Fans of Fox's perversely compelling train wreck "Kitchen Nightmares" usually have two questions: "How much of that drama is artificial?" and "What does the food taste like?" This week, Boston diners will get a chance to answer the second one when an episode taped in the city airs for the first time. Anthony and Frank Gesualdi, brothers and co-owners of Davide in the North End invited the irascible chef Gordon Ramsey into their restaurant a couple months ago. Anyone who's ever seen the show before can probably guess how it played out. Anthony talked about the experience.
How did you get in touch with the "Kitchen Nightmare" people?
Frank contacted the show two years ago as kind of a joke. The restaurant was slow; we had internal family problems between me and Frank. We sent an e-mail saying our restaurant could use some help -- typical restaurant problems. We used to be real busy, but with the economy and all the competition, we're a little left behind. Two years later, we get a call from casting saying they're coming to town and would like to come by and do a casting. It was kind of a shock. It's a double-edged sword because he's not coming in to say, "Great job, guys!" He's gonna say, "You suck!" no matter what, even if you don't. That's the show.
I said let's take a shot -- the economy is bad, business is slow. They looked at eight restaurants in the Boston area and they liked us the best. I don't know if that's a compliment or an insult. And that's how it started. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. We ended up in a whirlwind with Gordon Ramsey.
Had you seen the show prior to Ramsey's visit?
I watched the show. I thought they were insane. I said that stuff would never happen, but they make sure it happens. They create it to make sure it happens. I was thinking it was like a documentary. They make sure you're in the weeds for three days so you'll lose your cool. The madder I got, the more they smiled.
Is the drama artificial then?
It's not artificial. One thing I gotta say about Ramsey, he could read the character of the restaurant. He's good at reading personalities. He picks up on the problems right away. All the problems are the truth. Yeah, the food needed to be updated, the decor was outdated. He comes in and really does do the job of changing what you need. Yes, they create some chaos, make sure you're overwhelmed, but the way they do that is book your restaurant to capacity within a short period of time. And you're gonna get stuck.
Did the criticism sting?
It's still your livelihood and you take pride in it. It hurts your feelings a little. Even though you know they have to come in and criticize, it starts to get to you. After the third day I was like, "This is bullsh*t. This is a bad move." I lost it and started talking into the microphone like a crazy person. Then all the cameramen started following me. I was like, "Guys, get away from me. I don't care. I'm done. This isn't about the show." Then Ramsey comes out yelling at me, "You've got customers!" They edit it, and of course it's gonna be "an owner that doesn't give a sh*t about his customers."
Did you butt heads with Ramsey?
Not too much. His criticisms, a lot of them were right on the money. He reads the flow of the restaurant, the way we were cooking. That part of it was very good.
How has the menu changed?
The menu, a lot of it is the same direction we were going, but they made some lighter entrees, more vegetarian-friendly, not all those heavy cream sauces. The ingredients are fresh and local and simplified. The price points went down, we're not as expensive as we were. The main thing with him with the cooking was fresh and local, and fresh ingredients that pop out, nothing complicated. We were cooking and reducing and cooking each dish to order with veal stock. He was like, "No, you prep a demi-glace, get your proteins and vegetables nice and fresh, your sauces prepped in the daytime." Basically we were working harder than we had to with what is going on in the culinary world today. The menu changes are modernized; it's a little more 21st century.
What did you think of Ramsey as a guy?
He's fine. He's intense. It's not fake, the intensity, it's like adrenaline 100 percent. He's on the move, that's not fake, from the minute you meet him on. He's got energy like you wouldn't believe. He's a regular guy; he's not a jerk. What they show on TV is him yelling and swearing. You're with him for five days, but that goes on for an hour. He's a compassionate guy and his heart is in the right place. You get mad when he's criticizing you and calling you names. The experience with him was fine. The experience with all those cameras was not. You couldn't pay me enough to get into reality TV. Well, I guess you could pay me enough, but it's grueling. You do give up your life for those five days.