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Kitchen Nightmares: "Sebastian's"

Illustration for article titled iKitchen Nightmares/i: Sebastians
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Illustration for article titled iKitchen Nightmares/i: Sebastians

And so we say to farewell to Kitchen Nightmares. Because of low readership and a general feeling among the TV Clubbers that this show is stuck in a holding pattern from which it's never going to escape, it's getting lost in our general reshuffle. But at least we go out on a high, with easily the best episode of the series to date.

When last we convened, pre-World Series, I wrote that I was looking forward to this episode so that I could savor the line I'd been waiting to hear Gordon Ramsay say since it was first teased in week one: "I've never, ever, ever, ever…met…someone…I believe in…as little as you." This week, we got to meet that someone: Sebastian, aspiring actor and owner/manager/chef of Sebastian's, a Toluca Lake restaurant that Sebastian thinks is famous for its wood-fired pizzas and its complicated "menu concept." As I understand it, the basic concept of the concept is that a diner chooses from about a half-dozen protein options, decides whether to place them in the context of a salad, sandwich, entree, or maybe even an omelet (who knows?), and then that diner picks a sauce from one of "twenty gourmet flavor combinations." To further muddy the waters, Sebastian has adorned the menu with hideous-looking food photos that he took himself. He also boasts to the camera that he can cook anything. "My ability is endless," he says. "Put it in front of me and I'll make the dish for you."

Basically what we have here is a typical specimen of The Hollywood Dreamer, with big plans and the will to believe that if he just stays on the path he's laid out for himself, and doesn't let the haters get him down, he'll make it. Because I'm sure that's exactly how it worked in every Oprah-approved self-help book Sebastian read on his way to the bottom. When Ramsay tells him off, Sebastian jaws right back, and then goes around to his employees boasting that, "I won that one!" And when Ramsay gets back in his face and demands to know just what he's won, Sebastian explains his vision of nationwide franchises for his restaurant, and Sebastian-approved pizzas showing up in the frozen food aisle of supermarkets across the country, just like Wolfgang Puck.

There's only one major problem with Sebastian's dream: He doesn't know how to cook. When he says he can make any dish, what he means is that he can take any canned or frozen ingredient that his rich wife's money can buy, and slap it onto a plate so that it looks almost like how it's supposed to. If this episode is to be believed, Sebastian has never bothered to learn how to make his own sauces from scratch, or to combine fresh ingredients in any rudimentary way. For him it's all about the plating. Let the microwave do the cooking.

The core of Sebastian's life plan is bound up in that crazy menu, which even Ramsay calls "unique"–albeit with a sarcastic edge that Sebastian doesn't catch. ("Whether he thought it was good food or bad food, it was unique," Sebastian proclaims with misguided pride.) So when Ramsay starts making changes, Sebastian realizes that the only thing he ever brought to his own restaurant–an asinine ordering system–is about to be lost forever. And so he balks. And so this episode becomes super-entertaining.

We've seen traces of this in previous weeks, but this week was the first time on the US version of Kitchen Nightmares that a restaurateur just flatly rejected Ramsay's recamp. What he expected Ramsay to do for him, I don't know, but after the KN producers sprang for the standard remodel–including a pantry full of produce and a machine to help prepare fresh pizza dough–Sebastian started making noises about returning to his old menu. "That's what we're famous for!" he yells, which prompts Ramsay to yell right back, "And that's why you were packing them in, yeah?" Eventually, Sebastian storms out of the restaurant and into the nearby KN production offices, to get into Ramsay's face.

Since Sebastian's meltdown came with less than 10 minutes to go, I had hopes that I could finish my run of Kitchen Nightmares blogging with the first episode lacking a phony happy ending–a surprise development which would've been enough to earn an "A" from me. Instead, Sebastian swallowed his pride and finished the dinner service, sending the show out on an up note. But without–I note with some glee–any "community service" montage or faked-up footage of the success the restaurant became during the remainder of Ramsay's stay. I prefer to imagine that everything collapsed into ruin as soon as KN packed up its cameras. This is my last post on the show. In the name of Sebastian, let me hold onto my dreams.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-When Ramsay showed the staff how to make pizza dough and called them "tossers," was that some kind of dry British wit?

-The somewhat homely waitress who claimed that she'd gotten modeling work from the restaurant's high-powered customers–exactly what kind of "modeling" do you imagine she does?

-Goodbye, my Kitchen Nightmares friends. "And as Sebastian's mother would say, 'Mangia!'"

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