A simple premise, here: London restaurateur and “Hell’s Kitchen” sage Gordon Ramsay goes into troubled restaurants, shifts some duties, changes the menu and has some one-on-one sitdowns to get these eateries operating like Michelin three-star joints. Producers could not script more drama, or stereotypes, than at the family-run Long Island Italian restaurant featured in the premiere. Editors were clearly thrilled with what they were given — verbal explosions, potential fisticuffs, bill collectors, the bratty brother in charge and the silent hard-working sister who actually owns the place. “Kitchen Nightmares” is shockingly good storytelling and hilarious. This may be the most compelling show of the new season.
Every movement, every comment even, from Ramsay is greeted with discreet yet noticeable or highly charged responses. The chef who has to work in a broken-down kitchen lights up with glee when Ramsay lights into brother Peter; a sous chef has ideas galore; and sister Tina, who benefits greatly from the show’s makeup and hair departments, blossoms as Ramsay gives Peter the why and what-for.
In the third episode — No. 2 was not available — Ramsay heads out to another Long Island town where he has to make a man out of a mouse, a restaurateur by default keeping the family business alive (barely) following the death of his father. The cooks are fired, the dining room altered and the old waitstaff reinvigorated. Restaurant runs about as good as “Hell’s Kitchen” in a middle round, but hey, at least it has customers, and a mother is proud of her son.
Clearly, “Kitchen Nightmares” will be the same, self-contained show week after week. But the genius here is allowing Ramsay to identify a piece of the infrastructure that needs a revamp, attacking the problem with his mouth blazing and then calling on Fox’s deep pockets to back him up. Those pockets help bring in new equipment and get it installed in a jiffy in week one; in another case they assist in dealing with a lawsuit that claimed producers worsened the eatery before filming.
Since Ramsay spends only about a week in these places, it does seem rather remarkable that they can turn around so quickly — and get the word out that things have improved. One wonders how many of the diners packing Peter’s Italian Restaurant heard about Ramsay’s presence or got word of a new family-style menu or were brought in to have a free meal. Show does not disclose any information to explain these eateries’ sudden rises in their popularity.