I’ve figured out how to make Kitchen Nightmares obsolete: No one is allowed to open, buy or invest in a restaurant until they have spent at least six months waiting tables, doing the prep-cook shuffle and washing dishes at a working restaurant. And then they’ll have to flush wads of cash down the toilet, just to give them a feel for what the restaurant business is really like. Bingo. Problem solved.

The food was terrible — it was like eating spoilers!

I’m a bit torn on this episode. This week, the problem wasn’t horrible food, outsized personalities, overblown egos, rancid ingredients or any of the other usual suspects. Instead, Gordon Ramsay encountered a chef/owner who was a nice guy, but he had no clue about the business aspect of the restaurant business. On the one hand, that’s probably a much more realistic scenario for why restaurants the world over go bust — so many people have this dream of opening a restaurant (or an inn, or a coffee shop, or anything else in hospitality) and they fail to treat the place like a business. So I applaud the show for showing something real.

On the other hand, this scenario takes a fair bit of the drama out of the show. Fortunately, that drama was supplied by some crazy-ass customers for Gordon (and others!) to yell at. God bless New Jersey.

Our restaurant of the week is Campania, an Italian joint in Fairlawn, NJ. It was thriving up until 18 month ago, when Joe bought the place. Now it’s in trouble.

Joe and the staff are great friends, they goof off, they hang out in the kitchen, they play around. That’s fine, but you’re not going to make any money that way. Nor are you going to make money by serving massive quantities of food, nor by keeping the fridge stocked with food that you’ll never use up before it goes bad.

The food is OK, not great — some dishes too bland, others too garlicky. The service is slow as hell. The oven is broken, and the handles are falling off the walk-in fridges. Time for a change.

And there is change, but very little drama. Gordon points out the place is grossly overstaffed for a slow day, and gets Joe to send a couple of people home. It looks like they’re back when the place gets busy again. He pokes at the food in the fridge, but finds more wasted money than rotten food (I defy you to buy mussels and not find one or two open shells. Just don’t cook or eat them.) He resorts to telling Joe what a crappy job he’s doing in the middle of the restaurant, while customers are eating (I don’t blame Joe for getting upset about that), and then tracking down Joe’s wife to get her to angst about losing the house (while telling her he really doesn’t want to upset her, and she shouldn’t cry. Liar!)

After a not-terribly-hard sell, Gordon puts meatballs on the menu, redesigns the front of the house, whips the wait staff into shape by offering $100 for the first server to sell everything on the menu. The only bobble came when Joe got stressed out, started wandering the restaurant glad-handing rather than cooking, and things got backed up — as in, folks waiting two hours for appetizers crazy. Gordon gave him a stern talking-to, he realized the error of his ways, and everything moved suspiciously smoothly from then on. Thanks, Gordon!

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends:

  • I’m seriously sick of hearing people on this show say "this is my dream" and "he deserves to live this dream." Fine, it’s a dream, but if you want it to be more than a hobby, it’s also got to be a business. Otherwise, get a real job and just throw fabulous dinner parties.
  • Perhaps, when buying a restaurant, the first thing you want to sink money into is a working oven, or a refrigerator that actually closes.
  • Josette won the menu-bingo contest, and I adored her. She’s central-casting Italian-American jersey girl: tough-talking, raspy-voiced, all glares and snarls. Even when she’s saying thank you and you’re welcome, she sounds like she’s mentally flipping you off. Love!
  • Speaking of central-casting Jersey denizens: What the hell was going on with the disgruntled customers on the restaurant’s relaunch night? I almost think the producers hired them to come in and create drama, because who acts like that? Who hangs out in the front of a place bitching and moaning when the meal is done? Who stands out front continuing with the bitching? And it wasn’t one women who did that — two! Two tough Jersey matrons talked trash about the place. Why? And then, in a moment that doubtless had the producers jigging with glee, a drunken customer started yelling at one of the complainers. Brilliant!
  • Central casting, part three: the "purveyor" who stood around in a leather jacket and looked menacing, demanding his money.
  • Gordon describes his initial chicken entrĂ©e: "It looks like a bison’s tongue." Appetizing.
  • I know that Joe was hemorrhaging money, and that the oversized plates were part of the problem. Here’s an idea: Sell them to a restaurant supply shop, or list them on Craig’s List — anything to get some money back, since you need it so desperately. Or… smash them on the floor. That works, too, I guess.
  • I find it suspicious that they didn’t revisit the restaurant or give a progress report after Gordon left. The place’s web site makes it look like it’s still going — and Joe and the (theoretically new) pastry chef giving cooking demonstrations at various kitchen stores. Interesting.
  • Also on the web site: a link to Slow Food Northern New Jersey. That made me laugh. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s less about slow service and more  a philosophy about cooking and eating (one I support), but I still think that’s not the most politic link to put up for a place once known for three-hour wait times.

So what did you think — were the disgruntled customers plants? Would you like to see Gordon take on more realistic troubled restaurants like Campania, or were you bored without the over-the-top drama? And just why do so many people dream of opening their own restaurant? Did no one else spend summers working the grill at a snack bar?

Posted by:Sarah Jersild