Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Reality of TV: My Hell's Kitchen

After several hours of waiting in a drab Culver City studio warehouse, sitting on rickety folding chairs in our formal dining duds, we are motioned to enter into the "restaurant", feigning pulling up in our car at valet. Luckily we passed the casting standards and are upgraded to a front booth rather than the off-camera loft in the back we were initially promised. Things are looking up. However, as we do look up, it becomes crystal clear this is a TV studio set, not a functioning restaurant. The cavernous rafters above where the wallpapered walls end are adorned with hundreds of studio lights. It is a very bright set - the ambiance is purely a camera trick. In fact, there is not even a restroom in the fancy Gordon Ramsey dining establishment.. There are ushers that make sure you don't get hit by the swooping cranes or backward running camera men and give you the complex directions to the port-a-potties out in the parking lot. All of this aside, we are starving and EXTREMELY grateful to be seated. Our lovely server is with us immediately and actually seems to be a genuine server, rather than an actor (oh wait.. he's probably both). He immediatley makes us laugh and rushes out some massive balloon glasses of cheap-but-drinkable Chardonnay and Cabernet and a basket overflowing with various breeds of bread product. Drooling, we excitedly review the descriptive coursed menu.. the decision is not easy, but we each pick a different appetizer, entree and dessert, as directed. It sounds like way too much food, but we graciously accept the assignment.
Our waiter is quick to take our order and rush it to the expeditor. Suddenly this all seems to be speeding along. We sit back and enjoy our bread and wine, turning our eyes to the chefs skittering behind the glass wall. We can't hear the drama, but we can clearly see Chef Ramsey's glistening forehead and spitting shouts.
Another round of wine is poured.. Worried about filling up before our food, we try to ease up on the bread basket. It is starting to seem a little odd that our appetizers have not come. Of course in any normal restaurant, this is where things would go different. Only here, at our inquiry, the waiter makes a joke and rolls his eyes toward the kitchen like "this is how it goes, sorry."
We recall the explicit pre-shoot warning that we are not guarenteed a meal.. and suddenly that bread basket is looking more appealing. So we wait, we munch on carbs for survival and down several more glasses of wine. They chefs in the kitchen do NOT look happy, and we see plate after plate get sent back or thrown by Ramsey. Nothing appears to be leaving the kitchen anymore. A few tables near us got their apps, but nothing beyond that. When Ramsey kicks over a garbage can and marches out of the kitchen, we all exchange a look, down our glass and motion for another pour. Our server smiles apologetically and lets us know that the kitchen has in fact closed.. two hours after we ordered. He ends up staying and chatting with us, keeping our glasses full as we drown our disappointment. We thank him for being so good to us, and trudge out to the lot with the rest of the famished diners.
We decide we are relatively drunk and accept the cab vouchers as well as the $20 each "pay", solidifying our experience as extras rather than diners. A security guard stops me as I go to take a grainy picture of the restaurant exterior with my cell phone and I decide that it is BEYOND time to get off this lot. We return to the car, pop open the back and get changed out of our stuffy clothes (not really caring who's watching), then return for our complimentary cab and tell him not to stop until he hits the Hollywood.

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