Kitchen Nightmares EP On Revamping The Gordon Ramsay Series A Decade Later

After a 10-year hiatus, Gordon Ramsay is back to looking under the hood of some floundering restaurants.

Kitchen Nightmares is returning to Fox Monday night, and it starts with a pretty gnarly scene right out of the gate as Ramsay tries to revamp Bel Aire diner in Astoria, New York. Owners Kal and Peter are trying to keep the place afloat after their parents handed over the family business, but it’s been a struggle — which is making mom and dad a bit nervous about truly letting their sons take the reins.

It doesn’t take long for Ramsay to spot multiple problems. From the brothers’ own personal turmoil to a chaotic kitchen to a 40-page menu to a poorly kept stock fridge with rotting food…it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the business is failing. But, it takes Ramsay’s infamous tough love (sprinkled in with a few more vulnerable moments) and his unfailing skill as a chef to turn it around.

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“I think Episode 1 is one of those that is just quintessential Kitchen Nightmares with a family at war and a restaurant in chaos,” executive producer David de Angelis told Deadline.

In the interview below, de Angelis breaks down the premiere episode of Kitchen Nightmares and shares more about revamping the series a decade later. He also explains the good — and the bad — learning lessons of the series, like how to know if you may have stumbled into one of those nightmarish kitchens yourself.

DEADLINE: The show is coming back after 10 years. What elements did you know you wanted to bring back, and where did you take the opportunity to try something new?

DAVID DE ANGELIS: So, we don’t want to shock anyone when they watch this show. We want to give people everything that they loved about Kitchen Nightmares, which out of control owners, egotistical chefs, terrible food, lazy staff… all those things you’re going to recognize as good old fashioned Kitchen Nightmares — and Gordon, that is. But this year, I think the impetus for us to even bring the show back, and for Gordon particularly, was just because of time. Restaurants have never had a harder time than they had over the last couple of years. Gordon and his restaurants were not immune to that, either. So, for Gordon, I think he thought this was the best time to bring the show back to see if he can’t help some of those restaurants that have made it through the pandemic and made it through all the changes in the restaurant industry over the last couple of years and really reach out to those people and see if he can give a lifeline and get them back on track.

DEADLINE: How did you choose the restaurants that would be featured?

DE ANGELIS: When our casting notice went out, it was very clearly a Gordon Ramsay restaurant renovation show. So in a lot of ways, restaurants started reaching out to us. We blasted out to the areas that we wanted to film in, which were New York and New Jersey. Those were important to us for a couple of reasons. Just on a practical production standpoint, it’s a lot easier to consolidate one area than to try to run around the country, especially when you’re bringing a show back. Then, that area also allows us to have a wide variety of restaurants. We also feel like East Coast people are a little freer with their emotions than other parts of the country, which tend to traditionally be a little more reserved. But, we were looking for a restaurant that needed help. That was the number one criteria for us. Does your restaurant need help? Who are we going to meet, and are your problems fixable? Are they something that Gordon can really dig into and help out with? So that was also equally important in the casting process.

DEADLINE: From a production standpoint, can you talk me through how you prep the restaurants to film there?

DE ANGELIS: When we get into the process of finally starting to shortlist these restaurants, we do go out and make a visit. That’s part of our beginning of [gathering] the intel for Gordon. Gordon wants to know everything about his restaurants front to back. Financials. What are the refrigerators like? How many people come in on a Wednesday afternoon? How many people come in on Friday night? So we try to gather up as much information as possible. We do a site visit. Some of our key personnel will go — the culinary team, myself, a story team, production team — to just see what we’re working with, because every restaurant presents its own production challenges as well. And we really want to see where this restaurant is and they really do need help. We pour a lot of resources into these restaurants over the time that we’re there and afterwards, and we want to make sure that these restaurants are getting into it for the right reason. We were really successful this season to find restaurants that desperately need our help, that were open and willing to change, even if they resist, and that had a real opportunity to be successful once we left. That said, there’s only so much we can do. There’s only so much leading the horse to water we can do, and it’s really up to the restaurants themselves to drink the Kool Aid and see if they are willing to make the change.

DEADLINE: I really enjoyed seeing a softer side of Gordon in this first episode, when he takes the brothers to one of his restaurants and teaches them a recipe. We are so used to the more aggressive version of Gordon. Would you say he is always so dynamic, or do you think intentionally about how to balance that story in each episode?

DE ANGELIS: That is exactly what we’re going for and your observation makes it feel like we’re on the right track for the season, because caring Gordon is the one we care about the most, and I think that’s the one that America cares about the most. The notorious GR, that’s guaranteed every time, no problems there. That caring element… when Gordon walks through the front door of the restaurant, he’s not walking in with an entourage, although he has a big crew behind him. It’s just Gordon going in. People call him Gordon in this series. They don’t call him Chef Ramsay. There’s not a lot of Yes Chef, No chef going on. Gordon does care. The restaurants we picked, we picked for a reason, because Gordon wanted to fix these restaurants. He wanted to help these people and saw something in them that gave him some hope, as well that they deserve it. So that I think that caring Gordon Ramsay is what makes this show so special and what makes this incarnation of the show even more special. It’s not a shiny show like Next Level Chef, which I also do and is close to my heart. But it’s a different Gordon. It’s an accessible Gordon. It is a vulnerable Gordon. It is an intimate Gordon that most of his other shows do not have. We have elements of that. I think the best parts of Next Level Chef are when he’s a mentor and when he’s really in there helping people. There’s a great moment in Season 2 where one of our contestants was having a hard time, and she’s relaying to Gordon about how when she started on social media, she just had so many haters. To see Gordon just get right down on her level, look in her eyes and tell her like, ‘F*ck those people. Those people aren’t important in your life. What’s important is what you’re doing right now and that you’re happy with yourself. None of those people matter…’ When he’s with Cal in that booth and Cal’s breaking down, you can see that Gordon cares [and] that he wants to help these guys. He sees the dysfunction. He’s desperate to help any way. In Kitchen Nightmares, although it has a nightmarish name, there is an element of Gordon in this show that you don’t get anywhere else — and that’s a level of caring. You see him as a father. You see him as a business owner. You see him as a brother and a son and a chef. You just see all the sides of [him in] the show.

DEADLINE: I have to say, in the first episode, watching Gordon and the crew go through the meat fridge was really disturbing. I basically gagged with Gordon. Did you find yourself in other situations where you were unsure how you’d even handle it?

DE ANGELIS: Pretty much every time, especially with deli or diners. They’re just caverns. The underneath of that place insane. It’s a 24-hour diner. It never closes. So, there are definitely days where you walk in and go, ‘Holy mackerel, how are we going to pull this off?’ And the meat fridge is a perfect example. I mean, there there are things that I’ve seen, smelled and tasted that have forever changed how I will eat in the restaurant. No doubt. So, there are oftentimes challenges where we know it will be a big lift, but that’s why we bring in the crew that we do. We have the best crew in the business. We have the best talent in the business in Gordon Ramsay. He really made a commitment to help these places out any way we could, and we had to move a lot of mountains to do it.

DEADLINE: Now I have to ask your advice on what to look for when eating in restaurants.

DE ANGELIS: The first thing I do is go to the bathroom. I immediately check to go to the bathroom and see what state the bathroom is in, [because] it is often reflected on the state of the kitchen. With a clean bathroom, you got a better shot at having a clean kitchen, because they care enough…that’s their outward face. The most intimate outward face of a restaurant is how they keep their bathrooms.

DEADLINE: That’s a great point. I also always have to wonder how good the food will be when the menu is 40 pages, like it was at this restaurant.

DE ANGELIS: So that’s probably number two. First of all, watching the bathroom. Second of all, if the menu is too long, you might want to get out because, as you said, there’s no way that they can know everything that’s on there. There’s no way that they can keep that much food stock fresh. And there’s no way that their cooks connected to all that. Coq au vin on a menu in a diner in New York? They have a lobster tank? What in the world are they doing? To even see chef cooks in the kitchen have to look at the menu and page through it and go, ‘Oh, that’s even on our menu? No one’s even ordered that in the last month [or] year.’ However long, it’s very telling.

DEADLINE: What else is in store this season?

DE ANGELIS: Well, I think Episode 1 is one of those that is just quintessential Kitchen Nightmares with a family at war and a restaurant in chaos. I think Episode 2 is incredible in that the owners were very successful with smaller establishments and took a big swing at a bigger restaurant and were shouldered with a big realization that they were out of their league a little bit. And on top of that, they have a chef who calls himself the culinary gangster. Bobby the culinary gangster. He certainly exhibited some gangster tendencies in and out of the kitchen that certainly rubbed Gordon the wrong way. So that is another spectacular episode that I’m super excited for people to see. There’s a restaurant called El Cantito, which is in Yonkers, and it’s run by brother and sister who really, it was their mom’s dream to have a restaurant. So the sister retired early and put all her fortune into this restaurant and her brother, although he is a good chef, has just been beaten down and worn out. They opened five days before the shutdown in 2020. So they had all these grand ideas, only the world shut down and they’ve been struggling since. There’s just a lot of heart in that and getting back to the essence of what these recipes mean to this family and getting that food to elevate and be delicious and incredible. There’s another episode that we did up in Saugerties, which is in upstate New York, and it’s a young couple who have been engaged for six years, which obviously is a red flag to Gordon. Over the last year, his restaurant has really changed both of them and and certainly turned one of the owners, the chef, into a person he just is not. It was incredible to watch Gordon navigate that episode, because Gordon takes mental health in the restaurant industry very seriously in his own restaurant group. I think you’re gonna see that throughout the season as well, where Gordon really understands the mental toll that a restaurant can have on you and especially when you’re in it with a significant other. So that’s another great episode. Oh God, we’ve got a ton of them down …as I said before, all the things you love about Kitchen Nightmares built for 2023 as well.

Kitchen Nightmares premieres Monday, September 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

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