vegas. Unlike Bravo’s Top Chef (see our 5/15/07 newsletter), many of whose contestants already hold high-profile chef jobs, Hell’s Kitchen is going with lesser lights. This season’s entrants, for example, include Aaron, a 48-year-old retirement home chef from Palos Verdes, CA, and Bonnie, 26, a nanny/personal chef from Los Angeles. We hope they do well, but it’s tough to envision someone with either of these backgrounds running a busy kitchen at a Las Vegas resort.
Hell’s Kitchen, while nominally set in a restaurant, is ultimately more about the human drama than the food. Full-service operators likely get a kick out of watching it, but that’s all. Kitchen Nightmares, on the other hand, is a real-deal restaurant show-front of the house, back of the house, the bottom line, the works. And while it’s unscripted, the restaurants and their problems are all too real.
The show, set to debut in September in prime time, has a simple premise. The owners of a failing restaurant agree to let Ramsay come in for one week and do whatever it takes to transform their place into a winner. Anything short of a physical location change can and will be attempted, the beauty part being that the makeover will be overseen by a three-star Michelin chef who runs successful restaurants all over the world. Say what you will about Ramsay’s maniacal persona, you have to admit that the factors he’s most maniacal about-consistent perfection of food and service-are ultimately what matters in the restaurant business.
But maniacal three-star Michelin chef or not, can Ramsay really resuscitate somebody else’s failing restaurant, and do so on a weekly basis? His track record suggests that, for the most part, he can. Ramsay has proven successful in turning around a variety of on-the-brink restaurants in the 14 episodes of Kitchen Nightmares that have been shown in the British version of this series, now into its third season. Ramsay is still his wild and crazy self on these shows, but at least you can tell he’s on the side of the restaurant operator having the problem. Yes, there will still be F-bombs galore, but at least Ramsay won’t be trying to kick the operator off the show a la Hell’s Kitchen.
What makes this a rare opportunity for operators is that Ramsay isn’t really available to consult at any price, but his services are free to the restaurant owners whose operations are chosen to appear on Kitchen Nightmares.
Of course, you’ll have to sign a few papers before Ramsay and crew show up to keep your restaurant from going under. Actually, a lot of papers, judging from the 17-page casting application you can download at www.theconlincompany.com/casting.html. The show wants to know everything about you, but it looks like you might be out if you’ve ever "been arrested, detained or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor offense either as a juvenile or as an adult," are "involved in any past and/or pending litigation," have "ever had a restraining order placed against you" or "are a member of any professional performing arts union (SAG, AFTRA, AGMA, AEA, etc.)." If you’re running for office, or plan to, or have been on other reality or game shows recently, they don’t want you on this one.
Other lines of inquiry include "have you ever been treated for any serious physical or mental illness within the last five years" and "have you ever been treated for depression?" They also want to know how much alcohol you drink, if you’re an alcoholic or are addicted to drugs, are in a 12-step program or are taking any medications.
It sounds like the producers are looking for straight arrows, but the opposite might be true. Kitchen Nightmares will debut this September in a high-profile time slot: 9 p. m. on Thursdays. The hour-long show will be going against top-rated shows-CSI from CBS and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Both are dramas, and Kitchen Nightmares will have to provide plenty of fireworks if it’s going to gain an audience.
So it’s up to you. Are you willing to have your restaurant, and all its flaws, exposed on prime time national TV? Do you believe that Ramsay can bring your restaurant back from the dead in just a week? (You can buy a DVD, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Revisited, that shows how he did it on his British TV series and how the restaurants fared after he left.)
We say that if your place is struggling, why not take a chance? The publicity alone will probably draw in enough curious customers that you’ll boost revenues for months no matter how well Ramsay’s makeover turns out. And if he does come up with a winning food and service package for your place, your business will go wild. Unless you’re publicity shy, what is the downside here?