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January 13, 2011

Kitchen Nightmares Taping with Gordon Ramsey

Wednesday I attended a taping of Chef Gordon Ramsey's show "Kitchen Nightmares," where he remakes a restaurant from top to bottom. I attended the re-launch of Capri Italian Restaurant in Eagle Rock. It's a local, family-run joint adjacent to Occidental College, so it's not haute cuisine. The atmosphere strives to be warm and inviting in a pizza-and-spaghetti kind of way.

I have a lot of respect for restaurants that allow the show into their space, as they can expect to be torn apart by Chef Ramsey. We ended up with an ideal spot, a table of four right next to the kitchen, so had a great view of both Chef Ramsey and the taping in the dining area. I managed to sneak a couple of photos, but wasn't allowed to document much of the evening.

I attended as part of the Meetup "Foodie Connection" group, so we were given an early seating. A friend of mine registered with the group just to RSVP for the event, so I knew one person at the table, but got to meet a few new people with common interests too. It made for a great mix of lively conversation during the long wait for service. I was not in a talkative mood, as I'd just lost my cousin Sue Martin to cancer the night before, but celebrating with a new adventure seemed a fitting way to honor her memory. Sue would have loved to hear all about it, so I'm writing to her here on the blog.

Since they don't want to have the same audience on every episode of the show, you can only attend a Kitchen Nightmares taping once. I was glad that the evening I chose was not one of the first days of taping but was the relaunch night, when the restaurant has been improved by Gordon Ramsey and the bugs have supposedly been worked out. Still, it was the first night with the "new" menu, so service was far from smooth. It took over an hour and a half to get our entrees. The table next to us was served within five minutes.

I loved the new decor of the space, including the way the cash register was painted, and the line-drawing logo of the identical twins who run the restaurant. The tables were crowded in and waitstaff had trouble making it through the restaurant, especially with the camera crew in the way. The serving pieces seemed to overwhelm the table--especially the large oval platters of salad for the group. They didn't have a wine list. When we asked our server directly, she finally named a price-per-glass but neglected to tell us that wine was available by the carafe, which we would have done if we'd known. The appetizer of garlic knots came with five rolls for our table of four, and were doughy on the inside and oily out without much garlic flavor. The chef had a heavy hand with the pepper on our Caesar salad, though I found I was able to pick out edible portions. I ordered a mushroom-"stinky cheese" white pizza that was really yummy. But the best thing on the menu that our table sampled was definitely the apple calzone dessert, filled with warm walnuts and dried fruit.

Chef Ramsey was clearly busy troubleshooting all evening. He called the Chef-Owner out to the street and spoke to him in front of a camera in the middle of the service. While it was easy to see his frustration, there was no shouting match to be heard over the din of the patrons. We'd definitely gone more for the experience of the show than for the food, and it was entertaining to see it all unfold. I'll be looking for the episode to air to see the "before" portions of the restaurant when Chef Ramsey first arrived. There will definitely be publicity as there was a local news station crew taping there before we'd left as well.

If you get the opportunity, Kitchen Nightmares is definitely a fun event to attend. Email me for info on how to contact the show.

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