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Sante Cuisine's 'Kitchen Nightmare'


In the meritocracy that is America, anyone can open a restaurant. Anyone. I had always assumed that this was an endeavor reserved for people who really love to cook or at least know how to cook. But again and again, "Kitchen Nightmares" features restaurateurs who wouldn't know an haricot vert from a jicama. Last night was no different.

Sante Cuisine (formerly Sante La Brea, formerly A Votre Sante) got the full Gordon Ramsay treatment on last night's episode of "Kitchen Nightmares," a ratings-friendly combo of vicious insults and practical advice.

"Cafe food doesn't have to look like *bleep* and taste crap!" Ramsay bellows after finding rotten eggplant in the fridge. That's what happens when a spineless owner allows a surly chef, careless employees and even his own sons to take advantage of him.

To the credit of owner Dean Hamoui, who seems far too nice for his own good, he takes all of Ramsay's criticisms to heart. After several foul-mouthed tirades from Ramsay, a scream therapy session at Runyon Canyon and a cheap stunt where Ramsay brings in a rent-a-cop to handcuff him, Hamoui is reborn as a screaming hysteric. Well, at least his staff is finally paying attention.

The bonus comes when Ramsay and his team transform the restaurant, literally overnight, into a more polished version of itself. They eliminate the clutter and redecorate the space with a simple but charming ginkgo leaf motif, exploiting the full potential of the restaurant's outdoor patio. Most important, Ramsay trims the unwieldy menu (you could fall asleep just reading through the 150+ items) to a manageable number.

The menu now features a few sandwiches, pizza and pasta dishes; 18 entrees including curry chicken, blackened salmon, falafel and a macrobiotic combo platter; half a dozen salads; a cross-cultural array of appetizers and several tasty-sounding desserts, including vegan chocolate oatmeal banana cookies, raw pineapple cheesecake and for those who prefer their desserts traditional, chocolate peanut butter pie.

Whether the show improves the restaurants it's ostensibly trying to help, is up for debate. But after years of steady decline, Sante La Brea needed some tough love, and perhaps Ramsay was the one to dish it out.

-- Elina Shatkin

Photo: On "Kitchen Nightmares," Chef Gordon Ramsay (right) introduces a new menu to the staff of Sante Cuisine. Greg Gayne/Fox

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Please let Gordon go back to the BBC so he can start making good television again. The American version of the show is ridiculously contrived. Each show follows exactly the same formula as the last and this great chef has been reduced from a 3-star Michelin winner to some kind of reality TV plebian.

Of course it's contrived - it's TELEVISION! I have seen both versions, and the UK version IS superior, simply because the edit doesn't emphasize foul mouthed bullying. It's worthwhile to remember that with 5 days of material, you can cut it to look just about any way you want, and FOX has done just that with KN.

If this reality TV concept interests you, I would recommend the delightful original " Kitchen Nightmares" currently airing Thursdays on BBC America. The American adaption is coarse and ugly and shows Gordon Ramsay almost in caricature. In culinary terms, the American "KN" leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

The BBC version is terribly sedate compared to Fox's take on "KN"s. American owners are either weak and clueless, or auditioning for 'Goodfellas.'
This was really the first episode where the owner sat, listened, and acted instead of the usual defensiveness. And, wow, are all chefs so cringingly uncaring, or are they only employed by these restaurants?

It perhaps was not wise for the owner to manhandle the host, however you posters make it out to seem as if he were violent or something. Clearly they are all close wnough to understand the "therapy session" for the owner to get a "voice", as his way to show he means business. And clearly throughout the ENTIRE show, you see a soft hearted owner who just needs his employees to see his vision through.

I think that without context, you could believe it was inapporopriate for the owner to that - however I saw it in context - and I just wondrer what you are all complaining about.

i ate at sante la brea about 3 years ago.
it was "hideous."
Totally bland disgusting crap. there's nothing contrived about that. except the notion that they could charge money for that food.
i'm curious to see how ramsay's changes have affected the place, or if they've even taken hold.

There are subtle but noticeable differences between the BBC "Kitchen Nightmare" and the Fox "KN". The most notable is that the Fox show continues to morph Ramsay into a caricature who yells to get his way, mixed with healthy bits of New Age hugging to balance it out. Think of it as "Hell's Kitchen" meets "Extreme Makeover". The juxtaposition isn't always believable, and the Fox show feels pretty staged. The BBC edition, however, really shows that profane bullying is just a small part of Ramsay's repertoire, and that he is, above all, an astute businessman who is willing to do the dirty work of getting to know the demographic of the restaurant's neighborhood. It's an infinitely more believable and entertaining version of KN, especially since they always do an epilogue where Ramsay returns months later to the restaurant to see if his changes have been successful, or, in some cases, not.

Ramsay's entertaining, and he apparently knows what he's doing as a restaurateur and a businessman. That's why he's on television. I saw him on the BBC's Graham Norton Show recently with Juliette Binoche, and he was actually sort of charming.

That said, look at his shows' formula, which is roughly the same for both the UK and U.S. versions of "Kitchen Nightmares" and for "Hell's Kitchen": Ramsay mixes one part of sage advice, expertise, outrage and the odd moment of sensitivity with nine parts of browbeating, bullying, sarcasm, screaming and cursing.

The bullying is bothersome. Ramsay holds all the cards: in exchange for sitting still for the humiliation he subjects them to, the mostly sad-sack restaurant owners and would-be chefs get expert makeovers, new equipment, and (in the case of "Hell's Kitchen"), a chance at running their own joint.

I've been dining at Sante for years . . . The food has always been good. This show is completely contrived and made up. Ramsay needs to create drama in order for his show to have relevance.

this show's formula is painfully contrived. did anyone honestly believe that by the end of this particular episode the restaurant had been turned around? BS. nothing a little voice-over can't fix.

if anyone's interested, the UK version of KN is far, far superior. you can find it on youtube.

I am a faithful viewer of this show and I felt really bad for this owner.

It is apparent he is out of his element..he is too timid and keeps so much bottled up that it has to come to a boil.

The restaurant "Host" is not needed. He has no clue about his job either..sweating profusly (he should have know about hygene at his age)..his wrinkled, unkempt appearance...definitely not an asset to the restaurant.

When the restaurant is struggling and the owner has two sons who work their...this is an unnecessary expense.

The owners sons need to take more control of the place..each one should take control where their particular strengths are and take some of the burden off their father's back.

I applaud the owner for listening to Chef Ramsey!!!

Also...the "chef" has got to GO! He was disrepectful, slow and NOT a chef!

Good luck to Santa Cuisine..you've been given a helping hand by one of the best!!

I believe I heard the owner say that he borrowed $10,000 from the host. I guess the owner forgot that it's not wise to manhandle a creditor...

After watching last week's episode about the Fiesta Sunrise restaurant, this week's episode was tepid.

I watched last nights show and I was appalled and sickened by the way the owner physically grabbed the host by the shirt , dragged him in a hallway and yelled at him for taking a wine order. The guy was only trying to help and a wine order is not the end of the world and didn't call for another human to be treated as such. For that reason alone I would never go there and would encourage others to do the same. I hope that he watches the episode and realizes he needs to go work somewhere people respect each other.

Just thought I'd say that last night's show was one of the most boring of the series... although it was funny watching Ramsay cry as the chef drove away "But it's relaunch night."


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