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Curtis House

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I first heard that Gordon Ramsay’s television show Hotel Hell was coming to Connecticut to film a segment on Woodbury’s Curtis House about six months ago. 

At the time, all I could think of was: oh, my God.  I’ve eaten in a restaurant with a kitchen full of rotting meat and cockroaches.

For those of you who are not familiar with Gordon Ramsay or his television: he is a chef of some serious reputation, with three or four internationally famous restaurants in operation, who started on the tube with a show that took him to various failing restaurants in the US and the Uk and gave him a chance to fix them.

It’s really remarkable how many of those restaurants have turned out to have kitchen conditions that ought to make them immediately nonexistant by order of the board of health–but somehow, the various boards of health never seem to have discovered the messes in these kitchens, and there were are.

I’ve always wondered why these people invite Ramsay in to take over and film, because although there are obvious compensations (the show often picks up a hefty tab for remodelling or the services of a professional chef who can retrain the restaurant’s incompetent staff), the simple fact is that I would eat in one of these places to save my life.

If the kitchen was that filthy to start with, my hunch is that it will go back to being that filthy again, given time.   I don’t trust these people to maintain hygene.  They haven’t up to now.

Aside from the original program (actually two, Kitchen Nightmare’s and Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares), Ramsay also has something called Hell’s Kitchen, which is a sort of standard competition show where hopeful chefs compete for jobs in one of Ramsay’s restaurants, and this thing, Hotel Hell, where Ramsay charges in to fix an entire hotel instead of just a restaurant.

Now, I won’t say Gordon Ramsay is an acquired taste.  The experience is more like watching a train wreck. 

American versions of the show are full of bleeps.  BBC America versions just let the effing and essing fly.  The man has the most remarkable ability of anyone I’ve ever seen to lose his temper on camera and to do it completely articulately. 

He also has the ability to be charming in unexpected ways–like spoofing himself on a cell phone commercial or calling his mother for mother’s day while he’s on his way to…the Curtis House.

Of course, there are exceptions on all these shows, places in which the underlying problem isn’t filth and neglect.   One of the episodes on one of the restaurant shows featured a place whose kitchen was pristine but whose owners were crazy.  Customers would complain about the food and then be told, “you’re wrong, our food is great, you’re just trying to make trouble,  you should get out of here.”

Clips from that show ended up on YouTube and went absolutely viral.  People started showing up at the restaurant to see if these people were as crazy as they appeared.

Apparently they were.

But in spite of these exceptions, the shows run pretty close to formula almost every time, so when I hear that Gordon Ramsay is coming in to fix a restaurant or a hotel, I assume that at least some of what I’m going to get is, you know, cockroaches.

And the thing about the Curtis House is that, although I’ve never stayed there, I have eaten there. 

It was a while back, and there’s nothing to say that what it is like now is what it was like then, but still…

It’s not the kind of thing you want to think about.

So, when I heard that Ramsay was coming to Woodbury, I really, really, really wanted to see the episode.

Sort of as a matter of principle.

Well, a couple of days ago, I did see it–I can find it difficult to watch shows on television, because I don’t like to watch episodes when they’re initially aired.

That’s fine as long as the show is popular and the station it originally appeared on is interested in having it reaired, but it can also mean that there are some things that just disappear into the night, or that vanish for long periods until you can’t remember why you were interested in the first place.

With the Curtis House episode of Hotel Hell, I didn’t take the chance.

Like everything else that airs on Fox, episodes are up FOD the day after they’re first aired.  The episodes are “free” only in the sense that they don’t require anything out of pocket.  The commercials are running full blast, and you can’t fast forward through them no matter how much you may want to.

On the other hand, that’s fair.  Fox makes its money through advertising.  And there’s nothing to stop you from going to the kitchen instead of actually watching the commercials.

So I sat down after lunch one day and watched the thing and…

Well, first, it was one of the exceptions.  Although there was a fair amount of filthiness in the rooms upstairs, there was no indication that the kitchen was anything but properly run, at least as far as hygiene was concerned.

Ramsay did rework the inn’s menu, because he thought the food was “stodgy.”  I’ll give that too him.  The time I ate there, the food was very stodgy indeed.

And that was what was most interesting about all of this.

With a lot of other people, I tend to think of “reality TV” as essentially UNreal.  I’ve always assumed that what I saw there was distorted by definition.

If it was up on the air and meant to be entertainment, then it must also have been falsified in some way.

The Curtis House episode of Hotel Hell, however, was not falsified in any way I could see.

It’s possible that the central drama–a brother and sister ownership teamwho had stopped talking to each other, at all, years ago–was scripted into unrecognizability.

But I’d have no way of knowing that.

And from what I do know about this place, the episode was entirely authentic.

If you want to know what it’s like to eat at Connecticut’s oldest in–in operation since before the Revolution–this episode is a good guide to the experience.

I feel like I need to revise the way I view and judge at least some reality programming.

You’re never going to get me to think that there’s anything “real” about Jersey Shore.  You’re never going to get me to watch a single entire episode.

But there are other things on the air–the Lockup series that goes inside prisons, for instance–that might have more to recommend them than I originally thought.

Written by janeh

September 4th, 2014 at 10:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to 'Curtis House'

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  1. Well, it’s a known fact you *really* shouldn’t visit the kitchen of anyplace you enjoy eating. Even the good ones probably have moldy food in the walk-in.

    I’ve had the (mis)fortunate experience of working in many small businesses, and in my view, most businesses are dysfunctional in some way. Piled higher and deeper if family is involved, as seems much more frequent with restaurants.

    The difference between a dysfunctional family and a dysfunctional business is that a business has a P&L statement to document just HOW badly it’s being screwed up. I’m sure if you looked you could find any number of failing businesses that need intervention. Restaurants are different because most of us in our ignorance think that running one is like cooking for guests or family, all the time. So we all presume we could do it if we wanted, how hard could it be? Few of us dream of one day running a small tool & die business, but hey, a restaurant, why not?

    There is a qualitative difference between reality shows like Restaurant Nightmares & Restaurant Impossible and their ilk, and what are known as “scripted reality” shows like Jersey Shore or Drunk on Your Ass in Georgia or whatever it is. While the makeover shows may follow a general formula, the goal is to make people, and their lives, function *better* by the end. The scripted shows seem to be designed to promote and celebrate the dysfunction of the participants, probably in an effort to make the viewer thankful that “at least I’m not as bad as they are.” Or that’s my theory, anyway. Kardashians, I’m looking at you.

    I watch the makeover shows, some of them. Scripted shows of any sort, never. If I want dysfunction, I can reminisce about Thanksgivings past. Or some of those small businesses I worked at. Gah.


    4 Sep 14 at 1:27 pm

  2. I figure there’s a scale of reality, with THIS OLD HOUSE about at the top, then UNSOLVED MYSTERIES, Then most of the Discovery and History Channel offerings, maybe C-SPAN, then television news. Below that, it’s more a matter of budget than anything else. At that, I may be giving the “news” more credit than it deserves. And if you distinguish “truthful” from “factual,” your average news program is less truthful than an old HILL STREET BLUES or BABYLON 5.

    But I would not take the unsupported word of ANY television program on ANY matter of fact. These people need an audience of millions, and telling the truth is just one strategy among many for getting and keeping that audience. They are every one of them in the entertainment business, and if we forget it, they certainly won’t.


    4 Sep 14 at 7:31 pm

  3. Oh, lest anyone think I was exaggerating, please keep in mind that all three of the Jurassic Networks have been caught falsifying car defects–explosive charges to detonate Pintos, pulling on accelerators for “proof” of “sudden acceleration syndrome” and such. (No doubt pursuing higher Truth in defiance of mere facts.) And those are the “news” divisions of the old line networks. But they did that to firms with the money and time to hire lawyers and detectives to fight back. What do you suppose they’ll do to you–and have already done to the “villains” you see on TV–if slander looks to produce higher ratings than truth?

    A television show might tell the truth–but it’s really not what they’re there for.


    5 Sep 14 at 7:22 pm

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