This week on Kitchen Nightmares, we meet a man so unbalanced that even Gordon Ramsay is speechless. Now that’s something.
Burbank: home to movie studios, wheeling and dealing, and …. fat people? Holy shit, if I knew you were allowed to eat in Burbank I wouldn’t be hiding in my apartment stuffing my face with Domino’s and Milky ways on the other side of the hill. I’d be hiding in Burbank and stuffing my face in public.
I am so moving.
Tonight’s Nightmare comes courtesy of Sebastian’s Pizzeria, named after it’s nightmare owner, Sebastian. Before he even opens his mouth, we know Sebastian’s the real deal because he sits in front of a wall of his own framed headshots in his office. All actors have flattering versions of themselves on display in the pictures they audition with, but Sebastian is a downright liar. Or he’s a creative visualist. Or just really, really crazy.
Hard to tell.
Sebastian breaks it down for us: he’s the shit. He can cook anything. Put a bolt of fabric in front of him and he’ll turn it into a 10,000 calorie meal. If he isn’t sent to the hospital after tasting his brilliant concoction, he’ll serve it to you. My friends and I used to joke about opening a stoner restaurant that only served Fruity Pebbles and peanut butter stirred into vanilla ice cream and other nasty things pot heads like to binge on. In a way, Sebastian is living our dream. French fries with chili beans heaped on top, French fries with something that looks like old gravy heaped on top, and French fries with something else brown and runny heaped on top. This guy understands the basic rule of food: French fries are good. He learned to slop brown chunky liquids onto plates of fries from his mother when he was just seven years old. I motion the sign of the crucifix and kiss my fingers. Rest in peace, Sebastian’s mom. He didn’t actually tell us she’s dead, but you know that woman’s heart had to have exploded by now.
Sebastian is not only a culinary mastermind, he’s also got sensitivity. He tells us that he’s polite to and understanding of his staff, but they paint a different picture. His waitresses are only putting in their time at this dump until Hollywood realizes that there’s a huge cultural demand for homely quirky “character actresses”, so they don’t take Sebastian too seriously. They just watch him pace around mumbling crazy talk to himself and absorb it like little actor sponges. You never know when you’re gonna be asked to play a doughy, middle aged semi-abino with crazy eyes. And if anyone’s gonna get that call from their agent, it’s one of these girls.
The kitchen staff, however, is a bit more afraid. As Lou-Bertha, the most awesome employee ever featured on any show ever, puts it:
“When he’s get upset, you better duck.”
To show us what a tight ship he runs, Sebastian walks into the fridge and starts yelling bout a plastic container of ricotta not being clean enough, and then he skulks behind a meek cook growling and throwing his hands up in the air. He’s a nice guy, but he has no problem firing a stupid person. He’s fired forty nine of them this year alone. There are either a lot of stupid people in Burbank, his expectations are way too high, or Sebastian’s really, really crazy.
Jury’s still out.
His kitchen staff, actually, doesn’t seem stupid at all. Just lost, like little kids left on the side of the road, positive their mom’s gonna turn back around and pick them back up after they’ve had time to think about what they’ve done. Who wouldn’t be lost? The menu is three full pages long, featuring pizzas with twenty something flavor combinations that the cooks have to remember. I say twenty something because no one in either the front or the back of the house seems to be able to pinpoint the exact number. You start by picking a meat, and you can have chicken, beef, portabello mushrooms, or steak. No wait. Shrimp. Steak?
Sad, meaningful piano music tinkles through the air, signifying our heartfelt moment with Sebastian. His wife, who looks like Roma Maffia from Nip/Tuck, comes to visit with the baby. Turns out Sebastian’s Pizzeria is all her fault. She gave her hubby over three hundred thousand dollars to open the place and keep it running. WHAT?? No fair. How the hell did Sebastian get a sugar momma? This woman is either the most insecure chick on the planet, or she likes having a spouse who’s a loser so she can feel like the smart one. As she nods with a condescending “of course you didn’t” smile as he explains that he didn’t make any money again today and rummages in his front shirt pocket for checks that aren’t there, I lean toward the latter. She tells us that she controls the purse strings, and she’s starting to resent the fact that she married the man in the headshots and ended up with this dude. The poor little kid looks like he completely understands the sick dynamic between his parents and wants to bolt.
Well, kid. Gordon Ramsay might night not be able to get you into Oprah’s boarding school, but he will try his damndest to make your dad less of a looza. On the first night of filming at the restaurant, no customers show, forcing Sebastian to close at eight. He would have closed at seven, but he was in the middle of a game of pool. Lou-Bertha knows that the place will close for good soon if someone doesn’t come along and save it, and she almost cries thinking about it. Poor Lou-Bertha! Not to fear! Gordo’s here! Actually, scratch that. Do fear.
Ramsay’s immediately put off by the sign in the front of the restaurant that advertises live music, a woodfire oven, breakfast, plazma tvs, free HBO, a hot tub, and sucky fucky five dolla. Sebastian is impressed as hell with him, though. Having Gordon Ramsay to help him cook is the equivalent of having Robert DeNiro around to help him act! It figures that this guy would idolize DeNiro, and I have a feeling his fascination springs more from the Cape Fear version of the actor than the New York, New York version.
Sebastian greets Gordo and seats him in the fanciest red pleather booth available. Gordo asks him if he should be in the back, but he says that he greets every single guest and leaks as much out of work actor desperation on them as he can before they eat. Yummy. Time to describe the concept! Gordo is horrified that there is a concept that extends beyond red pleather, bad art on the walls, and table cloths with glass on top, but Sebastian carries on with his vision.
I would say something bitchy about this dish, but I kinda think it’s brilliant.
Pick a meat, pick a combo, pick a sauce, then a marinade, then pick a number between one and twenty, then pick your favorite color and your your dream vacation. Gordo’s face is in his hands before the spiel is done, which the waitresses find hilarious. Sebastian doesn’t get it. When he stops for air, Ramsay says the hideous pictures of the sloppy food make him want to cut himself all over with a butter knife until he bleeds to death and he’s never seen a more complicated menu in his life, to which Sebastian proudly replies “I bet you haven’t!” Ugh. Not a compliment, crazy face. Ramsay orders calamari, which Sebastian claims is fresh. Cut to Sebastian telling the cameras he is offended that the Chef wouldn’t assume the calamari was fresh. Sebastian doesn’t serve frozen calamari! Ramsay rounds out his order with a Strip Steak, followed by the best pizza Sebastian can muster.
While Sebastian is in the kitchen working his magic, Gordo passes the time by playing with Sonja the waitress like a cat toy. He asks what she does and she twirls her flip do and baby talks. “I’m an aaaactress?” He asks if she plays with Sebastian. LOL, Ramsay. Sonja can’t tell if he’s suggesting she’s giving her boss ass (note to Sonja: he is) so he clarifies that he means do they play together as actors and she giggles, relieved that he wasn’t suggesting that she’s a slutty bimbo after all (note to Sonja: reread the first note).
She seems confused by Gordo’s sweetness. He asks her how she hasn’t become the next Sandra Bullock yet, where she found lipstick that bright, and if the calamari the busboy just brought is fresh. She is giggling so much at the first two questions that she forgets to lie.
“Frozen! I was so up for Premonition but they told me I was too real!”
Now Ramsay knows Sebastian is officially full of shit. Does the guy think the camera crew’s not gonna walk into the FREEZER?? When Sonja comes to check on Gordo, he asks for a sick bag. She’s all like um okaaaay and goes back to the kitchen to gleefully relay the diss to Sebastian, who tells her just to say yes sir and walk away. She replies uuuum like I guess okaaaaay. Then she tells the cameras Gordo wanted a puke bag and she couldn’t think of anything to say so she was all like umm okaaaay. I see a long future in the Royal Shakespeare company for this girl.
Sebastian is riled. He knows Ramsay’s a pro and everything, but saying he wanted to barf? Not cool. He looks for assurance from the teenager he has working as a chef, but the kid just shrugs, knowing that a wrong answer could be a rolling pin to the head. Sebastian decides to really focus and make sure the rest of the meal is pitch perfect. No, he doesn’t. He runs to his office and calls his parents. His mom, who’s still alive after all and talks like she’s in the middle of lung bingeing a carton of Marlboro Reds, can’t believe that Gordon doesn’t like the food! Poor widdle baby! Cough hack cough. She passes the phone off to the dad, who gruffly suggests Sebastian kick Gordo out on his ass. Trees grow from seeds, people. Somehow, this horribly dysfunctional family time inspires Sebastian with a new tactic.
He comes back into the kitchen and instructs Sonja to take the strip steak to the table and enthusiastically proclaim, “as Sebastian’s mother would say, MANGIA!” She has to repeat the word a couple times to get it right and works up the nerve to say an actual line on camera. She walks to the table, drops the plate, and throws her hands up in the air. “AS SEBASTIAN’S MOTHER WOULD SAY MANJUH”. Then she runs away, giggling. A PA points her back to the table. Woops. Forgot silverware. She brings a roll over and giggles and uuummmms and apologizes and he tells her to relax. She got the part. Awkward Giggling Projecting Waitress, this is your now.
Gordo can barely eat the meat, which looks like a plate of sopping wet Gravy Train, and he doesn’t even bother to taste the French fries doused in brown slime. I kind of feel bad for Ramsay, having to eat crap week after week, but I feel sorrier for Sebastian’s baby. No child should have to grow up like this.
Can’t breast feed forever.
Ramsay pulls Sebastian aside and gives him a supportive pep talk. He hopes the chef can act because his can’t cook for shit. Sebastian goes into an almost catatonic state of shock. Gordo gives him a moment to take that in and then asks why he lied about the calamari. “Because I’m not a four star restaurant!” Umkay. How can you use frozen dough for your supposedly famous pizza? Sebastian corrects him. He’s not famous for pizza, he’s famous for his “concept”, you know, the one that Ramsay’s too dense to wrap his highlights around. After Gordo curses and yells, Sebastian informs him that the pizzas he’s not known for are going to be in grocery stores everywhere and he is going to franchise his restaurant all over the world and call it, wait for it, Sebastian’s All Over The World. Ramsay shouts DELUSIONAL FAT F**KER and leaves for a breath of fresh air.
Sebastian goes back to the kitchen and high fives everyone. “I won that one!” Gordo comes back just in time to hear that and tries to explain to him that he’s won nothing and is pathetic and certifiable, and Sebastian uses my favorite argument. You are! Seeing that screaming and cursing aren’t working, Ramsay starts talking very slowly and quietly, asking what about the empty restaurant signifies success to Sebastian. Well, his wife keeps giving him money so he must be doing something right. Ramsay shakes his hand and peaces out. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it swallow it’s lithium. As Gordo leaves flabbergasted, Sebastian throws his arms up in victory. “I won that one!”
Since he is earning upwards of a million bucks an episode, Gordo returns to observe dinner service. The staff plays around and has fun prepping, and Waitress Mia explains that this is no ordinary restaurant. Everyone who works here is an actor (Shakespeare Sonja), a rapper (spitting off rhythm line cook), or a model (Mia(?!?!?!?)). Riiiiight. Glad to know Sebastian has some crazy to keep him company. This girl’s cross eyed.
Gordo looks disdainfully on as “customers” start filing off the FOX bus and into the restaurant. Sebastian hugs the women and tells them he’ll meet them at their tables for a beer. Oy. At least pretend to not suck so hard. The waitresses, obviously not used to having waited on anyone ever, have trouble explaining the menu. Before Model Ali tells us it takes up to twenty minutes to go through the spiel, so everything starts lagging. While Sebastian makes his rounds of grossing out the extras, whom he refers to as “the young who’s who of Hollywood”, Ramsay watches his staff try to keep it together in the kitchen. All they’re really doing is pressing buttons on the microwave and adding parsley to things, but timing is getting the best of them.
Dinner service is going downhill rapidly, so Sebastian kicks an offended Lou-Bertha off the line to prove to Ramsay that his talent is endless. He can drink, yell and microwave all at the same time. Things were bad when Sebastian was on the floor, but it’s just embarrassing to watch him act like he’s ever done anything in the kitchen Roma Maffia built. And now it’s time for my favorite part of the show! The Real Person’s Fifteen Minutes! An older lady with a New Yawk Squawk almost as grating as Sebastian’s has something in her salad that’s not lettuce. Her table screams, and Grissom and Marg Helgenberger come in to investigate what the non lettuce is.
CSI: All Over the World
“It’s a hair! There’s a hair in my salad! I know it’s not my hair, cuz it’s not dyed. Is that a hair? In my salad? That’s a hair! And it’s not mine! And it’s in my salad! A hair in my salad! I felt it going down my throat and then I caught it! My friend saw me pull it out of my mouth! I pulled a hair out of my mouth! A hair that was in my salad!” Well done, real person. Enjoy your Family Guy DVD box set and your gift certificate to Omaha Steaks. You deserve it. Sebastian looks around the restaurant and tries to figure out which employee he should fire for losing their hair.
It’s probably the same a hole who’s been sneaking into your house at night and clogging your shower drain.
Finally, Sebastian stops pretending and just does what he does best. Sits outside with some frightened real people and binge drinks while his restaurant is in chaos. Gordo comes out to ask sarcastically if he’s chillin’ with his friends. “Yup!” He demands to see him in the kitchen, so Sebastian polishes off a bottle of beer and waves at the real people. “See ya. I have to go” quote unquote fingers “work.” Ugh. Quote unquote fingers. Just when you thought he’d sunk as low as he can go, Sebastian has raised his unlikability quotient another notch.
Almost every single thing being served is pre-processed and frozen, and Sebastian has to good sense to not lie about it (again) to Ramsay. He explains that in order to franchise the place, everything has to be easily prepared. The Pakistan branch of Sebastian’s All Over The World can’t be expected to mix dough and water for pizza crust and still have time to pray five times a day. It’s gonna be hard enough to get the waitresses in berkas featuring “Without Sebastian’s, I’d Starve!” printed on the back.
He goes on to say that this restaurant is just his quote unquote fingers “launching” pad for his name and Gordo calls him a fake chef and says that if he thinks what he’s doing will get him anything other than a divorce, he’s beyond help. He gathers the staff and congratulates Sebastian’s Pizzeria for taking all three nominations for most confused restaurant ever conceived. Oh, I get it. Cuz you’re in LA! Three hundred dollars of food was comped because of bad service or mystery hairs, and that’s unacceptable. Sebastian has taken all of this in without losing it so far, but when he’s told in no uncertain terms that the menu is going to change, he starts pulling at his face skin like he’s trying to take it off. Sensing that a line is about to be crossed before he’s even had a chance to do anything, Gordo leaves it at that and goes home for the night.
Next day, the staff reconvenes. Gordo has come up with a brilliant, complex plan: turn Sebastian’s Pizzeria into a…drumroll…pizzeria. Confused murmers all around. Does anyone know how to toss dough? Sound of cows mooing in the distance. Don’t worry, he’s brought in professional tossers to show them how to be amazing tossers, tossers! Gordo calls them tossers about a hundred times, and it’s funny because he’s the only one who seems to know that “tosser” is cockney slang for “idiot”. There is a reason this man’s a star.
The staff is excited for the opportunity to play with real dough. Lou-Bertha is a little bit annoyed that she will have to get rid of her fingernails, otherwise known as the only things other than her braids keeping her from becoming a spitting image of Mike Tyson during the Robin Given years, but she’ll do what she’s told.
Who you callin a tosser?!?
The next day, the staff is shown the new place. It’s been rearranged for a more open, airy look, and almost all the chairs and tables are new. The biggest change is that there will no longer be frozen dough, because FOX has also sprung for a top of the line mixer! Lou Bertha cries and jumps up and down like someone just told her she could keep her nails, and even Sebastian has to smile. Good news out of the way, it’s time for a staff meeting.
Sebastian is immediately wary when he notices that Ramsay is holding two menus. One is the old six pager, which Gordo tosses far away as soon as he has everyone’s attention. The new menu is simple. A few fresh pizzas, a steak, and a whole chicken, all cooked in the wood burning grill. Sebastian starts pulling at his face skin and making air quotes at no one in particular. Gordo pokes at him, asking if he’s mad there aren’t any pictures. Ha. Sebastian says that there’s no “uniqueness”, and Gordo gently says he’s had his two and a half years to suck his way, now it’s time to try something new.
The night of the re-launch is the same night of the Academy Awards, so Ramsay rolls a red carpet out in front of the restaurant and makes sure FOX packs the place with as many real people as possible. As the staff of merry tossers gets ready for their big night, Sebastian paces around stewing, working himself up more and more by the minute. He mutters to himself about how he’s the only one who actually does any work around this place and the birds the birds they’re coming for me! He gets out the vacuum cleaner and kicks it, then calls Lou Bertha in to yell at her nonsensically. She diagnoses the problem for us: All the change “is a bit overwhelming for Sebastian’s head.”
You don’t say.
The night starts off with the customers responding well to the new menu and the staff of tossers is moving faster and more cohesively. It makes Sebastian insane. He finally starts to crack and gets to the kitchen. He makes food from the old menu (that no one ordered) and starts sending it to tables. He gets in the way and starts sabotaging his tossers, causing everything to slow down and get screwed up. Ramsay, who has been watching this breakdown unfold from afar all day, has to step in. Sebastian says that he’s not going to give up on his uniqueness, which leads Gordo to utter my favorite line ever. “I am forty years old and have eaten at lots of restaurants and I have never, ever, ever met anyone I believe in as little as you.”
And that does it. Sebastian storms out cursing and screaming, and proceeds to march all over the restaurant yelling at the camera crew to get the f out. “THIS IS MY PLACE! MIIIIINNNNE!” After circling the restaurant for awhile, he finally makes his way to Gordon’s dressing room area, which is locked. He rips the door open and starts shouting for Ramsay. Gordo comes right up to his face, which calms Sebastian down a bit. Or makes him shit his pants. Or both. Just before he can whip out the “be a man” taunt, Sebastian tells him to talk to him like a man. Silence. Good one, Sebastian! Gordo stays calm, which makes Sebastian so angry he finally explodes fat and thin hair all over the camera lens.
During the commercial break, Sebastian is swept up and poured back into his skin sack. Now he’s crying like a little girl. Finally, he admits that he hasn’t made any money and maybe he is kind of a failure. Now you’re getting it! He drinks a few beers and tries to call his parents, but even they’re ignoring his calls at this point. It’s time to try and change.
Finally, less Cape Fear and more Awakenings.
When he walks back into the kitchen, the staff of tossers is silent, waiting to get their heads bashed into the mixer. But something else happens. Sebastian starts to…work. He’s miraculously learned to run the kitchen, and food starts going out on time and the customers are happy. He tells us that he’s learned his lesson and can now see that everything Ramsay said is right. Wow. Yet another five minute miracle sponsored by FOX. Gordo gathers the tossers around and congratulates them on a job well done, even though he tells us that he knows Sebastian’s just going back to his old ways the second he leaves. Come on. He’d have to be either be stupid or really, really, crazy not to listen to you.
Epilogue: Just had lunch at Sebastian’s with miss Ting Lee, who kept looking for frost bite on everything and was disappointed that she didn’t get to see Lou-Bertha toss dough. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see Sebastian throw his arms up in the air and shout “I WON THAT ONE!” He was there, though, sticking to his side of the kitchen. He added a bunch of his CRAZY back onto the menu, but the 20 gourmet flavor combos are gone, and so, from the looks of it, are all of the employees. The out of work actresses were replaced with out of work actors, which is no fun at all. The pizza guy did use the wood burning oven for our pizzas, which I thought was impressive.
We started with the fries covered in brown goo, which turned out to be a mixture of gravy and chili. Thank God I smoked a bowl beforehand, cuz it was actually pretty good. My white pizza was bland and boring, and Ting’s chicken wing pizza was insane. Chicken, buffalo sauce, blue cheese…wow. Sebastian didn’t go to any of the tables to spread around his “charm”, but he did scratch his balls a lot and pick his ears. The only thing it looks like he doesn’t cook is the pizza, so I was glad we didn’t order a sandwich. The publicity didn’t seem to do much for the place’s business, but the people who were there were totally up and coming LA. And by up and coming I mean really old couples who didn’t talk to each other during lunch.
So the big question was, did he listen to Gordo? The answer is kinda sorta, which is a huge step for Sebastian. I think they both won that one. And I gained five pounds.