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'Kitchen Nightmares' recap: Welcome to spuddy hell

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Kitchen-Nightmares

Gordon Ramsay has been called a lot of names – many of which would not meet PopWatch decency standards. He’s never been dubbed quitter, though. So when he stormed off in defeat from a doomed Philadelphia restaurant on the premiere of Kitchen Nightmares, I didn’t believe it for a second. The fact that the Foul-Mouthed One’s outburst took place at the 20-minute mark also tipped me off that it wasn’t the end of the story for Hot Potato Café, but they certainly had their work cut out.

The Fishtown eatery, with its fondness for serving weeks-old frozen fodder and lack of adequate leadership, was in desperate need of a Ramsay overhaul. It was the recipe for a perfect Nightmare story: bad food, a family operation with three inexperienced owners (who produced almost as many bleeps as Ramsay), and to seal the deal, a poor review in the local paper that had soiled their reputation. The headline of the review had read: ”Spuddy Hell.”

But Ramsay soon found out that three-week-old, sans-potato potato skins were the least of the restaurant’s problems. At the helm of the kitchen catastrophe was a 21-year-old head chef, niece of the owners, who had only signed on for the job so she could help her family. As Ramsay put it, the restaurant had been using a menu that was ”passed down from a bad chef to an inexperienced chef.”

Watching the story unfold, I became angry. The weight of a fledgling quarter-million dollar effort (according to one of the sisters) was resting on a clearly overwhelmed girl who didn’t even want to be a chef – at least at the beginning of the episode. She was taking on more than she could handle, but it seemed as though her aunts neither noticed nor attempted to help ease her burden. Ramsay noticed this too, making it a point to give the girl words of encouragement throughout the episode. In the end, he even arranged for a local chef to mentor her. The gesture moved the girl to tears and ignited her passion for cooking. Ramsay’s heart grew three sizes.

But before the tears of joy, there had been tears of desperation. After witnessing one particularly disastrous night of service, Ramsay angrily asked for their reflection on the evening. Instead of a response, he was met with blank stares from the owners, who looked more like kindergarteners who’d been caught awake during nap time. ”I honestly don’t have the passion or the drive to take it through,” he said rather emotionally, before calling it quits and storming out.

The owners followed after him and confessed that they had lost hope and needed him to save the day. The speech swayed Ramsay to give it one last shot. A cooking lesson, a new menu, and one short segment of Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition later, they re-launched the restaurant and even invited back the critic who’d ruined them before.

My mind immediately went to Ratatouille. I expected a high-brow critic with an icy stare and attitude to boot. The intense background score had me preparing for the worst. Instead, we got a man who used terms like ”potato-rific” to describe the newly revamped hot potato soup. Pfft.

Armed with a positive review, a new outlook, and a fresh take on food, the ladies from Hot Potato were ready for their second go at entrepreneurship. Ramsay summed up his experience with an awkward ”long live the power of women!” declaration.

Now it’s your turn, PopWatchers. What did you think of the premiere of Kitchen Nightmares? Did you feel as bad as I did for the 21-year-old head chef? Did the Hans Zimmer-esque background score build up the anticipation for the critic’s appearance for you too? Sound off below!