How Not To Run A Desi Restaurant

Have you ever been to a curry house to eat where the food is just no good?
I mean the naan is soggy, the makhani mushed and the tikka dry cardboard?"

Chef Gordon Ramsay is big in the UK and his program, "Kitchen Nightmares," where he dispenses tough love and witty zingers aplenty to ailing restaurants, a top show. In this particular segment, he takes on the Curry Lounge in Nottingham, a place torpedoed by an overambitious menu and decor that's a cross between "Bollywood Bling" and a lap dance club. Run by a salesman turned restaurateur, this establishment was apparently losing tons of money per week when it attracted the attentions of Mr. Ramsay.

Now, I am as suspicious of these rescue tales as anyone, but I found this particular show to be a fascinating watch regardless, not the least because what ailed the Curry Lounge was no different than desi restaurants in the SF Bay Area. Most Indian restaurants here, at one point, seemed to be run by folks new to the business. Moreover, their target audience is never desis like us, but rather the upscale, Caucasian crowd. In an effort to attract their target clientele, such places inevitably turn to "fusion" creations which run the risk of being inauthentic and thus end up pretty much alienating everybody. And meanwhile, the best places to go to for Indian food in the Peninsula region at least, end up being the Pakistani joints who at least don't try to be anything they're not.

Consequently, I wasn't skeptical about Ramsay intervening in the affairs of the Curry Lounge - after all, he is part of their target demographic. I was curious about his point of view though. And while his comments likening the naan over there to a "large pair of knickers" must have stung, I would imagine his criticism of their menu as being a dodgy DIY nightmare (apparently they allowed you to mix and match your own curry dish) and the food as being oily, dry and bland hurt more. Moreover, his discovery of the kitchen using tinned pineapple, store bought curry paste and pre-made frozen samosas was equally horrifying.

I enjoyed the changes Ramsay brought to the joint and his efforts at out of the box thinking in terms of marketing. While his effort to refashion the Curry Lounge menu into simpler, more authentic dishes was straightforward, I found his idea to introduce the notion of tiffin lunch deliveries fascinating. Certainly non obvious - the easy choice would have been to go buffet. In addition, hiring ladies versed in the art of Bollywood dance and parading them up and down the streets of Nottingham is a stunt that, I would daresay, not occur to most Indian restaurants as a way of drumming up business. While tacky, again, this is something that would appeal to the target audience. In addition, Ramsay is not afraid to consult his friends that are more knowledgeable as regards desi khana and that lends some weight to the proceedings.

There's more in the actual program including a power struggle and a taste test that Ramsay tries on the restaurant stuff where they discover they themselves can't tell any of the dishes apart. Have fun!

Part 1 (no embedding, sadly).

Part 2

Part 3



This particular episode was a big hit in the UK apparently:

The audience for Channel 4's Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares hit a series high of 4.3 million last night, Tuesday December 11.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, which last night featured a curry restaurant in Nottingham, drew an 18% share of the audience between 9pm and 10pm, ahead of the series' 15% average, according to unofficial overnight ratings.

The current series of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares debuted with 3.9 million on October 30 but fell to as low as 2.5 million and a 10% share on November 20. It has since recovered, hitting a previous high of 4 million two weeks ago.

Makes you wonder why Ramsay waited so long to feature an Indian restaurant in his program. I suppose the hunger for all things curry in the UK continues unabated.

Update

Manoj writes:

You'd be interested to know that Ramsay did work on an Indian restaurant on the American version (Dillons, NYC). Sounds similar to the Nottingham setup. Health violations galore, blah menu and a power struggle.

http://www.fox.com/kitchennightmares/recaps/season1/102_1.htm

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- May 9, 2009 3:56 PM // Food , TV