August 28, 2007
Ramsay Blasts 'Kitchen Nightmares' Lawsuit
By James Hibberd
“Hell’s Kitchen” star Gordon Ramsay broke his silence on a lawsuit accusing the perfectionist chef of faking scenes in a New York eatery for his upcoming Fox reality show.
“I would never-ever-ever dream of setting anything up,” Mr. Ramsay said by phone from London on Friday. “I want to sleep at night. We were issued a writ because, God bless America, if the toilet paper is not thick enough and you come out with a rash on your ass [you’ll get sued].”
In his new show, “Kitchen Nightmares,” Mr. Ramsay visits struggling restaurants and tries to help owners turn around their businesses.
Manhattan restaurant manager Martin Hyde was fired during the filming of a “Nightmares” episode, then filed a $1 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Mr. Ramsay and the show’s producers in June. Mr. Hyde accused “Nightmares” of planting spoiled meat, fixing a chair to fall apart and hiring actors to pose as guests lending the appearance of a successful makeover. Earlier this month, a judge tossed the suit into arbitration.
“The idea of bringing moldy food in and planting actors is a f**king joke,” Mr. Ramsay said. “There’s a man who got very scared and very embarrassed about his lack of professionalism. For a man to waste lawyers’ time and taxpayers’ money to get upset about something you’re the cause of...”
The lawsuit said Mr. Hyde urged his boss to invite Mr. Ramsay’s “Nightmares” production to the restaurant, only to be singled out as a scapegoat by producers who needed a camera-ready villain for the show.
“[Mr. Hyde] wasn’t the one in charge of the kitchen,” said Mr. Hyde’s attorney, Carl Person. “The person responsible left the restaurant a week earlier. They’re going to make him appear he was the one in charge and he wasn’t. They’re setting him up.”
The New York lawsuit is similar to an allegation against the popular UK version of "Nightmares," where a restaurant went out of business after the show revealed rotting food in its kitchen. Mr. Ramsay won a lawsuit against a newspaper that claimed the show was staged.
“I don’t want to start that kind of bullshit over here,” he said. “You know it just scares me that litigation can just happen overnight, and then you’re on the defense.”
A crew member on the U.S. version of “Nightmares” previously told TelevisionWeek that restaurants aided on the show were “so disgusting, we didn’t need to do anything" for them to look bad. The source also said the production does help stock the restaurant with local patrons for some scenes, but “they weren’t told to lie about their experience, only to be entertaining for the camera: ‘If you like the food, then really like it. If you don’t, then really don’t.’”
Both Mr. Ramsay and Mr. Person said the “Nightmares” raw camera footage will vindicate their respective sides of the story.
“We found extraordinary droppings from rats and the most unhygienic kitchen I’ve ever seen in my career,” Mr. Ramsay said. “There should be a government health warning before the program saying ‘all dinner should be consumed before watching this program.’”
Mr. Person acknowledged there may have been sanitation issues at the restaurant, which the lawsuit notes was closed by the New York Board of Health about a week after the episode was shot. “Every restaurant has mouse droppings,” he said. Mr. Person also said Mr. Ramsay “to some extent, may not know what’s going on” behind the scenes of his own show. But Mr. Person maintained much of the production is “showmanship” and that his client was unfairly targeted for humiliation.
Fox premieres “Nightmares” on Sept. 19, the same night as another fall reality series attracting production controversy, CBS’s “Kid Nation.” Though Fox has been silent about the “Nightmares” lawsuit and declined to comment, Mr. Ramsay has never been shy about speaking his mind.
“Trying to say I set up a wobbly chair,” Mr. Ramsay said, his voice full of disgust at the lawsuit. “This is supposed to be the most powerful nation in the world, not the most pathetic.”
A full interview with Gordon Ramsay about his career in reality television will appear in the Sept. 3 issue of TelevisionWeek and online on Monday.http://www.tvweek.com/news/2007/08/gordon_ramsay_lawsuit_kitchen_nightmares.php