Food on TV

Did Gordon Ramsay kill El Greco? Dramatic Kitchen Nightmares episode finally airs

Did Gordon Ramsay kill El Greco? Dramatic Kitchen Nightmares episode finally airs

Watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, you always have to feel bad for the poor suckers who ate at the restaurant in question pre-makeover. Good Lord, you think, between the unrefrigerated meat, sizable cockroach colony, and the near forced servitude of the owner’s little cousin in the kitchen, I’m never going out to eat again

But by the time Chef Ramsay rides off into the sunset, peace has been restored to the universe, and the formerly nightmarish kitchen is on its way to unbridled success. 

If only it came true in real life.  When the news that El Greco, the family-run Greek bistro off Guadalupe, was chosen to host a visit from Chef Ramsay (airing Friday the 20th at 7pm on FOX) , it was hard not to think about the numerous plates of gyro and moussaka we’ve eaten and wince. Most likely, El Greco’s shortcomings had less to do with the cleanliness of their kitchen (we hope) and more to do with the fact that their menu prices were about, oh, double what they needed to be. They had Disney World-esque food prices but no Mickey Mouse or Snow White.  Instead, there was just Chef Jake.

Jake Konstantinidis, a passion-fueled, temperamental Greek-American, started El Greco in 2007 alongside his delicate mother Athena, whose heavy accent harkens back to the home country.

This is shark bait for Chef Ramsay. If there’s ever an opportunity to pit a hot-headed, failing son against his hen-pecking, immigrant mother, Ramsay will stop whatever he is doing just for the opportunity to curse directly in their faces and teach them the importance of family.

 Take a peek in the window and you’ll still see two pastries sitting out on the table, while a tattered sticker in the front door begs for the owners to please give back the linens that they borrowed. 

After four seasons of Kitchen Nightmares, the routine is highly predictable but somehow still effective. Ramsay arrives on the scene in ridiculous fashion (muscle car, motorcycle, sled-dog), sits down for a meal, and proceeds to tell the owner what absolute crap the food is. He may vomit a little off screen or run to the bathroom, which, inevitably, will earn him the love of one of the pandering, pubescent wait staff who will finally get to say (on national television no less), “See, I told you the food sucked!” 

Ramsay then enters the kitchen, finds an insect/hygiene/laziness problem, and then starts yelling at people. 

After a dinner service that is due to fail (if it doesn’t fail on its own, Chef Ramsay will make it fail), Ramsay’s “team” (including a notoriously bad interior designer) remakes the restaurant overnight while Ramsay does his best to get the restaurant’s owner and his or her mother/spouse/old-college-roommate-turned-business-partner to break into tears during a Ramsay-led psychology session.

The next day, after revealing the new menu items, dinner is once again served, and, while things get off to a rocky start, the newfound chutzpah of the staff and a few well-timed British curse words save the day, and the restaurant quickly turns into the very epitome of success. 

After Ramsay doles out hugs — including a kiss on the cheek of the sassy, plus-sized dish washer with whom he has been playfully flirting all episode — and parting words of wisdom to all involved, Ramsay departs, and a brief flash-forward shows us how Ramsay’s tough love has saved the restaurant from having to shut its doors.

Unfortunately, less than five months after visiting El Greco, the doors are already shut. Armed with a new, simplified menu and a few cheesy coats of blue and white paint, Konstantinidis couldn’t pay the bills and the landlord shut the doors sometime around New Years.

Take a peek in the window and you’ll still see two pastries sitting out on the table, while a tattered sticker in the front door begs for the owners to please give back the linens that they borrowed. 

What happened to Chef Ramsay’s magic? Were the cathartic tears not enough to make Austinites want to eat lamb chops and orzo salad?

If you take a closer look at Ramsay’s record, you’ll find he’s batting well under .500. For a baseball player that’s not bad; for a supposed savior of restaurants, it’s pretty miserable.

Sure, you don’t call in a TV show to fix your problems (as Konstantinidis first did over three years ago) unless you already have serious problems (and more than likely a few hundred thousand dollars of debt), but we would hope that Ramsay’s experience at least sets his adopted restaurants in the right direction.

At El Greco, the consensus is fairly clear: Ramsay brought media attention but little else. The new menu was smaller, better priced, and more familiar, but the food lost its authenticity and the exoticness of its flavors.

Before, it was hard to complain about the food, even if it cost you an arm and a leg. After all, the food was generic, the atmosphere kitschy, and the lingering ghost of Ramsay obliged Konstantinidis (contractually) to perpetuate many of the Ramsay miscues, including the purely-ornamental water pitchers that hogged over a quarter of the space on each table. 

In the end though, a restaurant's success comes down to the food. Ramsay’s revamped menu was a dud, and El Greco is no more.  

While we’re excited about the opportunity to see Ramsay throwing microwaves off of El Greco’s roofs in one of his famous tough-love/highly-telegenic lessons, we’re not looking forward to Konstantinidis being portrayed as an ass. Maybe he is, or maybe he was just trying to use every ounce of his Greek passion to save his floundering restaurant. But there’s no question that his clips will be strung together in such a way as to show him as a near-insane madman at rock-bottom, allowing Ramsay to pull him that much further out of his self-made hole. 

Whatever the case, expect drama: it wasn’t but a few weeks after the filming that Konstantinidis’s kitchen staff walked out mid-service and then immediately offered their finger-pointing side of the story for all to hear. 

It’s hard to say if we’ll get the real scoop when the episode airs, either. Ramsay will have all the answers, but we former patrons of El Greco will know better: Ramsay’s show is TV, but a closed El Greco is real life.

Austin Photo: News_Adam Sparks_El Greco closed_Jan 2012_Fox TV
Courtesy of FOX Television
Austin Photo: Places_food_el greco exterior
By David R.