Man, what a crazy experience I had on the Fourth of July weekend this summer. I got an email in the late afternoon that Jersey Bites had been invited to a taping of Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares, and that one of the writers would have to attend. I grabbed my wife and jumped in the car, and we sped down to Blackberry’s soul food restaurant in Plainfield so that we would make it in time for the taping of the dinner. Deb, the Executive Editor of Jersey Bites called me on the way and gave me my goal: Get a picture with Chef Gordon Ramsay.
For the uninitiated, Kitchen Nightmare’s is a restaurant reality show on Fox featuring the notoriously foul-mouthed, world-renowned Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay. He is outspoken, and will intensely berate the people who disagree with him or lazy chefs who denigrate his profession. He’s had many shows that were popular in Britian, and most of them involve him yelling and cursing while trying to run a restaurant. On Kitchen Nightmare’s, he goes to a failing restaurant and spends a few days renovating the restaurant, changing up the menus, and generally trying to teach people how they should be running their restaurant should they want it to be successful. The last scene of the episode is always the relaunch dinner, which they normally invite local food writers and media. That’s where New Jersey Nick comes into the story.
Before the Renovation Photo Provided by Blackberry’s
When we arrived at the scene in Plainfield, we were greeted by the producer who went over the proceedings with us and wanted to let people know that they do sincerely want to help rebuild the restaurant and create a community investment in it. We stood on the side of the road and watched as the crane cam filmed a staged parade with a local marching band coming up the street in front of Blackberry’s. It reminded me of the canned parades at Disney World. When they came to the storefront, Chef Ramsay was there and thanked them all for the parade and was generally encouraging to them. It was weird, since he’s always portrayed as being so crazed and evil on tv. It was fun to get a first hand look at the show getting made, and some of the people in the crowd were talking about how this was an important day for Plainfield. Unfortunately, the drama inside the restaurant was so intense during this episode that the whole parade was removed during the editing process!
The Parade That Didn’t Air
If you saw the episode, you no doubt saw that the place went from a very loud color palette seemingly styled after the LA Lakers’ to a more subtle, contemporary style over the course of a few days. One of the patrons, Leonard Williams of Plainfield, told me that he thought the old design was suitable for birthdays and celebrations, but the new setup was very modern and contemporary. When we went into the restaurant, the paint was still sticky from the changes and even the hand-made tables still seemed like fresh plywood. The new artwork on the wall featured large mosaics made of smashed bits of records arranged to look like R&B singers. That was such a brilliant touch I can’t even fathom how someone imagined that.
After the Renovation Photo Provided by Blackberry’s
One bad part about the trip, I was only allowed to take pictures of the exterior of the restaurant and I was told I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the restaurant at all. This is obviously because they didn’t want the changes leaked before the show airs. The really bad part: I couldn’t get any pics of the food.
There were two camera crews in the restaurant: one filming the diners and one tailing Gordon. As we sat and discussed the menu, the camera was right in our face and the boom mic hung over our heads. Its a very weird feeling to know that you’re the subject of someone else’s voyeurism, but it was to be expected, given the circumstances.
We were greeted at our table by the waiter Duane who was the nice guy that was nearly fired by the owner during the aired program. We ordered an appetizer of jerk chicken with pickled watermelon. It took about 20 minutes, and, when it came, it was The jerk chicken was delicious and the watermelon had a burst of flavor and sweetness but also an aftertaste that was like that of regular pickles. It was strange combo that was unique and completely delicious! They also served us complimentary corn bread with a habenero blackberry sauce. Very unfamiliar but still great flavor. Strangely, it wasn’t hot and didn’t have the usual face-melting heat of habenero. Even my wife could eat it, and she’s terrified of spicy foods.
Chef Ramsay being nice to people. Its true, it happened.
The wait before the entrees was ridiculous, but they were filming a TV show, so I’ll forgive them. I can’t imagine that it would be a two hour wait on a regular evening. Plus while we were waiting for our entrees, Chef Ramsay came over to the table. I mentioned to him how the neighboring table had just remarked how nice he seemed before the taping began. “Well, we all have our days,” he snarkily replied with a slight amount of venom that always coats his words. Of course, he was like this only because he was on camera. When the cameraman turned away, he leaned in and very politely shook my hand, thanking me for coming out on such sort notice. He thanked my wife and called her ‘darling’ as he kissed her cheek. “He called me ‘darling’!”, she squealed. “So what, he called me Nick.
There was a lot more chaos in the dining room than the aired episode dared to show. First, the table in the corner says that their chicken is undercooked, so much so that it was cold. Then, another table freaks out because its been an hour and a half, and still no food. They just want it to-go and they want the manager. The camera crew returns to film the conflict and the manager and the waiter are trying to convince them to stay. Meanwhile, I see one of the waitresses talking to the family in the other corner. The mother has a disgusted look on her face and she’s making the waitress SMELL the food. The camera crew spins around to film this too. I don’t know what they did to their meals, but mine was smashing! (As if they’d serve a bad dish to the food writer!)
Photo Provided by Blackberry’s
Almost 2 hours later, at 10pm, the food finally comes. My wife and I had never had soul food before, so this evening’s meal was a first for us. The entree my wife chose was the Sweet Honey Glazed Chicken Salad, which came with two big slices of watermelon and was topped with a light vinegrette. It was better than any expectations I could have had, and, even though I hate vinegrette, I barely noticed it on this salad.
My meal was the Fried Chicken and Waffles with High-grade, Super-sugary syrup. You wouldn’t think that these would go together, but, after having it, I have learned to crave it. It was very tasty, and I’d love some right now, if I could get it. The syrup was so good, I wanted to drink it off the plate with a straw! Also, the meal was served with a small cup of honey butter that was thick and had a great flavor. It was sweet and a little salty. In fact, it may have been the best butter I ever had. The whole dish was a heavy meal, and I was ready to take a nap afterwards as I had succumbed to what could only be described as ‘the Itis’ (you’re gonna have to Google that one).
So then, we’re done, and now our neighboring table are waiting for the manager to come so that he can ask for his meal to be on the house because of the long wait. I figure this is the time to get the picture with Gordon, so I ask the producer, who at this point, looked extremely frazzled and distressed. I first asked if I could get a pic with the restaurant owner and he said that that wouldn’t be possible because they were having their onscreen interview and, because of the problems in the kitchen, that was going to last all night. I asked about Gordon and he told us we’d have to head up the side street to his trailer.
“So there were problems in the kitchen?,” I asked the producer.
“Oh yeah. Gordon was going so crazy. He kept saying ‘I’m done! I’m done!’ like he was going to quit, and we had to keep calming him down. The fact that he’s even going to talk to you at this point is pretty surprising.”
Now, I should have been afraid from that warning, but I was smiling like the Cheshire Cat. I’ve met some famous people before, mostly rock stars and pro wrestlers, so I knew how to play it cool. This was going to be fun.
Then, Gordon burst out of his trailer. He came right to me to shake my hand and thanked me (by name again) for coming out on short notice. I told him it was no problem and we had a great time.
“I saw that post of your’s on Twitter about me, thanks for that,” he said, surprising me that he managed to somehow check Twitter during this crazy evening. “You know, Nick, I love food bloggers. You can get right to the point without any of the pomposity, you know what I mean?,” he said as he gave me a sly look out the corner of his eye.
“Absolutely! ,” I said to him. “There are certainly a lot of pompous writers out there, ” I replied, trying and hoping that I was making a sly look back at him.
“Oh! There definitely are!” He said and laughed a little as we stood there and posed for a couple of pics together.
Then, suddenly, like an excited five year old, Chef Ramsay wants to tell me everything at once, in only one breath:
“You know I’m just about to open the Steakhouse in Vegas! Its going to be great! Finishing Touches going on now! Then, a GASTROPUB! We haven’t even announced talked about it yet! (He motions to an imagainary ceiling) UNION JACKS ON THE CEILING! (He motions to producer’s chest) UNION JACKS ON THE UNIFORMS! ITS GOING TO BE AMAZING! A lot of work but its going to be great!” My wife and I just ooh’d and aah’d as our responses because he was going so fast and we really didn’t know what to say. He was seriously as animated and intense as he is during his shows.
“Oh and sorry about the wait! It was a Sh*t fest in there! A real SH*T FEST! I mean just a TOTAL SH*T FEST! (He turned around and briefly butted his head on the brick wall) A TOTAL SH*T FEST! They really didn’t know what they were doing in there! It was driving me crazy!” We told him we weren’t impatient and understood that it was special circumstances.
Then, our moment with Chef Ramsay was over. “Thank you for coming! Thank you for coming!” He shook my hand, kissed my wife on both cheeks and he slid back into the trailer.
This was totally awesome and a real whirlwind of an evening. We had so much fun, and the food was good but nearly an afterthought to the excitement of the situation. It was really cool to see the production of the TV show. I was actually very nervous before the show aired, afraid that I’d have my words taken out of context or that they’d inaccurately credit me as “Moo Jersey Mick”. When the episode aired on Friday night, I was on TV for all of 4 seconds across two shots lasting two seconds each during the montage of the relaunch! Most people would look at that as a bummer, but I was relieved that I didn’t look ridiculous or say something foolish I’d regret!
All in all, this was an experience that made me so happy. I feel very grateful that, after less than a year of writing about food on the web, I’ve been able to partake in something as cool as this as the ‘Local Food Writer’. I’m very proud to have been part of Jersey Bites and that I got to represent them as I stepped through the looking glass. I have to thank our Senior Editor Deborah for letting the rookie go to the big event and Chef Ramsay for being so cool to me and my wife. You made my life a little more interesting for a day.
New Jersey Nick – If the Jersey Devil was 6’1″, overweight and bearded, his name would be Nick. New Jersey Nick can not cook without the aid of a microwave, but, thanks to an iron stomach, he has learned about food by being a fearless and adventurous eater. A self-proclaimed Burger Expert, Nick forgoes fancy restaurants to get a taste of all the ‘good food that’s bad for you’ from New Jersey’s Diners and Burger Joints. When he’s not writing about food, Nick spends time on his other hobbies as an Xbox enthusiast, a Horror Movie Savant, a Nascar follower, a Comic Book Reader and a Pro-wrestling fan. Just like Batman, Nick has a day job in the real world that isn’t as interesting as his alter ego. You can read more about Nick’s adventures on his site at www.newjerseynick.com, follow @newjerseynick on Twitter or ‘like’ him on Facebook.