Denise Whiting is the owner of the Cafe Hon in Hampden. (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
Fox television's "Kitchen Nightmares," featuring celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his decidedly tough-love approach to restaurant rehab, will be filming at Hampden's Cafe Hon next week, the network confirmed Tuesday.
The show's producers were unavailable for further comment. In a statement, Café Hon owner Denise Whiting said she'd be willing to speak after the program aired.
"Kitchen Nightmares," in its fourth season on Fox, generally focuses on restaurants that are failing or in deep trouble, and affords the ceaselessly blunt Ramsay the chance to come in, do what needs to be done and — hopefully — save the business from plunging into the abyss.
But with Cafe Hon, Ramsay and the show's producers may find themselves at a business in need of a different kind of fix. The restaurant, a Hampden fixture since 1992, has been caught up in controversy since last year, when Whiting trademarked the word "Hon" — a term of endearment in Baltimore for decades — and began attempts to regulate its use.
Reaction to the move was fierce. Critics have called out Whiting for claiming ownership of an idea, as well as a spirit, that predates her by generations. Picketers have targeted her businesses and the last Honfest, an annual summer festival Whiting started. They have urged people to boycott both the festival and the cafe.
Earlier this year, Whiting succeeded in getting a court-issued restraining order against one of the protest organizers. And while few protesters were observed at June's Honfest 2011, Cafe Hon's appearance on "Kitchen Nightmares" suggests that the furor might be having an effect.
The gist of the show, which airs on Friday nights, is that chef Ramsay visits problem-ridden restaurants, finds the major flaws and then helps the restaurant owner fix them. Typically, a restaurant will be on the verge of shutting down when Ramsay arrives.
The problems Ramsay finds are cringe-worthy: food rotting in the kitchen, stomach-turning dishes, filthy dining rooms, inept staff. "Disgusting" is one of his favorite words. At one restaurant he visited, he made faces after finding decomposing lobster in a pot, and a pigeon flapping and flying through the kitchen.
The chef makes his feelings known in his typical expletive-laden, high-decibel fashion.
"Are you listening to me? You're going to kill someone," he told one restaurateur after being served under-cooked pork.
At another place, upon being served a plate of lobster ravioli, he declared, "That looks like the biggest pile of [expletive] ever to be served in Queens. My God." At a different eatery, he called a cook's Jamaican patties "absolutely gross, a soggy pile of dung."
"You are so in denial," Ramsay screamed at another restaurant owner. "You need therapy."