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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kitchen Nightmares: Peter's

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2007 at 11:15 AM

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.

If you avoided watching Hell's Kitchen for the past three years not because you despise Gordon Ramsay (the Simon Cowell of the culinary world) but because reality television makes you want to chuck your remote at the television screen -- Kitchen Nightmares is your new favorite show.

Haven't heard about the new reality series that premiered last night on FOX? Here is a preview:

Well, I'll admit it isn't that much different than the typical lineup of lunatics whose overuse use of expletives could put O.J. Simpson to shame. The big difference is that these lunatics are real-life small-business owners struggling to make ends meet. They need Ramsay as much as they don't want to admit it.

The basic premise is like a combination of TLC's What Not To Wear and a less extreme version of ABC's Extreme Home Makeover; Ramsay goes to a failing restaurant, tells the owner what he or she needs to do to turn things around, gives everyone a pep talk, cleans up the place, rewrites the menu, screams a little bit and -- voila! -- the place makes more money then it ever did.

Sounds simple, right? Ha. If the highly-successful British version of this show can predict anything, it's that, in general, people can't face the truth. I've felt utterly humiliated on behalf of the people who ignore Ramsay's criticism and write him off as an arrogant, overzealous prick. Yes, at times, he can be all of those things, but providing honest criticism in a world filled to the brim with bullshit can be a godsend -- especially to the folks on last night's season premier.

This week Ramsay visits a family-owned Italian restaurant aptly named Peter's in Babylon, New York. Why is Peter's an appropriate name for a once-successful, now failing eatery? Because it's named after Peter, the manager, co-owner and complete douche bag -- a man who just deserves to fail. He deserves to fail from the moment his smirking bronzed face pops onto the screen. And to top it of he then says, "I take so much pride in myself, my appearance, my car, my clothes; I take care of myself -- and it shows." Gag.

Once Chef Ramsay is on the scene (Peter arrived an hour late to pick him up), it's obvious what's wrong with this establishment. They serve the multi-Michelin-star winning chef rotten salad, stale, undercooked crab cakes and lobster raviolis that are what he calls "baby food inside gunk". Shortly thereafter, we discover the kitchen is ill equipped: dull knives, three broken ovens, a busted broiler.... Basically, it's impossible to run a kitchen in this condition, and miraculously the kitchen staff still manage (albeit with a lot of frustration). And Peter just chimes in, "Instead of buying a stove, I bought a suit, ya know." Just like I said ... DESERVES TO FAIL!!!

Peter's sister Tina, the official owner, doesn't have a problem screaming at her lazy brother, yet nothing registers with him. But with the restaurant on the brink of bankruptcy (not to mention Tina's house is on the line), and bill collectors hounding the family constantly, there is little time for Peter to continue acting like one of the Gotti brothers. Yet, the tough-guy act continues until about 8:55 p.m., when I truly believe there is no hope left. In the end, Peter realizes that everyone hates him, and he's a total idiot. It was, er, touching? No. It was victory!

Overall, this premier focused more on family drama and less on culinary skills. I can already tell the difference from the British version -- FOX beefs up footage with unnecessary, over-the-top background music. So annoying.

More show highlights:

- The temperature of the refrigerator isn't cold enough, and Ramsay pulls out moldy four-week-old pasta, rotting onions and unidentified "camel turds".

- Not only does Peter wear $3,000 suit, drive a Mercedes and get his teeth whitened regularly at $1,000 a pop, he comps customers fairly often -- giving free meal tickets to everyone, even his doctor.

- Ramsay puts Peter in the kitchen to cook for a shift, and he lasts, like, five minutes.

- Specialists come in overnight and put in a brand new kitchen in Peter's for free. Those lucky bastards.

- The menu is changed to focus more on family-style dishes. New dishes include a revised version of the lobster ravioli, penne lasagna and grilled flank steak.

- On the night of the re-launch, Peter eats a baked clams appetizer before it can be served to the customer who ordered it, and then he makes a waitress bawl her eyes out.

Lesson learned: Never put up with an employee or a boss who cares more about his or her tan than the business.

Next week: Eat before you watch! The preview showed cockroaches in a New York kitchen! Even though that might not be a stretch, it looked pretty friggin' sick.

- Jeanette Kozlowski

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