Kitchen Nightmares

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Kitchen Nightmares Episode Recaps

Zeke's

Zeke's

Aired: 5/13/11

Chef Ramsay is in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, a tight-knit community that's home to Zeke's, the neighborhood restaurant that was first opened in 2002 by a colorful character named Zeke. Back then, according to staffers, the eatery had a great vibe, big crowds, and excellent food. Sadly, in 2005 Zeke died in Hurricane Katrina. With the restaurant in limbo, a married couple named Darryl and Ellen Cortello bought the place and quickly cut staff, decreased the quality of the food, and raised prices. Ellen admits that what they're doing isn't working and that they need Chef Ramsay's help.

Before he heads to the restaurant, Chef Ramsay has arranged to meet with locals to get the scoop on the public's perception of Zeke's. The locals say that though they used to frequent the place prior to Katrina, they've stopped going because of the restaurant's average, overpriced food and dull atmosphere.

Chef Ramsay arrives at Zeke's during lunch and meets owner Ellen, who says that while they kept much of the menu the same, they've made some changes and included a few recipes of Darryl's, despite the fact that he has no formal culinary training. Chef Ramsay orders oysters Cortello, boiled shrimp, and the day's specials: chicken-fried steak and bread pudding.

Chef Ramsay has trouble peeling the shrimp and thinks that they lack freshness. Server Candace admits that they're fresh-frozen, which surprises him since fresh shrimp are available in plenty of New Orleans markets. After pointing out some hideous "swamp-themed" décor, Chef Ramsay digs into the oysters, which come fried and atop toast. He hates them. Next up is the bland chicken-fried steak with "no seasoning and no taste." And finally, the bread pudding arrives. Guess what? He loves it. Maybe that's because Zeke's chef, Emil, is the one who created it.

Chef Ramsay heads back to the kitchen and grills Darryl about why he doesn't buy fresh shrimp. Darryl claims that he doesn't have time. Chef Ramsay then asks Emil about why the restaurant now serves poor quality meat when it didn't used to. Emil says that it was Darryl's decision, and Darryl flat-out disagrees with Chef Ramsay, pointing out the full dining room and the fact that nothing got sent back. He claims that Chef Ramsay doesn't know New Orleans food.

An hour before dinner service, Chef Ramsay has a chat with kitchen staffers Emil and Jason. The guys insist that they've tried to explain to Darryl how the poor-quality ingredients are hurting business, but he doesn't listen. When dinner kicks off, Chef Ramsay starts exploring the kitchen and wonders why all of the shrimp are pre-bagged. Turns out, it's Darryl's attempt at portion control.

The restaurant is packed, thanks to word of Chef Ramsay's visit, but food is going out cold, and the kitchen is serving a "special" lasagna that was made a week ago. Chef Ramsay asks Darryl how "in his tiny mind" lasagna could be special if it's a week old. To find out what customers think, Chef Ramsay announces to the dining room that the dish was actually made a week ago. Diners are horrified, and Ellen is humiliated as they begin to leave.

Later, when Darryl tries to defend freezing leftover dishes and reserving them for future dinner services, Chef Ramsay accuses him of only caring about portion control, measurements, and reheating food, and he accuses him of not being a restaurateur.

The next day, Chef Ramsay calls a staff meeting in order to hear staffers' frustrations. Emil says that he went from working 40 to 50 hours and still makes only $400 a week. Servers feel that they don't get respect and aren't even allowed a meal. Chef Ramsay tells the workers that he wants them to express the same comments to Darryl and Ellen and he'll have their back.

The owners are blown away when Jason tells them that he doesn't think they have a clue as to how the place runs, since they're so stuck on numbers they don't focus on serving good food, giving good customer service, treating staff well, or paying them well. Ellen says that they've taken money out of their personal accounts to make payroll and they have to make a living just like their employees. Darryl, growing angrier, coldly tells the employees, "If you don't want to be here, don't be here."
Chef Ramsay asks them all to turn the page and start a new chapter. Darryl insists that all of Zeke's staffers will have his respect.

Afterward, Chef Ramsay explains to Emil and Jason that they need to show Darryl and Ellen just how creative they can be with seafood. He sends them off to the grocery store to see what they can come up with. After their shopping trip, Chef Ramsay cooks up a chicken-fried steak while the guys make salmon and grits and red fish with grilled vegetables. Then Chef Ramsay serves all three dishes to Darryl and Ellen and pretends he cooked them all himself. They absolutely love everything they try. Chef Ramsay then reveals the big surprise - their own chefs made them, not him. They both admit that the dishes are incredible and they're impressed with Jason and Emil.

Chef Ramsay and his team work overnight on the biggest restaurant makeover "Kitchen Nightmares" has ever done. The owners and staff are overwhelmed with the new, more inviting décor, complete with a dedicated "boil house" area full of fresh shellfish. The menu has also gotten an update with classic, New Orleans cuisine, including a bucket of shrimp and blue crab, a pecan-crusted catfish, and blackened alligator in a Creole sauce. Darryl and Ellen are grateful.

Many customers who soured on Zeke's due to its new owners' missteps are now back for relaunch night, and Chef Ramsay wants the staff to push buckets of seafood from the boil house. Sure enough, the orders start rolling in for the buckets of seafood, which takes some of the pressure off the kitchen because the buckets are simple to put together. That means it's up to Darryl to properly expedite the entrée orders from the regular menu. He starts calling multiple tickets at the same time, more focused on speed than anything else, which confuses the kitchen and doesn't give the cooks time to properly plate and garnish the dishes. And making matters worse, many of the meat and fish entrees are going out undercooked!

Chef Ramsay implores everyone to start focusing on one dish at a time and communicating better. Darryl follows the advice and gets in synch with the chefs. That means perfectly cooked dishes are going out to happy customers. The local TV news even shows up and helps spread the word. Dinner service ends on a successful note.

Afterward, Chef Ramsay congratulates everyone and then has a private meeting with Darryl and Ellen. He tells them that it's now their Zeke's and they should run with it. He's also realized that Darryl has a big heart, but he needs to show it to his employees. Chef Ramsay says he witnessed quite a comeback, and it's fitting that it took place in the resilient city of New Orleans.

In the weeks that followed, customers streamed back in, thanks in part to that local news story. Darryl and Ellen did their best to increase staff morale and reached out to the community to put Zeke's back on the map.

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