October 29, 2008 12:00 PM by Paulene Hinds
On Kitchen Nightmares tomorrow night, Chef Gordon Ramsay visits J Willy’s BBQ House in South Bend, IN and attempts to turn it into the most popular, sought-after, BBQvenue in town. Reality TV Magazine has an exclusive question and answer with the co-owner of J Willy’s, Rick Sutton. We asked Rick everything about his experience with the show, from decorating/improvements of his restaurant to just how mean Chef RamsayREALLY is. To find out the answers please keep reading below.
Do the decorators just swoop in and redecorate, or did the owner get any say in it?
They ask all of us what changes we would like to see; however we have no real choice in the decorations or improvements. When you put your fate in the hands of Chef Ramsay and his crew you just need to have faith and some humble appreciation for whatever they give you. When you are drowning out in the middle of a lake it would be foolish to argue over what color the life preserver is. We did not know what they did to the restaurant until after it was done.
How much say do the owners get in any of it period? Does Ramsay just come in and say, “This is the way it will be…” or is there more discussion and compromise that goes on in the background?
There is some give and take on some things that might affect the execution of food or service; however it is pretty much Chefs way or the highway. I mean we are the ones who screwed up so it is obvious we are not the ones who should be slinging advice or complaints.
Assuming Ramsay taught you a new dish (or more than one), how long does it REALLY take to train the chefs to cook like Ramsay?
They only spend about 5 seconds on it on the shows. Everyone thinks Chef Ramsay has some secret; however truth be told it all boils down to great food made fresh from fresh ingredients that tastes homemade. The chefs secret is to, make the food in small batches right before each meal period, and do not carry anything over. Taste the food when you make it and put some love and passion in what you are cooking. It sounds simple in concept but it is hard to execute 100% of the time. Some people say you never really know a dish until you cook it 100 times; and there is some truth to that; however great tasting food is great tasting food, and if it tastes great your guests will love it. The Chefs team worked long hours with us tweaking out the procedures and recipes to get them right and Chef encouraged us to get creative and work on improving our taste profile on all the menu items. Chef spent countless hours training our staff during the filming.
On the “opening night”/”reopening”, how much is Ramsay’s name used to get people in the door?
It is Chef Ramsay that draws the guests in for sure; however a lot of the people wanted to be on television as well. We do not fool ourselves by thinking we were the reason they were flocking to the door.
Did the owners/managers fight Ramsay on the changes?
We had some heated discussions about things for sure; however when you are asking a world famous chef to give you help that you do not deserve, it is hard to argue. In life you have to live with the decisions you make, and if you make bad decisions you lose any right to bitch when asking for help. We were humbled by the blessing we received, and we know we would be closed today if not for Chef and the great crew.
From the two shows he is known for in the US, Ramsay is often portrayed as very mean, yelling and screaming alot. Is Ramsay really as “strict” as they sometimes show him, or do they just make it look worse than it was?
Chef was all business for the most part. He joked with my wife and I, but he is a pretty serious, high energy dynamic person most of the time. It is obvious he realizes that life is short so you have to make every minute count if you want to make change or have an impact.
Have you continued to apply what Ramsay taught you to the everyday running of your restaurant?
Yes, there is no way we are going back. We realize we needed some help, and Chef Ramsay’s help is some of the best you can get; why screw it up by back sliding? We cook fresh from scratch each meal period each day, and we have expanded on that lesson as our menu has grown a few more items.
Have you reverted back to any of your old ways or old menu items?
Not a chance we are running that canned and frozen crap ever again. I hope and pray our partner is keeping the passion Gordon inspired in him. John is our operating partner and he runs the store on a daily basis. Gordon ignited a fire and a passion for great fresh food in John and hopefully it will last. It seems to so far. The name J Willy’s is from Johns name and he has to realize we succeed or fail due to what he is doing each and every day. So far he has been very strong on maintaining and improving standards. John has actually taken it a step further by sourcing local fresh vegetables, and seasonal fruit to offer as menu selections. Our homemade lemonade is better than anything you can get off the shelf. When Blueberries were in season we served local blueberries. When Strawberries were in season we served fresh strawberries. We look for the freshest local food we can get. NO MORE CANS OR FROZEN FOR US
Is your restaurant now profitable with no sign of closing down in the future?
No way. We could still fail should we not execute correctly once the show airs. We have a great BBQ sauce we are bottling and selling and we hope that will enhance our revenue stream. We won the South Bend BBQ competition with the BBQ sauce Chef helped us develop, and our long term goal is to sell the BBQ sauce all over the world. We are now taking internet orders for our BBQ sauce, and we are working with some grocery chains to stock it on their shelves. We would love to hook up with a big company to market and sell our sauce world wide. Kitchen Nightmares is seen all over the world and our sauce is a completion level sauce so we think the sauce might be a seriously viable product. We are looking for some help to expand and grow the BBQ sauce side of our business, and we hope we can make our sauce a household name. I think it blows away our competition and our customers rave about it. Try our sauce and you will never switch to any other sauce. It tastes great on all kinds of food .
What was negative about the experience? Would you do it again?
There is no way you can capture a true picture of me, my wife, or John in a one hour television show. Each of us has so much more depth than what can be portrayed in one episode. One small snap shot of our lives would hardly define who and what we are as individuals. It is very humbling and painful to air all your financial problems on television to complete strangers. It also hurts to admit you are a failure in a field you have been working in all your life. My wife is a very private person and she did not deserve having our home and life jeopardized by a failing restaurant. I am lucky to have a person as wonderful as my wife to share my life with; and I should have worked harder for this situation not to happen. I knew we should have used only fresh food but I did not have the guts to say it or stand up for what I believe in. Hind sight is 20/20 but in retrospect I should have done what I knew was right for the guest rather than compromising my principles. We should have been brutally honest about our short comings no matter who had their feelings hurt. John and I still fight like cats and dogs at times but at least we are brutally honest with each other now. Just a couple weeks ago John and I did not talk for a week over some argument. Saying the hard things to each other was tough, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I would also like to let you know we are planning a Gordon Ramsay look alike contest on the night the show airs!!!!! The contest will start at 10pm right after the episode. You can buy our award winning BBQ sauce, and seasoning rub at http://www.jwillys.com.
How many people come with Ramsay to work on the show, crew, decorators, etc?
We were so busy the entire time; we only bonded with a few of them. The executive producer Kent Weed helped us, and followed up on us; providing guidance even after we taped the show. The entire crew was gracious and warm. They worked hard for long hours and they are definitely professionals.
Also, Reality TV Magazine asked about Chef Gordon’s family, and if they travel with him when he does the show and theKitchen Nightmare’s publicist told us that although they are based in the U.K.they do spend some time in the U.S. as well! No word on whether or not they visited Indiana though.
Catch this episode of Kitchen Nightmares tomorrow night at 9 PM ET on FOX.
Photo Credit: FOX