Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares Was a Food TV Trailblazer

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares Was a Food TV Trailblazer ...

The unusually quiet voiceover of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, a 2004 restaurant series starring celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, pauses for a moment. Ramsay is considering a different approach to reach Tim, Bonapartes' uninspired 21-year-old chef.

"Maybe it's me," Ramsay muses. "I should try the'softly softly' approach."

Ramsay chooses a "softly softly" approach, moving slightly more gently with Tim than his usual bombastic yelling attacks at episode's conclusion. Bonapartes would close within a year, leading to its owner Sue pursuing an unsuccessful lawsuit against Ramsay, alleging that production staged sections of the episode.

Gordon Ramsay's intense, enthusiastically profane performances in food reality shows like Hell's Kitchen, Master Chef, and the glittery American remake of Kitchen Nightmares may sound familiar to casual American TV viewers. What is surely less familiar to the American TV-watching public, though, is Ramsay's moment of patient self-reflection.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares has already gained a positive reputation among some viewers. The program received a 2006 International Emmy for non-scripted entertainment and the 2005 and 2008 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for Best Features.

Gordon Ramsay is one of the most well-known TV cooking personalities in the Western world right now. Ever since his quest to earn three Michelin Stars was first documented in the 1999 British docuseries Boiling Point, the chef has become a regular fixture on food television. In this time, he has maintained a reputation of the abrasive, yet hyper competent, and demanding culinary mastermind.

Ramsay has been able to maintain his perception through numerous television programs, including Fox's Next Chef, which will premiere in the popular post-Super Bowl time slot on Sunday, February 12. What makes Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares so interesting in hindsight is that public perception wasn't quite in place yet.

The British version of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is a lot like the well-known Docuseries that preceded it, Boiling Point, or any of the Ramsay properties that followed (including the show literally named Kitchen Nightmares). The now internationally-recognized concept appears as a more solitary nature documentary than a shrewd reality television series that had begun to populate the television landscape at its time.

The score is solitary: there are just a few small piano strings in between scenes. The usual over-expository cook show narration has been replaced by Ramsay, himself, quietly muttering his observations about his surroundings into a microphone as though they were diary entries.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares isn't a shambles that is primarily exploitative. Like every TV program created for profit, the show's primary purpose is to please its viewers and therefore make its benefactors money. The show's stated purpose, which is to assist struggling restaurants, is certainly only secondary.

Ramsay's desire to actually assist these eateries comes across as utterly sincere. Each episode of the series puts him in a shambles business for a week, which now seems like an eternity, with the most modern iterations of this concept wishing to give their "fixers" only 24-72 hours at most. And Ramsay uses his time wisely, learning to appreciate the staff's strengths and weaknesses.

Ramsay quickly discovers that Chef Tim's desire to create elevated fine dining from a bar's basement will not fly with the working class citizens of Silsden, in the 35 episodes of Kitchen Nightmares, which include 27 original visits and eight "revisits," which have had a great impact.

Ramsay often employs plural pronouns like "we" in his descriptions of each restaurant and what needs to be done, fully ingratiating himself as a member of the team and part of the solution. Also, in almost every episode, he is seen wearing his shirt off for some reason.

This early Ramsay version is quite likely (and perhaps even probable) to be as carefully constructed as the decibel-bursting cartoon that is now on television. Even if it is, this Ramsay makes for much more compelling television.

In his opening monologue, Ramsay himself declares "two-thirds of restaurants fail to survive beyond their first birthday." Very few restaurants featured on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares actually survive, with Reality TV Revisited predicting a success rate of 20% by December 2021.

Ramsay has no reservations about the food in the best episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and perhaps one of the greatest episodes of food television ever! Rather than lowering the stakes, it elevates them. Here, Ramsay sample the menu right off the bat.

Ramsay and the episode are freed up to explore the many other ways in which a restaurant can fail. The menu is too unfocused and imposing. Staff who frequently arrive late or do nothing about the dishes they're serving are often confused by the food they're serving in the American Deep South, particularly circa 2004-2005.

Momma Cherri's became one of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmare's most successful businesses in a matter of months. In fact, Jones quickly expanded the restaurant into a larger store next door and even began offering wholesaling and merchandising. However, when Ramsay and the show returned to Momma Cherri's for a second season, the restaurant was in dire straits. In 2007, the business closed for good.

The 2006 sequel to Momma Cherri's original episode exemplifies what makes Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares so great. It's never afraid to depict the cold, hard realities of restauranteur life. In fact, Ramsay is never shy about reminding the people he's tasked with helping about his own failed restaurants.

If that isn't a kitchen nightmare, we'll never know what it is.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is available to stream in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as The Roku Channel, Plex, and Tubi exclusively in the United States.