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TV Recap: Kitchen Nightmares January 29, 2010

January 31, 2010

By Monsieur Anton

As you may have noticed by now, we love to talk about Gordon Ramsay almost as much as he loves to talk about himself, so with the new season of Kitchen Nightmares returning we thought it would be fun to recap and review the episodes beginning with the season premier “Hot Potato Café.”

It’s fair to wonder what right Gordon Ramsay has to tell other people how to run their restaurants given the grave financial mess that his own restaurant empire is in. The fact is that Ramsay does indeed know how to make a restaurant succeed; he just chooses to spend his time running his media empire. Kitchen Nightmares is one of the more entertaining, if not informative parts of that empire. If you listen to the actual pointers he gives in Nightmares, and not the overly dire warnings and pep talks, there are pearls of knowledge. So let’s go with the assumption Ramsay knows his stuff and check out the new season of the show.

The Hot Potato Café in Philadelphia is in trouble, and it’s not hard to see why. Nobody involved has any idea how to run a restaurant. The three sisters, Claire, Kathryn and Erin have absolutely no experience in the business, and have no professional manager. To top it off, because they have no money to hire a real chef, their 21-year-old niece Danielle who has never cooked in a restaurant, and never wanted to, is running the kitchen. Can you begin to see now why the place has accrued debt of $250,000?

Before we go any further, I’d like to introduce the Hot Potato Café drinking game. Every time one of the four women running the establishment cries you have to do a shot. The liquor of choice of course will be Chopin, vodka made from, you guessed it, potatoes. Keep in mind the times quoted in this article are based on viewing on, so they may not coincide with the full hour seen on network television. Either way, get your shot glasses ready. We’re in for a potato-rific night of drinking!

Has there ever been a less charismatic, uninspired group of people running a restaurant. No wonder, the place is failing. Ten minutes in the place and I’d use the cutlery on the table to slit my wrists rather than listen to the depressing droning of these women. Claire tells us about the bad review which sent them into a downward spiral, and get your drink on, at 3:53 into the episode she breaks into tears.

Here comes Gordon to check the place out and try the food. If the food tasted as bad as it looked, you could see why the reviewer called the place “spuddy hell.” Potato soup that looks like wallpaper paste, three-week old frozen skins, and greasy Sheppard’s pie. Check please.

During day one’s dinner service, Claire displays the most apathy I’ve ever seen on the expediting line. “This soup looks awful. Take it to table 2.” Predictably the customers don’t like the food, and the sisters just accept things as they are. When Gordon lays into to them Claire quenches our need for a drink at 16:29 as the waterworks appear. Partly due to their attitude, and partly to go find his Prozac, Ramsay walks. He’s had enough of this. The desperate sisters give chase, and nostrovya Claire weeps again at 18:00. She composes herself as they try to convince Gordon that they really need his help. Ramsay stays, probably because he had to sell his Lamborghini during bankruptcy and he has no way home. His ensuing pep talk brings joy and at 18:49 the Chopin flows with the tears.

Armed with new resolve, and some instruction from the master chef it’s on to day two’s dinner service. Things go much better. The kitchen runs fairly well, but we now see where that $250,000 of debt is coming from. The portions are way too big. Patrons are leaving with boxes of leftovers, along with The Hot Potato’s food cost. Upon Gordon’s graphic display of this waste Claire does just what you would expect of her at 30:00. Here come the tears, down goes the vodka.

We now come to point of the show where Gordo treats us to an episode of Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. Overnight, the crew has transformed The Hot Potato into a sleek trendy spot. Now, I’ve been involved in a couple of restaurant openings in my day, and you just don’t redesign a place overnight. Ah, the magic of television. The new eatery comes equipped with a $5,000 product placement donation of new smaller dishes to match the smaller cost cutting portions. I hope they included some shot glasses because you know what happens at 30:50. There is more help. Ramsay has graciously brought in a professional chef to mentor the game Danielle and inject some much-needed testosterone into the bistro. The now career inspired young lady is so overcome by the gesture she…wait for it…breaks down at 33:20. Fill your glass quickly because at 33:35 a proud Aunt Claire gets all misty.

Chef Ramsay now shows off the menu he created in the few hours since he left The Hot Potato the previous night. Let’s regroup here for a second. In the less a day since the second dinner service, the place has been redesigned, got new china, a new menu, a mentor for Danielle and never one to let a promotional opportunity get away, three months worth of free taters from the Idaho Potato Commission. Ramsay is nothing if not efficient.

Dinner service number three goes, as you would expect, very well. The critic who hated The Hot Potato now loves it. Danielle now aspiring to be a chef glows, and cries at 39:40 inducing mass inebriation and again distresses Mothers Against Drunk driving at 40:50. Kathryn, who up to now has been the only one to remain dry-eyed (hiccup) loses it at 41:59. My god, they can season all three months worth of free potatoes with the salt from their tears alone!

Mission accomplished, Chef Ramsay walks away dreading tomorrow morning’s hangover.

Chef Gusteau Says: I’d love to add some comments, but after playing Anton’s drinking game I might be too drunk to do so adequately. I am most interested in the young chef. No culinary school or cooking experience per se, yet she manages to put out 100 covers in one night with no sign of stress? Either that’s the magic of TV, or that “mentor” that Ramsay brought in worked his ass off! How did she even know about how much mis en place to get ready for each day? She admitted not knowing what charbroiling was as a cooking technique, yet could put together potato Florentine? For those of you playing at home, my idea for the stuffed baked potato was crème fraiche, capers, chives, red onions and smoked salmon – so you can see why I smiled wryly as smoked salmon and potato rosti appeared on his menu! By the way, for those of you who want to make potato rosti, simply cut a bunch of potatoes ultra thin (using a mandolin), layer the slices in a circular pattern in a sauté pan (alternating the direction of the circular pattern clockwise/counterclockwise) with butter and seasoning between each layer, and bake the filled pan at 375 degrees in the oven. When done, flip the pan over, the potato pizza should pop out…cut it into slices, and viola’, potato rosti! Culinary school 101 recipe…but it works.

Another interesting point would be how long it will take the sisters to break even. They are $250K in the hole. Assuming they get 100 covers each night, with a 25% food cost (maybe lower as they get free potatoes for 3 months), they might clear $4000 in revenue a night (for argument sake, assuming $50/cover in sales, which is a lot of potato). After overhead/labor, they have $2500 left (the sisters don’t take pay yet). You guessed it…assuming only the food cost remains ongoing, they will catch up after 100 successful nights. Possible? Sure, as long as they keep the Gordon Ramsay advertisement in their front window. Why the pessimism from dear Chef Gusteau? Potatoes are not the food to base a restaurant after. For lunch, perhaps. Dinner? Maybe once a week, maybe. It is a fun, creative idea, but really not good for anyone. When Ramsay displayed the dishes on the table representing the new menu, didn’t it all look really rich, covered with cheese, cream, etc? Your regular customers will all die of heart disease within the year, so no use forecasting sales into the future for budgeting purposes. In any case, Gordon put on an entertaining show, and he can’t help but win fans with this type of show format. Perhaps next week, the drinking should be based on how many times someone swears…liver damage within 15 minutes, guaranteed!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2010 11:25 am

    Gotta love chef Gusteau’s math on breakeven…however…what you may not know is where this place is located… I grew up very near by, actually. It’s in a neighborhood called (and I cant make this stuff up) Fishtown. The places in this hood pull down the iron curtains/bars at nite, so the math may be a little off… the only reason for the big covers was the TV camera and the angry furrowed brow of the celebrity chef. LOL…i wish them the best, of course, but their local audience is both fickle and sparse on a normal summer’s eve. Twas good TV, however…

    • January 31, 2010 3:57 pm

      Hi Joe. Gotta love the math behind everything…numbers don’t lie. I can’t imagine that Potato place going another 6 months…but I am sure they’ll have fun the whole time. How many times would you go there for another potato dish? Best bet for them would be to sell the restaurant to someone else savvy enough to get it working and to capitalize on Gordon Ramsay’s “presence.” Oh well…I guess I am not one to talk as I haven’t opened my own restaurant in Cleveland…yet. Chef Gusteau.

  2. January 31, 2010 4:58 pm

    LOL…agreed Chef… I’m Polish and already have had my share of potatoes every which way…and trust me…you wouldnt WANT this location…unless you’re a card carryin’ member of the NRA… local old joke: Why wasnt Jesus born in Fishtown? Because there werent 3 wise men OR a virgin.. LOL…sorry….fishtown flashback…Luv your stuff. Cheers! (edit

  3. January 31, 2010 7:21 pm

    PR..? hmmm….i gotta go w/yes! how can I help?

  4. Terry R Springer permalink
    August 19, 2010 7:18 am

    Glorious writing. More entertaining than the show itself.

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