Reality Television: My Dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s Hotel Hell
Gordon Ramsay is, in my opinion, one of the undisputed kings of reality cooking television shows. Ramsay has sired Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (both British and American versions), Hell’s Kitchen and a slew of documentaries. His latest creation is Hotel Hell and the first taping was here in San Diego last December.
It Started With An Email
I received an email a week before the taping asking me to promote the show on my blog. If you’re ever emailed me — I’m not counting the mailing lists but actually using my name — I will respond 97% of the time. With this email, I sent off a simple response saying that I would try promote the taping via Twitter and expecting in return at the very least a thank you.
A few days later, the producer emailed me, requesting me to be food critic/guest per Chef Ramsay’s request. Not knowing what to expect, I was hesitant (and did Chef Ramsay really request lil ol’ me? Yeah, right). I had only seen one season of Hell’s Kitchen; if Hotel Hell was going to be anything like that show, I did not want to be a part of it. Buuuuttt curiosity got the best of me and I accepted, knowing that I won’t be dining alone: good friends, Christine and Steve were tagging along as well as dependable Paul.
The Day of the Taping
Before stepping into the Merk, we were brought to the pizza joint next door, asked to sign releases and each assigned a number. Holding up our numbers we took a group photo and were finally led inside the restaurant. All cameras were pointing at us.
I don’t know how reality stars can act “normal” with a camera constantly in your face. The entire time, from walking in and during the entire dinner, I was nervous knowing everything I said could possibly end up on the final cut. I found myself laughing nervously, fumbling over words and making up too much fake talk. With the bright lights everywhere (there were no shadows), a camera in your face and everyone on edge, it was surreal.
Prior to dinner, I was approved to live-tweet about the event and allowed bring my camera to document; other diners weren’t allowed to even bring a cell phone into the restaurant.
Early into the dinner I had tweeted one thing about the beet salad my friend had ordered but apparently that was not enough for the producers.
It seemed the assistant didn’t know squat about Twitter since she used the word “blogging” more than once and that I was only restricted to 140 characters on Twitter.
“Was I live blogging from the restaurant? Could I blog more?” No, but I was live-tweeting it. Once she figured it out the difference between “blogging” and “tweeting” she asked me to tweet more about the food — and to do it often. She visited me several times during the evening to do follow-up tweets about the food. What did I think of it? Was it good? I had never felt the pressure to tweet more than I did that moment.
I found out later that Chef Ramsay was reading some of my tweets out loud to the cooks. He particularly liked my tweet “Winner winner chicken dinner” regarding a fresh-from-the-oven chicken dinner Steve ordered. It seemed like that was the only highlight of the meal. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Beforehand, everyone in our party decided to order something different to give us a good idea of the menu’s range. You know, the usual standard for a blogger. Paul ordered a burger, I couldn’t pass up the braised lamb shank, Chris was curious about the lasagna and Steve had a roasted chicken. Most of the dishes, with the exception of the roasted chicken, arrived at our table stone cold. We all agreed that if the food arrived piping hot, our opinions would be different. Even after our complaint, the staff did nothing to remedy it.
Halfway through the entrée course, we were “interviewed” on camera about what we thought about the food and whether we plan to return. While I thought the food was fine, I tried not to be too brutal about my actual opinions. I couldn’t help but feel like they were edging me towards admitting I enjoyed the food especially since this was the final evening to get some footage for the show. So, on camera, I said I would likely return to see how the restaurant has improved. If only they had waited until we got dessert, my response would have been different.
In the middle of dessert, all the production lights were suddenly turned off and it was announced that Chef Ramsay had left the restaurant. While I had only made eye contact with him a few times (everyone was discouraged from oogling too much when he came into their line of sight), I was a little peeved there wasn’t much more than a few sightings. At the very least, I was hoping he would come to each one of the tables to personally see how we were doing.
When dessert finally arrived, the chocolate marshmallow pie listed on the menu was actually a dessert pizza. An unremarkable crust topped with chocolate, sliced bananas and marshmallows. I remember commenting that this was only something a stoner would concoct – it was horrible.
The Highlights and The Lowlights
Obviously, hanging out with friends for dinner and sharing the unease of being on camera was the best part of the evening. It’s something we’ll talk about in years to come.
The entire experience was bizarre. I was still recovering from a cold and I felt off my game in knowing what to say without it sounding too forced. I won’t be overly disappointed if I was left on the cutting room floor.
Hotel Hell featuring the Keating Hotel is slated for Monday, August 27 on Fox. Check your local listings for time.