Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his show "Kitchen Nightmares" blitzed into Hampden's Cafe Hon Wednesday to see how the restaurant has fared since his visit last fall.
Ramsay stepped out of an SUV and into the cafe, capturing owner Denise Whiting in an embrace, calling her "darling," and handing her a gift. Things only went up from there.
Before Ramsay arrived, Whiting, looking camera ready in a vivid turquoise top and matching earrings, said she'd begin given almost no information about what the chef would be doing or looking for during what promised to be a quick filming stint -- about three hours. "We don't know what's happening from one minute to the next," she said, as camera crews and others from the show buzzed the room. She said she thought Ramsay was going to be impressed.
"We think it's going to be great," she said, "nothing but positive."
The restaurant was packed -- several parties were turned away at the door. In the room were restaurant regulars, two ladies in full Hon regalia complete with beehives eating in front of the picture window, and at least one table with some of those who spent the better part of last year protesting Whiting's trademarking of the word "hon."
"Kitchen Nightmares" initially visited the struggling Cafe Hon last fall. The plot surrounded the restaurant's sharp drop in reputation because of the ongoing trademark controversy.
Chef Ramsay, known for his tough-love approach to restaurant rehab, parachuted into town to show Whiting the damage the trademark had caused and convince her to end it. He also gave the cafe a cheerful makeover and made suggestions to modernize the menu.
The Cafe Hon episode originally aired in February, a tearful affair that signed off with Whiting achieving something close to redemption and people looking as if they were willing to give her and the cafe another shot.
The check-in episode filmed today isn't expected to air before next fall.
One of the first things Ramsay said upon returning to the restaurant was, "It looks amazing in here." Wearing dark jeans and a navy striped polo shirt, he complimented the pie case and remarked on how busy the place looked.
He whisked Whiting into the adjoining bar to talk, while the restaurant staff twittered about how sexy he looked. Hostess Debbie Harris joked with some waitresses about how it would be fun to spray some of the whipped cream meant for the pies onto Ramsay and lick it off. "I wish my husband looked that good in his jeans," she said wistfully -- or lustfully.
When Ramsay caught up with Harris, he quickly alluded to her famous moment from the original episode, when she declared Whiting, her boss, a "bitch."
"On a scale of 1 to 10 on the bitch scale," Ramsay asked her, "where would you rate her?"
Without hesitating, Harris said, "Four."
"So," Ramsay said, "She's mellowed then?"
Ramsay made his way to a table smack in the middle of the cafe that staff had reserved for him. There he gathered Harris and some other staff to quiz them on how things have been. One of the questions was whether Whiting was still "eighty-sixing" menu items with impudence -- something she seemed to do repeatedly, almost like a nervous tick, during the first episode.
He also tasted a special burger with avocado and salsa that Whiting made just for him.
At one point, Ramsay stood up in the middle of the room, asked for everyone's attention and thanked Baltimore "for making me feel so welcome." He mentioned how obvious it was to him that the locals now feel part of Cafe Hon. He declared the food "absolutely delicious."
Cameras then caught City Councilman Nick Mosby awarding Whiting a resolution in her honor.
Whiting thanked Ramsay profusely.
"I feel like he's given me my life back and my restaurant back," she told the cameras. "I've been given a second chance."
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