Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares USA, Channel 4 - TV review: 'An ersatz Italian restaurant in Colorado makes Ramsay flip his lid'
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 02 July 2014
Did we appreciate Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares enough when we had the chance? This week the TV chef announced the imminent (though not immediate) end of the TV show on which he built his reputation for gruff cookery critique. The first of a two-part Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares USA (Channel 4) took place in Woodland Park, Colorado, known as the "City Above the Clouds" where the TV chef was hoping to improve the prospects of a decidedly non-celestial Italian restaurant.
Mangia Mangia's menu was Italian, but only because the other two restaurants in town were Chinese and Mexican. Owner Julie had never set foot in Italy – "I'm Irish!" she said indignantly, when asked. This in part explained the restaurant's interior, which looked more like a KFC in a motorway service station than an authentic Tuscan eatery, replete with its own drive-thru window.
All of which might have been excusable, if only the food had been edible. The veal piccata included uncooked veal, the lasagne was served frozen in the middle and the head chef was an untrained, unenthused 22-year-old called Trevor. The prep cook had it pretty spot-on when he summed up Mangia Mangia's culinary philosophy: "The food isn't cooked with much love – it's cooked with stress and a microwave." Can you blame Gordon Ramsay for being angry about that?
Rude men have long occupied a prominent place on television. But unlike Jeremy Paxman (whose disdain often suggested boredom) or David Starkey (whose insults seem motivated mostly by a desire for continued media attention) or Simon Cowell (who is merely playing his part in a pantomime), Ramsay's rudeness comes from the heart. He really cares – not about other people's feelings, obviously, or the ongoing survival of their businesses, but about maintaining basic standards in the catering industry. The diners of Woodland Park, Colorado, deserve better and Gordon Ramsay is determined to see that they get it.
Since the end of Kitchen Nightmares was announced, it's been reported that more than 60 per cent of the restaurants Ramsay attempted to reform during the show's 12 series have since closed, many within a year. This might be read as proof that his measures have failed, but it also demonstrates just how long "restaurants" – I hesitate to use the word – such as Mangia Mangia have been getting away with it. Now, after 10 years, the nightmare is over for lazy restaurateurs. That's very bad news for the rest of us.
It would also have been nice if a bit more effort had put into the compilation of Commonwealth on Film, which began a four-part series on BBC4 last night. Like last year's Britain on Film, it was a half-hour collection of archive clips organised around a theme. We saw interviews with Britons emigrating to Canada in the 1950s, Barbadian bus conductors learning how to operate a ticket machine in 1960s Chiswick, and we met Abdul, a morose Bangladeshi fisherman struggling to feed his family. More amusing were the barefoot lorry drivers on Australia's long, straight deserted roads: "If you're going along and you get a bit tired of it, get your book out and have a read," said one.
The theme was work, but beyond that any connecting thread was difficult to discern. Britain is familiar enough to British audiences that archive clips can be easily understood, but the countries of the Commonwealth are many and varied and Commonwealth on Film would have benefited from some more contextualising information. It was often near-impossible to establish where in the world the footage had been filmed, let alone which decade it had been filmed in.
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