Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part Two

A pastry chef rolling out a crust while a young girl looks on.

Put your heart into your work, and others will notice.

When Gordon Ramsay walked into the Hot Potato Cafe, little did he know that he’d be walking right out again that evening for the first time in the history of Kitchen Nightmares.

(Am I naive to believe that these shows aren’t totally scripted? Or am I just cute? Cue the dramatic music as we cross the suspension bridge of belief.)

Anyway, we’re at the Hot Potato Cafe, where Gordon is served frozen, half-warmed potato skins – a fitting metaphor for the owners and workers of this family-owned restaurant. Mistakes have left them hollow shells, their despairing wails echoing around the space their heart and their guts should be. “Help us, Gordon! We don’t know what to do!”

The chef is the owners’ niece. I can only assume that in an effort to save money, they brought in this young girl who has potential, but no formal training in cookery. She’s expected to follow the old menus and help keep the restaurant afloat. She says that the restaurant business isn’t her first choice of a career; she’s only here to help out the family.

Gordon storms out that evening because nobody seems to care if the business stays alive or not. And I think this is the first important lesson that this episode teaches: you can have money, you can have your basic materials and a venue, but if you don’t have the enthusiasm, it’s really hard to keep a business going. They beg him in the street for help, and he promises to come back the next day.

He creates a little excitement by having a baked potato contest. (Yes, I hear that bridge of belief creaking a little bit, but honestly, it’s pretty exciting.) The winner’s baked potato will make it on the menu that very evening, and bring back a touch of fresh, good cooking to the Hot Potato Cafe. Our young chef wins the contest, and she’s inspired to do a better job.

After a menu re-vamp, a free supply of Idaho potatoes, redecoration of the dining room and a good week-long pep talk, our cafe has its heart and guts back, and is ready to provide the best in potato dining in Fishtown. (See the menu for delicious chowder, that merges the cafe’s mission with the area’s history.)

So, this is what I learned: remember the enthusiasm that brought you to your art. Bring it back with short challenges, and then put your whole heart into your business.

The YouTube comments tell the story of what happened after Gordon Ramsay left. But that’s another story. For now, it’s enough to sit and write a little something that makes you happy, and represents what you really want to do as a writer. No half-baked empty potato skins. (If you do make literary potato skins, though, make ‘em fresh and beautiful and absolutely tasty. They have to work harder to impress, but they can outshine a plain ol’ baked potato when they are done with love and vision.)

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part Two

  1. Short, achievable goals to regain enthusiasm—sounds like a recipe for energizing oneself, if not success. Without watching the YouTube video, I’m getting a bad feeling about the future of The Half-Baked Potato. Maybe to be successful you also need skills and desire.

    • I think I read somewhere that about half of the restaurants Kitchen Nightmares visit go on to close. Some of them re-open and become bigger (I’ll talk about that one next week, I think), but some close for good. On the other hand, a large percentage go on to do good business and you can visit them today.

      In this case, I read that the young chef went back to school (this was in the YouTube comments, so someone may have been twisting the narrative to satisfy themselves, but I’d like to think that was true). Anyway, Reality TV Revisited said the owners went back to the old ways, and the restaurant closed. http://www.realitytvrevisited.com/2011/05/us-season-3-episode-1-hot-potato-cafe.html

      You could really tell that the three owners liked the idea of having a restaurant, but didn’t have the heart (or maybe it was the experience) to pull it off and learn from their mistakes. I mean really — if your restaurant is failing, you economize by pulling in your 21-year-old niece to be head cook? They needed someone they could trust, I see that. But it was a selfish move that put a lot of pressure on the girl.

      Anyway, Kitchen Nightmares knows how to craft a narrative. With a little bit of imagination to smooth over some of the characterization holes, one could imagine Chef Danielle taking the restaurant to the heights of Fishtown’s culinary ladder. (-: After all, half of the artistic experience is brought to the table by the viewer/reader/consumer, and we have to do our part to make the story happen.

      • Oh, this fits right in with what I’ve heard about a similar show, I think it’s called Bar Rescue. I learned about it because a bar where my daughter sometimes performed music while she was in college underwent one of the rescues a few years after she’d left the area, and she followed the story. Sure enough, within some months or a year, the management had returned to its old ways and the place was a dive bar again. But dive bars can have their charms, too! And the stories are usually much more interesting.

        • I think that’s a lesson in itself — temporary enthusiasm leads to temporary gains. So . . . for a successful long-term plan, one must plan a series of temporary enthusiasms, or have some sort of game plan for the long-term. Bars, restaurants, writing . . . .

          I mean, I write all the time. ALL the time. It’s really rare for me to not be on the internet for a few days, and if I’m on the internet, I’m commenting — sometimes commenting and deleting, but I’m always writing. It comes as naturally as . . . well, switching on the computer. Telling stories is a little different. I love it when it’s happening and working right, but I don’t know. Maybe I’m too concerned about my audience.

          A friend lent me three J.D. Salinger novels, and I’m currently reading Franny and Zooey. It’s really doing my head in on the concept of how to live a creative life. I might be ready to talk about it . . . but I did want to do a couple more Kitchen Nightmare posts. Is it so bad to be fake and charming? There may be a fake element to Kitchen Nightmares, but there’s also a true passion for food, and some serious, real experience about how to make a restaurant into a profitable business. Can you imagine a brunch cooked by J.D. Salinger? It’d all be perfectly beautiful and fun food, but maybe made out of foam, with a big ol’ arrow saying, “Nothing But Air In Here” or something. And surprisingly, it would fill you up — bacon strawberry pancakes, sweet omelettes with wasabi sauce, or whatever it was he chose to cook. There’d be so much of it, but it’d come in a compact package. What a bit of wizardry! Seemingly full of air, yet dense and worthy of savoring. Hmmm.

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