Restaurant's "Kitchen Nightmare" is Over; Gordon Ramsay is Gone
A few lucky diners witnessed Gordon Ramsay's restaurant magic.
On South Park Street on Friday night, anticipation was in the air -- and raindrops too, as several dozen people queued under umbrellas for the first glimpse of the new, transformed Leone's Restaurant.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay had spent the past three days revamping the Montclair eatery for Fox’s reality TV show, Kitchen Nightmares. The format of the reality show revolves around Chef Ramsay showing up at a struggling restaurant and helping the owners get it back on track.
“Leone’s was once a very successful restaurant,” said Lindsay Kuglar, Co-Executive Producer of the show. “The owner got very ill and they have lost their way.”
She explains that Chef Ramsay’s main goals are to get owners out of debt and to repair relationships. “He uses his experience as a restaurateur to help give the restaurant a new identity.”
The “new identity” was what people were waiting in line for on Friday, the chance to both witness and taste what a celebrity chef and his crew can accomplish in three days of nonstop work.
Asked to arrive by 6 PM, the 65 lucky diners were required to sign photo releases and confidentiality agreements before they were permitted inside. Crew members let patrons enter in small groups from about 6:15 on.
Surprisingly, few of the participants were actually locals. Patch spoke to diners who had hailed from all over New Jersey, and a few said they had travelled even farther. Most of the crowd said they had read about the filming in their local papers.
“We came from Stamford,” said Munira Okovic, who traveled three hours with her friend Margarita Dilane to get there. “I started calling people this afternoon to see who could leave work early on a Friday afternoon and sit in traffic for hours to come here,” she laughs.
Though people had been permitted to dine at Leone’s on several nights of shooting, this last night was the pièce de résistance. All the changes had been implemented and were put to the true test: public scrutiny. Mayor Jerry Fried and Deputy MayorKathryn Weller were among the Friday night diners.
The guests remained cordoned off across from the restaurant until “show time.” A producer worked the line, letting in one or two parties at time so as not to overwhelm the kitchen. While they waited, he gave the group specific instructions about how to behave when the cameras were on them. “Don’t look directly into the camera,” he advised, “that just looks weird. And when the camera is at your table, try to talk about the food, or general things. Stay away from topical conversation – current events – which won’t play well when the show airs months from now.”
“Gordon’s a really great guy. He takes good care of his crew,” said producer Hayden Mauk, who’s been with Ramsay since his Hell’s Kitchen years. “He’s a perfectionist and we all work really hard when we’re in production," he added, describing how the art department worked through the night Thursday on the restaurant's interior.
One disappointed man from Essex Fells stood under his umbrella for an hour, chatting with the crew. “I tried to get a reservation, but I was not one of the chosen,” sighed Rich Rampola. “I love the show and watch it religiously and I also use it as part of my new teacher orientation. [Chef Ramsay] wants people to be successful. So as an elementary principal, I talk to the teachers who are new to our district using some of his techniques. In Kitchen Nightmares he always uses the pronoun ‘we’ – this is what ‘we’ need to do. It’s a together kind of thing – and that’s how I want our teachers to think about getting involved in our district.”
“I think he sees the bigger picture of what a place needs,” Rampola continued. “When he does a makeover with the décor it’s spectacular. And he’ll make suggestions with the menu that are right on. I’ve been to Leone’s…they have good pizza…but the way it was, it’s not the kind of place that you could have a ‘special moment’.”
Regarding ambiance, Chef Ramsay created just that – an atmosphere where special moments can abound: the high ceilings and balcony remain, but everything has been brightened with fresh paint and furnishings. The feel is both modern and elegant, and, yes, special.
Diners seemed pleased with their experience Friday night. And, for anyone who is a fan, pizza continues to be served.
When will the new Leone’s be unveiled to the public?
Tuesday should be business as usual – only a little more fabulous.
The Montclair episode of Kitchen Nightmares does not have a scheduled airdate yet, but the season begins September 23rd on Friday nights on Fox. (8/7c)