Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: The Complete Series One and Two DVD Review - nightmares British-style

In the past couple of years, it seems as if the Fox Network has become the Gordon Ramsay Network. Right now, he has Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef running back to back on Monday and Tuesday nights. On August 13, his latest venture, Hotel Hell, will debut. There have been a number of other programs over the years as well. But Gordon’s TV empire really took off with Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, which debuted on the British Channel 4 in 2004.

Acorn Media specializes in packaging British programming for DVD release in the United States. Although the first two series (Brit-speak for “seasons”) were released a couple of years ago by Acorn, I have only recently discovered them. All of the “love him or hate him” elements of Gordon Ramsay were there from the beginning. Nevertheless, it is quite enjoyable to see how it all began.

For one thing, there is his swearing. It seems as if he cannot go for more than a minute at a time without dropping an “F-Bomb.” On Fox, all of this is bleeped of course, but these British shows are completely uncensored. I  think the bleeping makes his use of expletives more noticeable than the uncensored presentations do. The cussing comes quite naturally in these shows, and without calling attention to it, just feels a lot less incendiary.

Then again, his TV personality was far less explosive when he began than it is today. It is obvious that his notorious short-fuse, and high-strung rants have been built up over the years to make for more exciting television. Part of the reason behind this probably has to do with the very nature of the British, who are known for being much more reserved than us uncouth Yanks. It is kind of shocking to see him this way, as he had not yet perfected the “character” of Gordon Ramsay.

For anyone who has seen the Fox version of Kitchen Nightmares, the basic premise has remained the same. Gordon spends a week in a failing restaurant, and attempts to “fix” whatever is wrong with the place. The problems are usually a  combination of bad food, staff problems, owners with bizarre ideas about running their restaurants, the look of the interior and/or exterior, too many menu items - all kinds of issues. During his week there, he tries to sort out the situation, and make recommendations (very strongly) about how to change things for the better.

Series One is an eight-episode, two-DVD set. Calling these eight episodes is kind of pushing it though. Actually, it is four full programs, and four “revisits.” The revisits feature the original program, edited down a bit, with around seven minutes of new material tacked on at the end. This is where  Gordon goes back and checks on the progress of the place.

Obviously Channel 4 was pleased with the ratings of the first series, because the second one offers a great deal more for the viewer. The Acorn edition of Series Two is a three-DVD set, with ten episodes. Of these, only two are revisits, so he is actually tackling eight different restaurants over the course of the series.

In the very first Nightmare, Gordon goes to a place called Bonapartes (Silsden, West Yorkshire). Right from the start we see what has come to be one of the hallmarks of the series over the years. There are no customers because the food is terrible, and the owner is totally disengaged. Ramsay pulls out all the stops, and manages to get things on track for a huge Valentine’s Day dinner in the restaurant. When he returns a month later, things have gone back to the unmanageable ways of before though, and he is more than a little disappointed.

But something happened after the episode aired on Channel 4. The newness of the whole concept appealed to Fleet Street, and the whole “scandalous” nature of what was going on behind the scenes of the previously unknown restaurant became big news. When Gordon returns six months later for his revisit, the place is closed. The owner flat-out accuses him of “setting her up” and will not even speak to him.

The remaining  three restaurants in the series have their fair share of exciting head-to-heads with Gordon and the staff, and are quite entertaining. Nothing quite as wild as that first one however.

You might say that everyone was figuring things out in the first series, and it is definitely recommended for fans who would like to see how it all began. But in the second series, the formula really began to gel. For one thing, we get twice as much action, with Ramsay working with eight different places, versus the previous four.

My favorite has to be Momma Cherri’s Soul Food Shack (Brighton, East Essex). Momma Cherri herself is a true original, and Gordon falls for her immediately. She is an older Black woman, who treats her staff like they are her children. She has a fantastic personality, which Gordon sees as a huge asset, but she spends all of her time in the kitchen, even though she has a huge team who are supposed to be doing the work. Because she is doing it all herself, she is cooking big portions of soul food classics such as macaroni and cheese up to two weeks in advance, then reheating it for her customers.

When she cooks for Gordon, he is knocked out by how great the food is, but the customers rarely get to eat anything freshly cooked because of the situation. By the end of the program, Momma Cherri has “gotten” it, and food is being cooked to order by her cooks, while she works out front as a fantastic hostess.

In the case of Momma Cherri’s, the publicity paid off handsomely when the program aired, because when Gordon revisits, the place has tripled in size, and is packed. Now the problem is too much success, the restaurant has become so popular that just to keep up with demand, the food is being cooked in advance. Once again, he explains to Cherri that she has got to keep it fresh, or soon her customers will not be coming back.

A problem that appears a couple of times in this second series is one of over-ambitious chefs. This is first shown at La Riviera (Inverness, Scotland). The owner is a very wealthy man, as he made a fortune by bringing fast-food franchises such as KFC and Wimpys to Scotland. Now he wants a fine dining establishment to call his own, and has gone all out. He has hired French chefs, given them a state of the art kitchen to cook in, and buys only the highest grades of meat. To Gordon, this is an unusual problem, as the restaurant has all of the ingredients it should need to be a winner.

The problem soon becomes clear that the people that of Inverness are put off by it all. La Riviera is simply too much, of everything. The prices are outrageous, the service is dour, and the food is such a complex mix as to be a complete turn-off. The arrogant young French chef simply will not listen to Ramsay as he tries to explain that they just need to tone things down a bit, and cater to what their customers actually want.

As I mentioned earlier, I know that Gordon Ramsay is not everyone’s cup of tea. I happen to be a fan. But what makes Kitchen Nightmares so compelling is the fact that he has to assume the role of psychologist to get it through people’s heads that their approach is often what is causing their businesses to fail. In many cases, the lesson is very simple, less is more. Give your customers what they want, at a reasonable price, and watch your profits soar.

Sounds simple, but as these programs show time and again, it is not as easy a solution as it should be. The recommendation here is a simple one as well. If you are curious as to how the huge TV presence of Gordon Ramsay all began, check out these first incarnations of Kitchen Nightmares.

By Greg Barbrick

About the author

Greg Barbrick has been watching TV so long he remembers watching first run episodes of Star Trek.

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