It’s the beginning of another week, and I’m visiting a small restaurant in New Jersey, assuming I can find the bloody place. I know they said it wasn’t on the high street, but this is ridiculous. I had to stop and ask directions three times, and even when I got there I didn’t see any fucking signs outside. It didn’t even look like a restaurant, more like somebody’s house.
The chef seemed like a nice enough fellow, but I couldn’t tell if he really had a passion for food other than eating it. I asked for a menu, and if you can fucking believe it, he said they didn’t have a menu, just nightly specials. I asked for the special, which turned out to be overcooked spaghetti in a pink vodka sauce with slices of pork tenderloin as a garnish. Complete rubbish; not anywhere close to authentic Italian. I’ve had better meals at a curry take-away in Glasgow.
I take a good look at the kitchen. It’s in a disgusting state. It takes me ten minutes to get a whisk out of the overcrowded utility drawer; it’s somehow wrapped itself around something that looks like a potato masher. I check the refrigerator, and there’s a half-empty tin of Paul Newman spaghetti sauce left over from last night. I’m completely gobsmacked. How can you call yourself a fucking chef and not be able to make something as simple as spaghetti sauce?
There’s nobody around for dinner service again; I haven’t seen a single customer since I walked in the place. The so-called “special” tonight is burritos with beans and rice. I watch the chef make the dish, and he’s using canned refried beans. Pathetic. And who serves Italian and Mexican at the same restaurant? The chef has no clue whatsoever.
I arrive early to see what preparation for lunch service is like. As I walk in the restaurant, the chef is leaving. He explains that the restaurant isn’t open for lunch service. Unbelievable. He has no idea how much money he is throwing away. He claims to have a second job in Trenton, and says it’s all he can do to make his own lunch. I ask to take a look at what he’s having for lunch, and it turns out to be a fucking peanut butter and jelly sandwich with pretzels and a Snapple. I wouldn’t feed that to a bloody rodent.
I get started on a roasted squash soup, and go out into the town and try to get some bloody lunch customers. None of them had even heard of the restaurant. But they’re crazy about the soup. We take in five hundred dollars. For some reason, though, the chef isn’t impressed by this.
I arrive at the restaurant, and the chef isn’t ready for dinner service. Instead, he’s playing some sort of video game based on American football. Completely unacceptable. I challenge him to come up with a menu for tonight, based on local, fresh food. He goes to the farmer’s market and manages to put together a simple, hearty meal – spinach salad, T-bone steak with sautéed Portobello mushrooms, a baked potato, and a very rich chocolate cake with ice cream. I’m bloody impressed for once, although I still wouldn’t let him within a hundred yards of one of my own restaurants.
I arrive for dinner service, but the chef is on his way out to dinner with his wife. I can’t fucking believe it. How can the restaurant not be open on Friday night? It’s the biggest night of the week. He says he always goes out for dinner with his wife on Friday night to some other restaurant. What in bloody hell!
I just don’t understand. I take a look at his books. The poor bastard is mortgaged up to his eyeballs, and there haven’t been any customers coming through the door at all. I just don’t see how this restaurant can be salvaged.
It’s the night of the big re-launch. I’ve invited some of the leading citizens of the town to come out. The chef is nearly hysterical at the thought of having to cook for two hundred people. After he calms down a bit, I try to walk him through what he needs to do to make this place a success. But he’s not listening. Instead, he walks around to the back of the restaurant, which turns out to be this amazing terrace – complete with a large grill and what he explains is a “smoker.” We get a charcoal fire started in the smoker, and load it up with fifty pounds of beef brisket. While the brisket is smoking, he makes baked beans in the slow-cooker and starts hamburgers, hot dogs and local corn on the cob on the grill. At first, I’m convinced it’s going to be a fucking disaster.
But when the customers arrive, they can’t get enough of the authentic barbecue. It turns out to be an absolutely brilliant idea. I try to explain to the chef that this is how he ought to be operating his restaurant all the time instead of turning out uninspired Italian and Mexican specials. You can get brisket and charcoal for pence, and then have fresh, local side dishes that really bring in the crowds. It’s a strategy that could make this restaurant a going concern.
He stares at me for two whole minutes, not saying a bloody word. And that’s when he tells me and the camera crew to get the fuck out and not come back. Unbelievable.