Acorn Media // 2004 // 387 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // March 14th, 2009
The star chef saves failing restaurants from culinary hell.
Gordon Ramsay's original television foray into extreme tough love, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares features Ramsay doing what he does best: yelling really loud. Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: Complete Series One features the first episodes of the original U.K. series (which spawned an American remake on Fox).
Award-winning celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay visits troubled restaurants throughout the United Kingdom, acting as troubleshooter, culinary advisor, and business consultant, spending a blitzing week whipping staff and owners into shape. His methods are harsh, but his Michelin stars and dozens of internationally renowned restaurants speak for themselves.
Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: Complete Series One contains eight episodes from the first season, including follow-up visits to each of the four restaurants, originally entitled Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares Revisited:
* Episode 1: Bonapartes Restaurant, Silsden, England
In the basement of a wine bar in a working-class town, Gordon finds a disengaged owner, an incompetent twenty-one-year-old chef, and far-from-fine dining.
* Episode 2: Bonapartes Revisited
Returning to Bonapartes six months later, Gordon gets a decidedly cool welcome.
* Episode 3: The Glass House, Ambleside, England
At a nearly bankrupt restaurant in a town with plenty of tourist traffic, the head chef mismanages his team and turns the kitchen into chaos.
* Episode 4: The Glass House Revisited
Later, Gordon returns to poach two junior chefs.
* Episode 5: The Walnut Tree Inn, Llandewi Skirrid, South Wales
Celebrity chef Franco Taruschio once earned this posh dining spot a Michelin star, but new owner Francesco needs a take-charge head chef -- desperately.
* Episode 6: The Walnut Tree In Revisited
On a return visit, Gordon butts heads with Francesco again.
* Episode 7: Moore Place, Esher, England
Despite golfers galore as potential patrons, Moore Place has an empty dining room, perhaps because it relies too much on its deep fryer and microwaves.
* Episode 8: Moore Place Revisited
Before reassessing the restaurant himself, Gordon sends in a spy.
Nowadays, Gordon Ramsay is on television everywhere you look, but back in 2004, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares was his first experience in front of the camera hosting his own series. It was a novel idea: take an internationally renowned and award-winning chef and drop him into armpit locations around the United Kingdom, exploring failed restaurants and spending a frenetic week trying to make them turn a profit. It isn't always pretty. Ramsay is usually disgusted by what he finds: lazy staff, incompetent owners, sub-par food, and levels of cleanliness to make a public health inspector weep. Two-thirds of restaurants in the United Kingdom close within the first twelve months of operation, and after seeing Ramsay's explorations into these four struggling business, it isn't hard to see why.
What I like about this show, especially over other Gordon Ramsay shows (including the American remake) is that Gordon actually appears like a human being here, not just a Scottish screaming dervish. Business aspects of the restaurant business are explored in detail, menus are tested, food is prepared, chefs are trained -- the actual problems of the business are identified, dissected, and repaired. Sure, Ramsay yells a lot, but it's not the main focus of the show, not yet a gimmick to be exploited. For anyone actually interested in the business elements of hospitality and food preparation, you'll learn ten times more from watching these back episodes of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares than you will watching Hell's Kitchen. Ramsay is playful, genuine, passionate, and utterly ferocious in his pursuit of culinary perfection, but it feels like these episodes are early enough in his television career they had yet to realize he would get higher ratings by acting like a cock. His attitude makes these episodes much more engaging and enjoyable an experience.
After observing repeated and thorough disemboweling by Ramsay, one can detect a pattern emerging in these failing restaurants. Their failure is not for a lack of trying, but for failing to be true to their own audiences and their food desires. Ramsay champions fresh, local cooking, simple and unpretentious, and scolds chefs trying to be haughty with their cuisine without having earned the right. If you open up a fine dining establishment in a working-class town, it will fail, not because your food is bad, but because audiences simply don't want it. Switch it to bistro fare, and you'll make a mint. His lessons are often challenging for owners and chefs alike, because it involves a great deal of ego-swallowing, but those who embrace it (more often than not) succeed. For this, we also get Ramsay revisiting each of the four restaurants in Series One; coming back months later to inspect the progress made, and see how many bad habits the establishments have slipped back into -- more often than not, quite a few.
If you have happened upon Fox's version of the show set in America, Kitchen Nightmares, definitely give this set a try, especially if you've never seen the U.K. original. The entire tone of the show is less corny, less confrontational, and less exploitative of Ramsay and his infamous temper. Plus, this version is uncensored, so you can hear all the choice words Ramsay has for his guests. The U.K. version just feels classier and more genuine in its desire to get to the root cause of a troubled business -- not just have Ramsay yell at people for cooking crap and having a messy kitchen.
Technically speaking, this is a pretty bare-boned set, with no supplements of any kind and only the roughest of presentations. The anamorphic presentation is reasonably in terms of color saturation and black levels for a show shot on handheld camera, but some nasty artifacts and edge jaggedness plagues the transfer. The audio is a simple 2.0 stereo presentation, which does the job well enough -- audio recorded on-site, minimal music.
The series itself might be quite enjoyable, but the technical presentation of this set isn't up to par, and the MSRP is borderline expensive for a mere eight episodes.
Foodies and anger management aficionados alike should fine much to appreciate in Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: Complete Series One. These earlier episodes are more thoughtful, more pensive, and genuinely sincere than later seasons of the show (both U.K. and U.S.) where the focus of every episode seems to be Ramsay's unending rage.
Surprisingly satisfying. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 387 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site