Gordon Ramsay's worst nightmare: A restaurant he cannot save
The pugnacious chef finally met a shambolic restaurant he couldn't save. John Walsh on when TV makeover refuseniks fight back
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 16 May 2013
It was Gordon's least successful makeover. In 81 episodes of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, he's brought his unique blend of judgement, condemnation, encouragement and shouting to 81 failing restaurants in the States, and left them, by and large, better run. But in Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, he finally met his match. Programme No 82 ended in disaster.
The owners, Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, lived in a world of denial where nothing she cooked could be wrong, where Samy concealed the evidence of diners' disapproval by consigning their returned buns and under-cooked pizzas to the trash cans without telling his wife. The kind of place where a diner tried to leave after waiting 90 minutes for a pizza and Samy threatened to call the cops.
Ramsay looked on wide-eyed as sunken-eyed septuagenarian Samy lied about the provenance of the ravioli, pocketed the waitresses' tips and couldn't tell Amy things were less than perfect, even as she fired a waitress for asking "Are you sure?" about which table a plate was bound for. He learned that they'd managed to lose over 100 staff in a year. Any negative words about the food were met by Amy's grown-up riposte: "People usually love it. I mean, real customers. Not haters." Ramsay walked out.
The trouble with makeover shows is that the most memorable episodes are often the ones that fail, or end in insult. One thinks fondly of What Not to Wear, the new clothes show starring Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, which worked best when the frumps, steered onto the show by "friends", talked back to Trin and Suze and told them to eff off. Remember the moment when Carol Vorderman, stung by having her style labelled "an Eighties nightmare", called her tormentors "the anorexic transvestite and the carthorse"?
TV viewers will remember Changing Rooms, the interior décor show that ran from 1996 to 2004 and featured Carol Smillie and others helping people "transform" rooms in their neighbours' homes. When designer Anna Ryder Richardson once glamourised a couple's bedroom with saucy lingerie in picture frames, the room's owner screamed, "Why would I want this shit in my room? I've got children!" and promptly burst into tears.
And a big hand (i.e. a smack round the head) for The Swan, the show that offers to give "ugly" women makeovers that involve plastic surgery. It ran for two series before it was cancelled in 2005 after being dubbed No 1 in Entertainment Weekly's "10 Worst Reality TV Shows Ever". Only this spring a contestant called Lorrie Arias complained about how the show had given her "unresolved surgery complication and mental-health problems".
So that's one more show they won't try again. But will Kitchen Nightmares survive its brush with failure?
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