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“Kitchen Nightmares” returns, sort of

Last night FOX aired a partial episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” that was a rerun (following President Bush’s farewell speech), and then the conclusion of Season 2 with a new episode. This was sort of odd because this show hasn’t aired since before the holidays, so it’s almost like they kept this show in the bank when they didn’t know what else to air. It was also a good way to promote the upcoming new season of Gordon Ramsay’s other show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” which kicks off on January 29.

With that, here is what happened in the new episode last night. The restaurant is Cafe 36 in Lagrange, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Owners Terry and Carol are semi-retired and it was Terry’s dream to open an upscale, French-themed bistro. So this was it. But little did the owners know that their head chef, Pinto, was running their business into the ground by cutting huge corners and serving stale food that was still taking too long to come out of the kitchen.

Gordon Ramsay arrived and couldn’t believe that on some nights this place was turning over something like 6-8 dinners a night. Not tables, DINNERS. Yikes. So Ramsay, as he always does, ordered some food to try–a risotto, a duck salad and some salmon crepes. The risotto was mushy and crepes were frozen and re-cooked, and not only that…this food took about 40 minutes to prepare, at lunch time! Wow. Ramsay went to find that Pinto had been using rice that was over a week old, and that the crepes were not fresh. A stickler for freshness and simplicity, Ramsay knew that this was the reason Cafe 36 was failing.

Before the dinner service that night, Ramsay takes a walk into the freezer and finds out that Pinto has been freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing EVERYTHING. It’s really disgusting. Then during the service, he gets to see first hand just how slow everything moves, accentuated by the fact that Pinto and sous chef Barney do not communicate, and Terry does not run a very tight ship to begin with, allowing his servers to mouth off at everyone else. Customers start leaving and it’s a disaster that night.

The next day, Ramsay gives Pinto and Barney a lesson in how to make a fresh mushroom risotto as well as some other specials including a goat cheese fritter salad prepared tableside. After a re-opening, the problem of no communication and slow service are still prominent. People leave before their food arrives, again.

So Ramsay and his design team transform the restaurant, much to the delight of Carol and Terry, and Terry agrees that he needs to be more assertive with Pinto and everyone else. Ramsay also helps streamline the menu to make things easier. But once the dinner service begins, Pinto is still slow…that is, until Terry takes control and starts directing everyone at the pass. Food starts flying out of the kitchen and the customers love the new menu. I can’t imagine it was that easy, but that’s what happened.

Ramsay leaves Carol and Terry with the advice that they need to do something about Pinto, and Ramsay shows that he genuinely likes this couple and wants them to succeed. We receive word from the announcer man that the following day, Pinto left the restaurant and Barney was promoted to head chef. Was Pinto fired or did he leave on his own? I say the former, because he appeared to be too proud to quit. But either way, Ramsay, as well as all of us watching, knew it was the only way this place was going to live to serve more food. Way to go, Gordon!

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