I love Kitchen Nightmares. It’s one of the only reality shows that I’ll watch. Whilst the US version has gained a lot of traction and became more popular, this show started in the UK and when compared to the US version, they’re entirely different shows at least in the way that they are presented. In this article, I’ll compare them both side by side and try to figure out which one is the better version. And this article will be unbiased even though I’m English because I like them both.
Let’s start at the beginning.
‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ first aired in 2004 and of course stars the world famous, world renowned, Lord of his own Restaurant Empire, King of Cursing and I think he’s a chef as well, Gordon Ramsay.
Ramsay had been on TV before in a documentary series which followed him running a restaurant on his own and if I remember right, attempting to become the youngest chef to ever earn 3 Michelin Stars, the record at the time being held by his mentor, Marco Pierre White. He did eventually earn 3 Michelin stars but he’d gone past the deadline.
Gordon Ramsay in known throughout the world for three things. Number one, being a great chef. Number two, never being off the TV and number three, for having a very short and loud temper. The documentary series that I mentioned was called ‘Boiling Point’ and for good reason because Ramsay blows up more often than that Italian volcano and often, over nothing. When I watched that programme, I thought to myself, it’s people like him that is one of the reasons why working in a restaurant is fucking shit. I used to work in a restaurant and I fucking hated every second of it. It’s the worst job I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t wish that job on my worst enemy.
Before I saw that show, I had no idea that working in a restaurant even if it is very posh, could be such a harsh atmosphere. I know I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be a chef. I’m imagining the job and I’m imagining it being really hard and having the requirement of being psychotic just to do it. I don’t give that much of a shit. These people really care but to me, food is food. You eat it and move on.
I’m getting off topic.
The point is that although the show gained its mass appeal in America, a touch of respect should be paid to its origins. I would like to now review both versions starting with the UK version. Since it was the first. Hence, its origins.
The format for the UK version wasn’t as ‘clear-cut’ as the American version. The big difference immediately is that Gordon narrates each episode himself, giving his own perspective on the progression of the restaurant. Another difference is that the UK version is not censored which is brilliant since we’re not hearing ‘BEEP’ every few seconds when someone fucking swears. The interesting thing is that when the US versions are aired in the UK, they’re narrated by a Scottish guy and they’re not censored. In fact, I think the swearing is cut out.
Gordon will also go into greater detail as to the business side of running a restaurant than in the American version which I find mostly focuses on the food and the drama, but we’ll get to that later.
Everyone knows that a new TV show needs a great first episode to get the people interested and keep them coming back week after week. Shows like ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ are perfect for this as each week focuses on a different restaurant and so all they had to do was pick the worst, most run down and inept restaurant to start with. And they certainly did that.
Now I’m aware that most of the time on this site, I like to pick on and berate certain characters in a TV show and I think that’s fair because these characters are not real people. Because ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ is a reality TV show, these people are real and so I will be careful with my words. I’ll be honest but I don’t want to be disrespectful either.
‘Bonapartes’ was a restaurant in Silsden, Yorkshire and was run by a lady called Sue Ray. Her head chef, Tim Gray very quickly showed that he had no idea what he was doing in the kitchen and didn’t know the first thing about being a professional chef or how to run a kitchen. It was hardly a huge brigade with just himself and his sous chef, Lee but that’s not the point.
When Gordon first arrived, he didn’t taste the food like he normally would and instead went to finding out how Tim ran his kitchen in a dinner service. Mr Ramsay sent Tim and Lee out to find some guests and after bringing in 11 people, they struggled to finish the service.
All the staples of what was to become classic ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ traits are present in this first episode. A great amount of sympathy is placed on Sue Ray as she put all her money into Bonapartes and it was quickly going down the pan. The problems that Gordon immediately spotted were the ineptitude of the head chef, the horrid and disgusting state of the kitchen and that Bonapartes were attempting to do fine-dining in a country town where ‘fine-dining’ isn’t really what the locals are after. In the week that Gordon was there, he changed the menu to a more rustic, bistro style of menu, taught Tim the basics of being a chef which all led to a Valentines day evening in which the restaurant was fully booked and Tim and Lee pulled it off with very few mistakes. Success. Right? Wrong.
Gordon left the restaurant on a high note but one element of the UK version that was not carried onto the US version was that at the end, Gordon returns some time later to check that all his changes are being kept up. Sadly, in the case of Bonapartes, they’d gone back to their old ways. The fridges were a mess, Tim had received two written warnings from Sue and once again, few were dining in the restaurant.
The antics at this restaurant was broadcast as the first episode and the aftermath brought the first lawsuit for the show. After the Bonapartes episode aired, the restaurant didn’t last much longer. Bonapartes closed in 2005. During the revisit at the end of the episode, Ms Ray expressed her interest in closing down the restaurant and leaving the bar in operation but eventually, the whole establishment closed and according to Gordon’s revisit episode, Sue Ray had just escaped bankruptcy but had been left in tremendous debt.
As for the lawsuit. Since the restaurant went under, Ms Ray went to the papers and expressed her displeasure at the way the show portrayed her business and also alleged that it was because of the program that her restaurant failed. A newspaper subsequently printed allegations that certain scenes in the show had been faked. The show took the newspaper to court under accusations of Libel and won.
Reality TV is a difficult thing to make look real, if that makes sense. Ramsay is supposed to be there for a week or so and all that footage has to be compressed into a 45 minute show and it has to be appealing to the public so of course they’re going to put in Ramsay puking up rotten scallops and a disgusting kitchen because that’s entertaining television. When you sign up to be on a TV show, I wouldn’t be surprised when everything you’ve done wrong is broadcast to the nation. But that’s the point of the show. Ramsay comes in, fixes all the things that’s wrong and leaves the owners and the chefs with all the tools necessary to run the business properly. After that, it’s up to them. That doesn’t just go for Bonapartes, that goes for all the restaurants that didn’t succeed because they didn’t listen to Ramsay.
Let’s move on.
Ramsay visited 24 restaurants in the UK version and just 5 have stayed open but at least 4 of them are under new management.
The closure rate is pretty abysmal but that’s something I’ll get into at the end.
I’ve banged on enough about the UK version, let’s move across the pond.
The US version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is different straight away because they’ve dropped the ‘Ramsay’s’. Now it’s just ‘Kitchen Nightmares’. But what else is different? Well it’s narrated by an American and not just any American, he’s one of those ‘American’ Americans, do you know who I mean? He dramatizes everything and makes things sound more serious than they are. I suppose that’s his job and he’s only reading from a script in a little sound booth but I’m sure he’s related to that guy who did all the movie voiceovers. He’s that kind of guy.
Of course, the next big change is that the whole show is censored now and one thing that Gordon likes doing is swearing which is particularly annoying to hear the aforementioned ‘BEEP’ every five seconds. But moving that aside, and I’m going back to the narrator here. Gordon Ramsay is not referred to by his name but his title. Well, it’s not really a title, it’s more of his occupation. He’s now ‘Chef Ramsay’ in the vast majority of the narration. I don’t know why but that winds me up. It is accurate in that he’s a chef and his last name is Ramsay. I think it’s because it makes him sound more important than he actually is. He’s a chef. He makes food for a living. Not anymore, I suppose. Now he just shouts at people for a living. All over the world. Well, in Europe and America. A Trans-continental shout-machine.
Having said that, some of the states those kitchens are in, I’d be angry too if I knew my food was cooked in there. No wonder Ramsay’s throwing up all the time.
That’s beside the point.
The point is that the dynamic of the show changed when it went over to America. In two ways, in fact. Very suddenly, there was a rigid formula. You could see that the show had been split into sections. There’s a little film at the beginning with the owner, chefs and waiting staff talking about how shit things have gotten, Gordon arrives, tastes the food, hates the food, berates the chefs, watches a dinner service, searches the fridges, shuts down the service, berates the chefs some more, decorates the dining room and fixes the kitchen, changes the menu, watches a successful dinner service and then pisses off. All of these aspects happen in Kitchen Nightmares, not always in every episode but they will all be found somewhere.
Another thing that changed was that show became a lot less about the ins and outs of running a restaurant and more about drama. In every episode there some kind of drama happening whether it be marital disputes or sibling rivalry or kids hating their parents and Gordon Ramsay has to take off his chef whites and turn into a fucking family counsellor. He’s a chef, not Sigmund Freud. But inevitably, all the drama has to do with the restaurant failing and so by Gordon fixing it, everything’s better by the end of the episode.
One thing that the American version loves to do more than the UK version is create some hate figures. I don’t think I’m out of turn in saying that. In many episodes, Gordon will find the one person in which all the misery in the restaurant is centred around and just pick away at them for the rest of the episode. Usually by the end, that person will have proved themselves and Gordon will shake their hand before he leaves and granted, some of them appear to absolutely deserve it. This is where the ‘editing’ debate comes into play.
If you watch very closely at the end credits the next time you watch an episode then you’ll see a little disclaimer that says ‘The footage in this program has been edited such that in places it is shown in a different time sequence than actually shot’.
Especially in the US, ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ has faced criticism from a small number of the owners about the show making them look bad in editing and I agree to an extent. It’s not nice to be portrayed as something that you’re not and none of the audience have met these people on the show and don’t know what they’re really like. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, Ramsay’s only there for a week and so all the footage has to be edited down to 45 minutes and, they’re only going to show the bits that are the most ‘televisual’ aspects whether that be good or bad. If you’re on camera and you say something that might make you look a bit pompous or a bit arrogant then they’ll use it because it’s good TV.
I could sit here and list all my favourite episodes but I’d be here for ages and I’m getting bored of typing so whilst we’re talking about episodes where the owners have received the most backlash for their behaviour then the absolute Holy Grail has to be ‘Amy’s Baking Company’.
This episode and the restaurant became infamous as it’s the one restaurant that Gordon Ramsay walked away from because as he puts it, ‘the owners were incapable of listening’. The owners had a reputation for shouting at customers, throwing out customers and firing staff and when Ramsay arrived, he got to witness it all first hand. As did the audience.
If you’re reading this then you must have seen the episode, if not then you’ll find it somewhere on the internet. I’ve checked and it’s still on YouTube. I say that because I don’t want to type everything out that they did wrong. I’ve heard people say that they were delusional, but I think that they were more paranoid than delusional. They thought that people were coming in and being difficult just for the sake of being difficult. They also mentioned that some people had been on ‘Yelp’ and other review sites and making stuff up about the food and their behaviour. But when Gordon turned up, he didn’t like the food and he was shocked by their behaviour. That should speak that there is something wrong. Gordon is there to help them but they didn’t like his classic style of honesty and saw it as an attack. It became very clear to Gordon and the audience that he was wasting his time.
All I will say is what I’ve always said is that actions have consequences. Editing plays a part to a small degree, but editing does not choose what you say or how you act or what your own colleagues say about you.
Now, I don’t want to add to the thousands of other people who have had some… colourful opinions about Amy and Sammy. I like a good meme as much as the next person, but the deepest, darkest pit of the internet is a terrible place and some people took it too far. No one deserves death threats because of a TV show.
Did I mention that the restaurant closed?
Speaking of, the figures are a bit flimsy since this show started over 10 years ago and there is a site that you can go to that tells you whether or not the restaurants Ramsay visited are still open. The vast majority are in fact closed. 70 – 80% in fact. That could be for a number of reasons. Normally, people call Ramsay in as a last resort and they’re so far in debt that no amount of good business will help them but some others didn’t stick to Ramsay’s advice. The good news is that of the restaurants that are still open after all this time are getting good reviews and are doing well.
Since Gordon Ramsay finished ‘Kitchen Nightmares’, I think he still does the US version of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and he started another show called ‘Hotel Hell’ which is basically ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ except only in hotels and he decorates the rooms as well as helping the kitchen.
More recently, Ramsay’s started a show called ‘Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back’ which I haven’t seen but judging by the title I’m guessing it’s ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ but against the clock.
That’s pretty much it, really. So, which one’s better?
Truth? It’s a draw.
Like I said at the start, I love this show. Both the UK and US versions have their appeal and are great for binge-watching. Gordon Ramsay himself is a great host and you can see that he really wants these restaurants to succeed.
But, for a little advice to anyone who might find Ramsay intimidating or a little bit scary when he’s in one of his shouty moods, remember this…. Marco Pierre White made him cry.
By the way, have you seen my book yet? It’s really good and written by me.