'Kitchen Nightmares': A tale of two restaurants

Gordonramsay_kn_240_005 When I first realized that there would be two episodes of Kitchen Nightmares tonight, I was a little worried that the similarities between the two would be overwhelming. In actuality, watching back-to-back episodes served to illustrate how different the show can be. Sure, the restaurants were both disasters and the food was horrific at both places, but one restaurant had owners willing to change and the other not so much.

First up tonight was Trobiano's, a restaurant owned by the chef, Anthony Trobiano, and his girlfriend's parents, Joe and Pat. Joe made no bones about the fact that it was a mistake to open a place with Anthony and Anthony made it clear that it was his restaurant to run as he saw fit. Even Tiffany, the daughter/girlfriend realized that she'd probably made a mistake by helping to get the restaurant up and running.

When he showed up, the first thing Ramsay did was slam Anthony for opening up an Italian restaurant without having worked in one. The cocky chef was quite sure at the time that it was a good idea, and even with Ramsay there didn't admit that maybe he'd gotten in a little over his head.

Apparently the one thing keeping the restaurant afloat (according to Anthony anyway) was the early-bird special. Sure enough when Ramsay showed up at 4:30 to try the food, the place was packed. And, as per usual on Nightmares, despite the fact that the owners thought the food good, Ramsay didn't like it. Anthony was pissed off that Ramsay would dare send his food back, and Joe didn't help matters, mocking the boy as he handed the rejected food to the chef. Later, when Ramsay spoke to Anthony directly about the food, the rest of the family stifled laughter. Always good to see the owners laugh at their chef, really helps the team feel.

Joe's smirk did disappear though when Ramsay showed him the filth in the kitchen. Ramsay asked Anthony about it, and when the cocksure chef didn't answer him, Ramsay told Joe the place had no chance and walked out. I would have loved to have seen it end there, but it didn't. Instead, Anthony followed Ramsay out of the place and admitted that he ought to be more humble and that he needed help.

After a night of cleaning, Ramsay had the family bond by milking some cows the next morning and explained to them that they'd be making fresh mozzarella at the restaurant (he had eaten mozzarella at the place the previous night and found it disgusting). He also altered the menu to reflect the addition of the mozzarella and eliminated the early-bird special. There may have been more work to do in the kitchen because of the changes, but everyone was on board.

Sure, there were issues that night, stuff like Anthony not tasting his food, customers not liking what they were served, and a burnt entrée that set off the smoke detector, but things were still looking up. Anthony was still humble, listened to Gordon about needing to taste his food, and actually improved during the relaunch the next night (when there was a completely new menu instead of just an altered one). He did get a dish sent back to him, but it wasn't one that went to the table with the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit.

The second restaurant of the night, Black Pearl, was a lobster shack with three bad owners. There was the quitter, Brian; the angry one, Greg; and the egomaniac, David. Apparently they used to talk, but once money got tight they started to fight and they just didn't count on the bills. Or something not written by Billy Joel but of similar tone.

The food, save the watery chowder, looked delicious, but Ramsay was not a fan. He didn't throw up, but he didn't like it. Owner David explained, when asked about a lobster roll being bland, that in Maine they didn't put salt and pepper in a lobster roll (and it was supposed to be a Maine lobster roll). David, it came out, ordered the chef to not season the lobster. David wasn't a chef or anything, it was just how he wanted it done and he, as you read above, was the egomaniac.

That night during the dinner service, David seemed to be trying to expedite stuff at the pass, but did so very poorly. His communication skills only inspired dislike, not confidence. David went so far as to explain to a customer who didn't like their food that the customer was wrong to send it back because it was exactly as it was supposed to be. Technically steamers (the dish sent back) are actually often sandy (which is why they were sent back), but the way David approached the customer wasn't nice. He did manage to get worse though, when after Ramsay and the Pearl's chef said a fish wasn't fresh, David insisted that it was.

After the service David got worse still. It turned out the place was serving Canadian lobsters and calling them Maine lobsters. David knew (probably orchestrated it) and didn't care. Moreover, he said that the two were exactly the same thing and certainly sold by the same vendor. Just FYI, I'm pretty sure that a single vendor can in fact sell more than one thing.

Later, the staff got to write down some questions for the owners, all of which pretty much amounted to the same thing. The staff wanted a general manager, a single person to go to when they had a question, a single setter of policy. It was clearly something that had to happen and Gordon narrowed it down to either David or Greg and sent Brian home for the night.

David was on the pass first during that dinner service and still not very competent. It was clear that all the servers were scared of the man. That can be okay, a tight ship sometimes scares people, but there was no tight ship, just scared swabbies. Things weren't better with Greg at the pass. No one was scared of him, but he wasn't organized enough. Neither he, nor the servers, nor the kitchen folks, had any idea what was going on when Greg was running the place.

After the service, and with Brian back, everyone got together in order to vote on who would be managing the place. Greg won the vote in a landslide and David accepted the decision (sort of). He wasn't happy though, and after the redesign of the Pearl all David could say was that the columns ought to be a different color.

David remained a complete downer leading up to the relaunch, complaining that Ramsay's method of publicizing the place (going to Times Square with a guy in a lobster suit and handing out flyers) wouldn't work. Then, when everyone tasted the new menu, he couldn't find a single nice word to say about any of the dishes. David showed himself to be just a wretched human being.

During the relaunch the place was a disaster. Greg was clearly not able to expedite in the kitchen and David, who was playing the role of guest that night, still hated all the changes (Brian was sitting with him and agreed, but David was ruling the table). The one bright spot was that the staff hustled as much as they possibly could. Things did seem to get better at the end of the night, but that might just have been the magic of editing.

After the service, Ramsay sat down with the three owners and tried to hash out whatever problems still remained -- which was mostly David. Ramsay actually told David that the restaurant could succeed, but not with David as a partner. David then told Ramsay that he, David, did like the changes. It was a lie, not only did we know it, but Ramsay knew it too, suggesting that David was going to change everything back to the way it was -- which David had, to some extent, said, but not in front of Ramsay.

And so, there you are -- two restaurants, two hugely different results. Trobiano's seems poised for success after Ramsay's visit and Black Pearl seems doomed to failure (unless Greg and Brian take Ramsay's advice and buy out David). Sure, it all still amounted to "listen to Gordon and succeed," but it was nice to see that not everyone opts to listen.

Other bits and pieces:

  • Ramsay handed Anthony a ring at the end of the relaunch of Trobiano's so that he could propose to Tiffany. Anthony did, she accepted, and then Ramsay informed them that they'd be getting married that very evening. There was even a wedding dress and a tux for Anthony. Weird. Very weird. Of course, Joe and Pat were awfully overdressed for the relaunch if there wasn't going to be a wedding that night.
  • Best part of the redesign at Black Pearl -- a claw machine that lets people try to get a lobster out of the tank (you know, like those money-sucking things with cheap toys in arcades).

The TV and Film Guy's Reviews - where the lobster is always from Maine.