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Welcome back, Gasmii! It’s a new year and a new season of Kitchen Nightmares, in which we follow our favorite disgruntled chef from crappy restaurant to crappy restaurant and watch him yell at them until they straighten up. Gordon kicks off the season at Michon’s, a smokehouse outside Atlanta that suffers from an ill owner. His daughter seems to be a slacker, and the kitchen is full of disorganized, unmotivated cooks, who do the bare minimum, despite having access to top of the line equipment. Michon’s is a family-owned place that features smoked barbecue and southern food, with the kind of menu that would inspire me to eat my own weight in meat and carbs until I have to be rolled to the parking lot. Unfortunately the owner, Al, recently suffered a collapsed lung and had to have an operation, and since he’s been out, the whole place has gone to shit. The food arrives in the dining room cold and carelessly prepared, the kitchen staff is lazy and doesn’t want to deal with complaints or returned food, and as one of the servers puts it, “If it tastes like shit, don’t nobody wanna eat there.”
Right off the bat, we can see that the main problem lies in the fact that most of the food prep seems to involve a microwave. The meat is made way ahead of time, stored in the fridge, and then nuked before being served, and people are understandably not happy with it. I can dig it—if I wanted dried out, stringy-ass, microwaved barbecue meat, I can easily prepare that at home for a fraction of the price. Al and his wife, Gaye, want to see their daughter, Natalie Michon, take over the restaurant so Al and his remaining good lung can retire. Unfortunately, Natalie doesn’t appear to share her parents’ work ethic. In fact, she’s what she describes as a “relaxed, hands-off” manager, which, when translated, we find means she spends most of her time in the office and doesn’t give two shits that she’s driving her family’s business straight down the toilet. Al and Gaye are sweet people, who obviously love their daughter very much, and so maybe possibly haven’t been as consistent in instilling discipline as they could have been. A nice twist to this is that Daddy Al has the place wired up like The Bellagio, so that he can observe the bullshit going on in his restaurant via camera from the comforts of his own home. The combination of what he sees happening and the restaurant’s mounting debt prompts him to call in the Man. Gordon meets with Daddy Al and they agree that something must be done. Daddy Al has the awful notion that handing the restaurant over to Natalie is a good idea. At least he has the sense to know she needs Gordon Ramsay up her ass for a while before she takes the reins full time. I can’t tell if Gordon approves, but he agrees to storm Michon’s and see the state of things for himself. Turns out, Natalie has been mostly working in a HR capacity, and seems surprised to learn anything more is expected out of her. She can’t name the last time she took the pressure off her dad, and she doesn’t appreciate it when Gordon calls her out for being a lazy, unappreciative slacker who doesn’t realize the good fortune she has to be handed a restaurant by her parents. She feels disrespected in her own restaurant, and betrayed by her dad. One of the main problems is that Daddy Al and Sweet Mama Gaye don’t treat her like they would any employee, and she gets away with a lot of behavior they wouldn’t tolerate from someone they didn’t birth. Blame all around here. Todesha, our straight-talking server from earlier, site down with Gordon and makes him appreciate a beautiful black woman. Seeing him flirt is hilarious, and to top it off, she has no problem telling Gordon flat out that the issue in the place is management. Natalie makes sure they get paid, and that’s it. She’s lazy, Todesha says, and follows it up with a “Yeah, I said it.” She takes Gordon’s order, but has to inform him that they have no potato salad because the kitchen staff doesn’t like peeling potatoes. Beg pardon? That excuse doesn’t sit right with me or Gordon—since when does a line cook get to choose whether or not he gets to do his job? Is there just never any potato salad being served because potato peeling is an unsavory task? Sweet Mama Gaye, whose specialty is front of house customer service, brings out one of their signature smoked chicken wings, and Gordon is surprised at how dry it is. “Welcome to Michon’s,” Todesha says, and informs Gordon that the kitchen bootlegs most of the food because they just don’t care. The girl may be blunt, but every restaurant needs a server like that. She’s not afraid to name the problem, and you can tell she’s sick as hell of having to hear the customers complain (rightfully so) and having her hands tied to do anything about it.
Sweet Mama Gaye goes back to the kitchen to find out why the wings taste like shit, and the staff casually informs her—THEIR BOSS—that they just served Gordon fucking Ramsay some microwaved, leftover wings from the day before. Instead of tearing them a bunch of new assholes, she just sighs, dumps the remains of the wing, and goes to inform Gordon that the wings were old. And she doesn’t even know if he can get fresh wings out of that kitchen. Do these people do a goddamn thing back there? The food has to come from somewhere, right? So where is the fresh meat? Gordon is surprised by how fast the rest of the food comes out, which really is a bad sign in a restaurant, and then reaches his limit when he finds a rotten tomato wedge stinking up his “gourmet salad.” He shows it to Todesha, who is completely unsurprised. She takes it back to the kitchen, and Natalie is totally fine with the fact that they just served rotten food in their dining room. She doesn’t see a problem with it, she says, but hey, she’s not a chef. “No, your name is only on the building,” says another server, and I have to say, I think Al needs to come up with a better alternative than Natalie. Unless she can really get it together in the next 45 minutes, he needs to start looking at hiring outside the family. Gordon’s smoked ribs are shit, the cornbread is like sand, and one by one the sides are tried and deemed horrible. “Girl, they just fucked up all this man’s food,” Todesha says to a passing coworker. Apparently, this is typical. The work ethic in the kitchen needs some serious help. Gordon makes Todesha sit down and try the food, which even she doesn’t want to do. She knows better than to eat the food there. Gordon tries everything on the menu, and it all sucks. Todesha leads him to the kitchen, and informs us there’s gonna be some shit around here. I want Todesha to replace Morgan Freeman as narrator for everything. Gordon meets Archie, Terrance, Terrell, Calvin, and Joe. So it takes five people to microwave a bunch of old cornbread? There’s no head chef, and no one seems to know what the hell is going on. Nothing was smoked the same day—some of the smoked meat was smoked three days ago, actually. Everything he was served that day, with the exception of the rotten salad, had taken a trip through the microwave. He rips into everyone, but focuses mostly on Natalie, who seems to just shut down. He says if his name was on that building, he’d be making sure the food sent out was the best damn stuff on earth. Considering that we’ve seen him hold to that standard over and over again on Hell’s Kitchen, we know he’s not exaggerating. She doesn’t seem to share his enthusiasm, and you can see poor Daddy Al wishing they’d tried harder for that second baby. You’re killing your father, Natalie. Gordon hangs out in the kitchen to observe dinner service, and watches in horror as they just reheat a bunch of stuff and slop it on plates. Their work seems to consist of portioning the food out into baggies the day (or week, or whatever) before, then chucking it into the microwave once the order comes in.
Natalie has never been inside another restaurant’s kitchen, so has no clue how things are done elsewhere. Gordon loves the equipment, and can’t understand how the meats cooked in the nice smokers come out tasting like shit. Turns out it’s not the smokers—he tries some of the meat in there, and it’s great. The problem is, this great meat isn’t going out the day it’s made. It’s going into baggies and will be nuked and served a few days down the line. Wow.
Gordon calls Natalie out and demands to know why these fresh wings, cooked in $17,000 smokers, aren’t being served. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” she says, which only makes her sound silly. It’s not quite rocket science. They have to cook every day regardless, to make enough for the next day, so why not serve fresh food? It’s as if they made way too much food on opening day, balked at tossing the leftovers, and have been playing catch up ever since.
Back in the kitchen, Gordon sees sloppy plates go out and come right back in, mostly untouched. People are sending piles of food back, and the kitchen staff doesn’t give a rat’s ass. Some people would be lining up for pink slips if I ran that place, especially when jobs are so hard to come by these days. The servers (who, let’s remember, are the ones having to take the heat from the dissatisfied customers), yell at the cooks, and are blown off. Natalie stands in the middle of everything with a resigned look on her face, and Gordon, just can’t believe what he’s seeing. He tells Sweet Mama Gaye that the place is too disorganized and has no leader, and she agrees, but what will she do? She’s just the nice lady who greets people and nods her head a lot, she’s never been the one running that kitchen. I wonder if Natalie even cares about inheriting the business. It seems like she might be a lot happier trying out a different career. Gordon starts poking around in the kitchen and finds like seventeen plastic bins of smoked wings stashed in the fridge. They were all cooked the day before, along with a shitload of other meat. He dumps them all out on the counters, and we see they equal a veritable chicken graveyard.
I think the only solution for this kitchen is to go for the throat: get rid of all the microwaves and every speck of cooked food in the place, and make them start from scratch the next day. They’ll be forced to serve what they just cooked, whether they like it or not. He calls the staff in to look at the sheer amount of wings, and many of them seem surprised. A few look guilty, and Daddy Al looks pissed. I guess he needs to check his cameras more often. Gordon wants to know why all the shitty food was served when they have a smoker full of fresh food. Line cook Keno is appalled. He says it makes him realize that the money spent on all that wasted food could be money going in his pocket as a raise. Keep on thinking positive, Keno.
Gordon says that the problem is the rudderless, head up their ass mentality. “Tell me about it,” says a server. Natalie wants to know what they’re supposed to do with the 700 extra wings at the end of the night: throw them away? Gordon explains simple math to her, and tells her she’s in denial. “I’m not in denial, I’m learning,” she denies, and Gordon tells her that part of the learning process is to get involved and take responsibility for what leaves the kitchen. He takes Natalie aside and tells the rest of the staff to stay put and count all the fucking wings. I wish a camera or two had stuck around to see if anyone actually started counting. Gordon asks Natalie why she hasn’t stepped up and taken responsibility, and why she walks around like Little Miss Perfect. They argue about whether she does or not, and Gordon says the problem is she hasn’t heard that enough, that she’s never had to work for what she was given, and she doesn’t care enough to pull her head out of the smoker and take the reins. Naturally, she denies all of this, but I have to agree when Gordon says she should either step up and start actually doing some work, or hand the reins over to someone who would appreciate them. The next morning, Gordon holds a staff meeting to find out from the horse’s collective mouth what the worst issues are. Unbeknownst to the staff, Al, Natalie, and Sweet Mama Gaye are watching on the office monitor. I wonder if the staff knows that place is so heavily wired. The main issue seems to be lack of organization, consistency, and leadership. Those combined with a slack kitchen staff that doesn’t bother to communicate or even work the same stations on a daily basis has left the place in disarray. They yell at each other and everyone gets upset, even our girl Todesha. They’ve all had it with the way things are going, but no one there really has the authority to turn things around.
They can all agree that Natalie doesn’t do a damn thing to run the place, though. Hearing that makes her none too happy, and surprisingly it seems to get through to her. Gordon returns to the office and asks Natalie if she’s truly ready to step up and take responsibility to turn the place around. When Natalie says she is, poor old Daddy Al looks like he might weep with pride and relief.
Gordon makes Natalie tell her parents directly what the restaurant means to her, and there’s lots of tears and hugging. Aw. They seem like a good family, and if Daddy Al and Sweet Mama Gaye dropped the ball a bit by spoiling Natalie, they counteracted that with plenty of love and support, and did instill enough pride in her that she recognizes the importance of their legacy. Natalie might just be okay, once she drops the little princess mentality. Make her scrub out that smoker, for starters, then get her out there to wait some tables. Let her see what the staff deals with, so she can think of ways to fix it.
Gordon sits down with Natalie, and we get to see his cuddly side. He tells her not to be afraid to make mistakes because he’s made thousands. He says she needs to select someone to be head cook, someone who will keep the others in line and make everyone do their jobs, so she gathers the kitchen staff and promotes Terrence to head chef. The rest of them seem to accept that gladly, and Terrence, a long-term employee who’s apparently always put his heart into microwaving old meat, is excited to see his work paying off.
The next day, the staff arrives to find that Gordon has been working like Santa’s elves to redesign their menu and presentation. He’s made the smokers the backbone of the menu, and built artfully arranged entrées around the meat. He’s also made a point of featuring the smokehouse’s signature sauce at each table. Natalie and Sweet Mama Gaye are thrilled. Then Gordon says he has a very special visitor for Natalie. He whips out a mannequin named Chef Adam, a barbecue expert, who will be hanging out with them for the next month to support them and show Natalie the ropes of running a BBQ joint. Todesha and the rest dive into the entrees, and are all excited at the prospect of serving fresh food that tastes good.
Relaunch! The kitchen staff is decked out in fancy black aprons, and ready to roll. Natalie is excited to get things going, and there’s a line around the block to get in! As if that wasn’t enough pressure, Gordon has invited the event staff of the Atlanta BBQ Festival, a group of men who know their barbecue. Natalie welcomes them personally, and then we see that girl get into gear. She checks up on the kitchen, which Terrence has under control, then returns to the dining room to mingle with the customers. Unfortunately, the kitchen staff seems to be having issues cooking on deadline, and less than an hour in, the organization starts to fall apart. Customers are complaining, morale is starting to drop, and Gordon starts yelling, so we know things are serious. He forbids them from putting up any more dishes until the ticket board starts to clear. Gordon pulls Natalie aside and sends her in to wrangle the men. She talks them past it, and has the idea to show the BBQ festival folk the smokers. They all start to salivate, and it’s like they’re meeting a smoky, delicious incarnation of Jesus. Her tactic also allowed the kitchen to ignore the BBQ table’s orders for a few minutes and catch up on the rest of the tickets.
In the dining room, lo and behold, the customers are digging the new menu! Todesha says she can’t believe she’s seeing customers with smiles on their faces. I love her. All in all, the night ended well, and Gordon is quite proud of the way the staff worked together and pulled off the relaunch. He’s especially proud of Natalie, and says Daddy Al would be proud, too, bless his heart. He’s resting at home, but I’m sure he’s watching the whole scene on camera from the comfort of his recliner.
Gordon is sad that Daddy Al was too ill to witness the relaunch in person, but knows he will be proud. Natalie seems to be thriving as the manager, Terrence has the kitchen under control, and Daddy Al has what he always wanted: A successful restaurant he doesn’t have to deal with run by the person he built it for. Next time, Gordon has to deal with a shrieking Greek woman and her bitter son. That should be good times. Join me next week for all the fun. To get the funniest quotes from TVgasm recaps as they’re posted, follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook page! You can post your favorite lines right back at us. Thanks for being here!