Kitchen Nightmares: Campania

RFT editorial intern Jeanette Kozlowski is a big fan of bad-boy British chef Gordon Ramsay. Each week she'll recap the latest episode of Ramsay's new FOX series Kitchen Nightmares.

First off, I apologize for skipping last week's write-up. I do have a laundry list of excuses (one had something to do with finishing a certain master's project), but I won't bore you with the details. Anyway, I'm mostly sorry because, from what I hear, it was the best episode -- or at least the most ridiculous -- yet. It's sad to say, I haven't even had time to watch it.

This week's episode, though, felt like a repeat of episodes past. Sigh. Another inexperienced owner-chef, another episode of Kitchen Nightmares. Seriously. And I'll only mention it this once more, but Campania is in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. You know what that means?

The scoreboard: Left coast: 2 Right coast: 7 (New York: 6) Middle America: 0 The South: 0

FOX certainly was correct in saying they were "crisscrossing America." They are, in fact, sending Gordon Ramsay from one side to the other. This must be a strategic move to set aside some interesting locations for next season. Or, at least, I hope.

From the beginning, owner-chef Joe reminds us why nobody is booking reservations at Campania: "We don't use recipes; we don't have measuring cups or spoons." Joe's owned the Italian eatery for about 18 months and has managed to run it in the ground. The oven doesn't work, the door to the walk-in refrigerator is broken, and he's about $80,000 in debt.

Yet, the chipper crew of Campania, with their slapstick demeanor and buddy-buddy relationships, acts as if they have no idea the place is going under. Later in the show, one waitress gushes, "Compania's like high school; it's a really close-knit social environment where everybody gets along." Although acting like a sixteen-year-old can be mildly entertaining, it isn't conducive, really, to any profitable venture -- especially when the boss is at the center of the immature behavior. You'd think they'd be a tad solemn about boss/friend Joe's situation. Or at least Joe would be concerned. But, of course, he isn't.

DAY ONE This time it's no motorcycle or Mercedes that the great Ramsay rides in on -- he hops out of a (gasp!) cab. I wonder if he hailed it himself. Somehow I even doubt he rode there in it. After reading Lee Stranahan's blog, I am more suspicious than ever of FOX. Granted, I understand this is mindless entertainment, and I should really stop overanalyzing it, but it's soooooo difficult to not do so.

From the outside, this floundering establishment looks like a perfect spot for an Imo's pizza. I don't turn my nose up at strip-mall dining (since it's sort of inevitable in St. Louis). However, the neon lights glowing from the neighboring tanning salon doesn't up the level of class as much.

On to Ramsay's first meal: • Brodo tortellini: "Bland -- definitely isn't worth the wait." • Spicy sausage ravioli: "Garlic everywhere! You won't want to go back to the office with that breath, would you?" • Chicken pistachio: "It looks like a bison's tongue; it's dry, it's sweet and it's....oh dear."

And more than the alarming overuse of garlic, which is warding off vampires and paying customers, Ramsay is disturbed by the amount of unnecessary clamor coming from the kitchen. He waits 21 minutes for his first course. The restaurant is apparently known for this sort of behavior.

Ramsay's initial assessment of Joe's business: • Fridge overstocked • Spending too much on ingredients • Menu too large • Inexperienced owner and head chef

DAY TWO Joe sends two staff members home before dinner service after Ramsay yells at him for overstaffing. More issues emerge as the evening continues: food is crawling out of the kitchen at snail-pace and the portion-sizes are bigger than the plates. Once the customers are served, half abhor the food and the other half take home to-go bags.

Ramsay asks Joe my favorite question: "Why did you decide to become a chef-owner if you haven't got a clue how to run a business?"

DAY THREE Ramsay visits Joe's wife, Melissa, in an expensive-looking home, where her tears flow like the laughter in Campania's kitchen. It seems she's the only one who realizes the graveness of the situation.

Ramsay's solution: meatballs. Somehow a grand promotional event at what appears to be a grocery store will save Campania. Although, it's doubtful this will work, a montage of workers shoveling meatballs to soccer moms, kids and even a doggy makes for some good reality TV. Well, that's what FOX's producers seem to think anyhow.

The day ends with another classic Ramsay line: "Don't take it personally -- just take it seriously."

DAY FOUR The design team really outdid themselves this time. They actually cleaned up the place in a big way by taking down the tacky, tattered signs and restoring the dining area. Also added: a shiny stove and smaller plates.

New menu items: • Fettuccini with pesto and tomato • Pork • New York Strip Steak • Meatballs, of course

At the re-launch, some old broad starts trouble when she complains about all the food. Ramsay enters the dining area and begins to act as unprofessional as I've ever seen. He verbally harasses the woman and says she is "talking out of her rear" then calls her an "old bag." FOX must've put him up to this, because I'd never picture him insulting his own customers.

Then some drunk chick yells at another lady in the parking lot over the dining experience at Campania. Only in Jersey, folks. Sheesh. FOX gets to use its siren sound byte again when a cop car drives by. The police officer probably didn't even get out of his car to "break up the disturbance." He or she most definitely did not have a siren blaring.

In the end, it's quality over quantity. And then they all break the old "steering wheel" plates on the kitchen floor (isn't that, like, dangerous?).

Lesson learned: When someone on staff compares the restaurant's atmosphere to high school, you're in trouble.

Next Week: Get ready for a second helping of Peter's. Then the following week, we'll be in California for the season finale.

-Jeanette Kozlowski

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