Responsibility (and Nightmares)


This essay started out with a foundation building upon Gordon Ramsay.

No… really… Gordon Ramsay.

More to the point… Ramsay, and his shows Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Kitchen Nightmares.

I’ve been working around the house a lot lately, often inside, and like to have something on in the background. Usually I’m hoping to find something that… even though it might be something I haven’t seen before… I don’t have to focus on, can catch up to the story quickly if I lose track, and won’t mind too much if I miss chunks of it.

Thank you BBC America and repeat episodes of two of Ramsay’s shows for offering something a bit outside of my normal routines. Overall they are fairly well made, have a decent flow to them, and follow along a consistent… if not blatantly predictable, right down to the moment Ramsay takes off his shirt… pace.

Funny thing about the shows though. You begin to get curious about the restaurants Ramsay visits. How did the owners and employees make out? Is the restaurant still open? And that in turn becomes where some of the real excitement is.

Depending on a few things -- such as, how you word a search phrase… if you look for a specific single restaurant… and so on… -- you’re search results will vary. Even so, inevitably you will find some of the following…

  • People stunned that considering his so-called professional expert status, well over half… actually, according to most places that are trying to keep track, more than 60%... of the restaurants Ramsay has assisted have closed.
  • People stunned that… considering several studies seem to show that more than half of all restaurants that open end up failing in less than a year, and Ramsay’s shows feature establishments having significant troubles in several areas… only about 60% of the restaurants Ramsay has assisted have closed.
  • People complaining about editing.

…and so much more. People critical of Gordon Ramsay… people praising Gordon Ramsay… people complaining about the show and the producers… and the list goes on and on.

I had originally approached this as a possible essay about Gordon Ramsay and those crazy people on that whacky internet. It was going to be about perception. After all, many people writing their theories and opinions seem… in my observations… to be missing some of the most fundamental elements of the show. In fact, this even goes for the participants.

First up as a for instance… OF COURSE the show is going to be edited in a way that favors Gordon. What the heck do some of these owners and staff think? That they’re so amazingly special that the producers are going to decide to make Ramsey look like an ass while showcasing them in a bright, special spotlight?

Several decades ago I was dating a girl that, for lack of a better description, we’ll simply refer to as high maintenance. (Ok… fine… VERY high maintenance.) One night we were watching television with her mother, she started talking something that is no longer important (to me or this story), got up, and walked into another room.

What I do recall today is it was something that left no doubt I was going to need to do something stupid. Her mother and I exchanged glances, and this next part I absolutely remember to this day. Heck, it made such an impression on me that I can almost still feel like I am sitting in that room. Her mother’s eyes caught mine, and within her gaze it was said: “Yes, my daughter is off her rocker and being an idiot.”

I’d like to add that the look also added something -- “…and good luck with her…” or such -- but I can’t. As much as I would like to believe it was there, it wasn’t. Instead, the look unmistakably said: “Yes, my daughter is off her rocker and being an idiot.”

Now… can you find the two most important words in that sentence?

I can give you a few seconds. (All set? Cool...)

Congrats to those of you that decided -- my daughter.

Her mother wasn’t going to do anything long lasting in support of me. I was dating her daughter. And I wasn’t even remotely close to being a member of the family. Our relationship didn’t last… and I wish her the best with however her life has gone over the years and is going today... hopefully we both found better things for our needs. (I know I did.)

More to our considerations here though, the young lady was her daughter… and in the same way, Ramsay is the star of the show. Short of a track record of mistakes and confrontations for which he has no defense, there isn’t much of a chance that those invested in the success of the show won’t do everything they can to assist the star in looking good. The participants are extras… interchangeable extras that will no longer be on set next week. The crew wants to work equals Ramsay being the most important for them.

Second… the track record of success is honestly quite stunning.

I mean… let’s think about it… my understanding of the process involved in applying to be on the show goes something like this: you have a restaurant that is in deep trouble, you heard the show takes applocants, and... well... that’s enough. You have problems and found out how to get the show's attention.

It could be bad food, financial concerns that are well beyond significant, personality problems, or a number of other concepts (and often combinations of more than one)… but the most simplistic concept seems to be that a restaurant is in trouble. (Chaos and ignorance being a bonus.)

Now… the reality is we’re quite likely being handed or finding bad numbers about restaurant closings. More than half fail in less than a year? There are studies that show the number may be closer to 25%. And, there are also studies that show if you wait three years, the number of places taking down the name and closing their doors could be as high as 80%. Manipulate the conditions and parameters and you can pretty much move to any level in between zero going out of business and absolutely all of them.

A reality that becomes not even a side note… if you have forever to wait, eventually pretty much every business closes. Very few amusement parks can match Dyrehavsbakken in Denmark (opened in 1583) and Lake Compounce in Connecticut (opened in 1846). The more time that passes, the more restaurants Ramsay assisted will close. People sell the business… retire… and so on. His success rate will not improve... and, frankly, can not improve.

But one thing is consistent… Ramsay is visiting establishments that opened their doors and, at some point, took a giant step backwards.

So I moved along… adding a pinch of this and a dash of that to my notes… developing this essay and expanding some thoughts. And, something else began to hit me.

Quite often, the thrust of the show becomes not salvaging the restaurant that opened, but creating a restaurant that could stay open.

And that’s as important as it is easy to miss. The establishment and the intentions that went into first opening the doors… the theme, the menu, the efforts… get moved to the side. They don’t say it happens. But it does.

And it’s hard to argue the concept if that’s the conscious approach being made. You rarely see people go into business with the idea being to fail spectacularly, close up shop, and leave most involved in financial, emotional, and physical ruin.

For a moment though, consider what Ramsay (and his team) so often does… he redecorates the restaurant and creates a new menu.

In simple terms… if someone told you that your chicken saltimbocca was beyond belief… and as a result of that signature dish, you opened your restaurant with chicken saltimbocca proudly featured as a specialty… is it the same restaurant if Ramsay takes chicken saltimbocca off the menu?

Expand that thought to truly encompass what goes into opening a restaurant.

That left me wondering… how free is Ramsay to change the world? Is any time given to discussing the menu with participants so they can explain the importance of mom’s special chocolate cake, dad’s favorite stuffed mushroom appetizers, or grandma’s legendary gravy? Does the color of the paint, the style of the chairs, or any other element of design involve some important meaning? And when is this an element of Ramsay’s approach? …or, more importantly perhaps, is this ever an element of Ramsay’s approach?

Because quite often, Ramsay appears to change everything. About the only thing left standing is that, more often than not, a seafood restaurant has a new seafood menu. (And so on. But even that isn’t a hard and fast rule.)

So there I am, with… “wow, look at Ramsay go”… “geez, saving a third of these places is a miracle because I wouldn’t set foot near them after watching this”… and “they seemed so proud of that chowder, I wonder if he tried to save the dish by talking to them about how to adjust it and improve it instead of chucking it and bringing in his own minestrone”… darting through my head.

And I was working on different concepts such as those for my essay and a theme of perception. Until, in one episode, I hear something else. And I realize that what we have here is a blindingly brilliant lack of responsibility.

See, it’s funny. As I said a moment ago, the script follows a bit of a formula. Introduction… meal that Ramsay entirely, or at least mostly, finds bland or disgusting… observe a service filled with problems… new paint and re-launch with a new menu… hiccup for dramatic tension... leave with the foundation of potential success and high hopes. Everyone hugs.


But obviously, success doesn’t just happen. As the expression goes, water finds its own level. You can’t take lazy, disorganized, and just generally bad at business people and turn them around in a week by brushing on a fresh coat of paint and sharing a few thoughts on sauces for chicken.

In one of the British episodes, the restaurant closes and the owner goes on to become a prostitute. We are talking about extremes. We are talking about life.

That said… back to the one episode that struck me… the time I heard a very telling comment made.


The owners expected an appearance on the show would help promote their business.

I will repeat that. And let’s expand it a bit for empahsis...

The owners stated that, in their way of thinking, just the appearance on Ramsay’s show would help save their business.

And there it is folks… ignorance on parade.

Ok… well… there is a bit more. You have to understand that the owners had this arrogance as they were saying this. Allow me to explain.

They most certainly DID NOT tell a story of hard work where they were arriving at the restaurant seven days a week to put in 18-20 hours each day, no days off in years, had fallen behind in their bills and could barely pay the staff, couldn’t afford advertising or any upgrades to the location, and, with their fingernails clawing the boards for every last moment of holding on, as a last act had applied to be on the show and hoped Gordon Ramsay would be able to assist them with their business, make some improvements that they simply couldn’t see or work out on their own, and when the show was broadcast be able to announce their new and improved restaurant with a sincere hope to get some additional attention for a business they loved.

That was NOT the message they were presenting.

These people thought their food was great, and the place was brilliant. For some reason quite unknown to them, that they could not figure out (because obviously they knew they were awesome), they weren’t getting the business volume they deserved. So, a shout out to Gordon, let’s get him down here. There’s nothing he can tell us that we don’t already know. We run a better kitchen than he ever could. We run a better restaurant than he ever could. He’ll love us. But he does have a show on television, and we could get some free advertising for ourselves on it.

That was how they offered up the idea that an appearance on the show would help them. Again, the owners expected an appearance on the show would help promote their business.

Now… funny thing… go back a bit and take a look at what I said about the restaurants that appear on the show. Actually, here’s my quote:

“It could be bad food, financial concerns that are well beyond significant, personality problems, or a number of other concepts (and often combinations of more than one)… but the most simplistic concept seems to be that a restaurant is in trouble. (Chaos and ignorance being a bonus.)”

What I said could be read simply -- “…a restaurant is in trouble.”

What I left out was even more telling. Many episodes have kitchens that, to put it kindly, wouldn’t pass a health inspection. …food in storage that is, to put it kindly, spoiled. …staff that is, to put it kindly, jackasses.

Have you watched an episode or two? Than you know what I mean. Even the episode featuring the woman that turns to prostitution. Let’s not question her choices for career endeavors… let’s not place any type of values or judgments upon her for that. Just watch the Piccolo Teatro episode if you can. Watch Gordon speak to her father. Watch Gordon assist a cook he finds talented and dedicated. Fancy editing or not, I’m guessing Rachel (the owner) and her work ethic will not impress you. (Funny thing… losing 70,000-pounds a year (and in the link I’m about to provide she actually is quoted as saying her place was losing about 6,000-pounds each month)… she blames Ramsay for the doors closing: “It became more chaotic after he turned up…” and yet, we are told, she uses the episode to advertise her current services.)

My subtle point is… if things were going well, you wouldn’t ask to be on the show. And, quite often, the restaurants that are on the show… well… the cameras often depict establishments that I wouldn’t want to set foot inside after seeing the episode. (All of which makes Ramsay’s success rate even more impressive. But back to the ignorance and arrogance and lack of responsibility…)

Amazingly this owner wanted Ramsay to show up, say everything was great, and broadcast an hour-long testimonial about the restaurant’s brilliance and his general awesomeness.

And all I could do was shake my head.

We’ve reached a point where everything in the world, for many people, is someone else’s fault. When things are bad, way, way, way too often people refuse to even consider that they might in even the smallest of ways have something to do with the misfortune that consumes them.

By and large, the nightmare on the show is self-generated. Produced and created by the person facing it. But who wants to admit that they’re wrong? It feels so much nicer to have someone show up, offer a hug, and say “hey, not your fault”… it’s want they want to hear, because it’s what they believe.

Are we really surprised by this?

Commercials on television seem to tell us that failing to pay our debts… breaking the law… and on and on… can be solved by calling this attorney, visiting this accountant, or taking this medication. Because, you know, it’s not your fault. (Hugs!)

And somehow… somehow we all seem surprised that people expect something for nothing.

More power to Ramsay for the success he had with the shows and his efforts. (And a wish you never have to meet those that blamed him… and only him… for their failures after he left.)

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at