By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
For Gordon Ramsay, it was a kitchen nightmare.
For restaurant owner Rishi Brown, it was an absolute nightmare.
“I cried the entire time,” she said of the celebrity chef’s visit last December to Everett. “It was so upsetting. He exposed all my problems, my shortcomings, my vulnerabilities.”
That’s part of Ramsay’s charm and why Brown, a belly dancer-turned-restaurateur, welcomed him and the Fox TV crews into her Prohibition Grille in December for a weeklong makeover.
When her “Kitchen Nightmares” episode airs at 8 p.m. Friday, it will be dinner business as usual at 1414 Hewitt Ave. “We don’t have a TV here,” she said.
Brown doesn’t know what to expect on the reality TV show, but she hopes she doesn’t out-bleep the cussmonger chef.
“He said the f-word constantly. I said the f-word a gazillion times my own self,” said Brown, 48. “It was so bad. I suddenly turned into this potty mouth. Even if they bleep it, my community is going to hear how many times I said it.”
Based on the preview clip that’s online, that’s not all she lets hang out.
The British chef’s visit to Prohibition Grille was like a royal prince came to town.
Trucks, trailers, camera crews and guards set up a staging area at the corner of Hewitt and Rucker avenues.
Locals gathered, hoping for a glimpse of the mouthy, mussy-haired star as he whisked in and out.
Security kept onlookers at bay. Curtains stayed closed. Guests had to sign papers promising to keep their lips zipped.
Brown also had to take a vow of secrecy until the “Kitchen Nightmares” episode aired.
The Rishi-Ramsay show that went on behind closed doors was all work and no play.
She and the kitchen stud didn’t kick back with a beer or chitchat about the Seahawks.
“He was all business when he was here,” she said. “He had a plan for me and his goal was to execute it. There was no social time where we just hung out. No autographs. We have one group picture with him.”
“I was thinking he was going to come in and see how great we are. It was totally to the contrary,” she said. “I looked like a flaming idiot. He said my business was not a belly dance, it was a belly flop.”
Brown could have said no when, to her surprise, a Fox TV scout turned up last fall at Prohibition Grille. Seems her younger son, Travis Lovestedt, 21, had submitted her name for the show and not told her.
He was just trying to help his mom. She needed help. The restaurant she bought in 2008 was struggling.
“I opened it with $10,000 and no restaurant experience,” said Brown, a single mom and Everett Parks and Recreation worker who taught belly dance on the side. “A month after we opened the economy crashed.”
Her vision “to bring art, entertainment and culture to downtown Everett” was a venue of jazz bands, belly dancing and pricey Southern dishes.
The menu was a five-page saga of collard greens, cheese grits, smoked pork, hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. Not your typical Washington native cuisine, but that didn’t stop her.
“My landlord and my lender believed in me,” she said.
She had her regulars, but more people came for the cheap happy-hour drinks and live music than the smoked ribs and bare bellies.
Same kitchen, new menu
Brick walls line the eatery’s long narrow quarters with 18 tables, 10 bar stools and a kitchen not big enough to swing a cat in.
“We thought that Chef Ramsay was going to come here and build us a brand-new kitchen and we could just roll out our great old menu,” Brown said.
“We were in a fantasy. We were so in awe. He came in with his British accent, and he’s tall and handsome and he’s there to help.”
The fantasy didn’t last long.
“It was very brutal when he called me out on things I was passionate about,” Brown said.
“He’d be angry about accusing me of not caring, saying I didn’t care about my kitchen. I had to fight back about that. I was like, ‘You can accuse me of being this stupid belly dancing girl who doesn’t know (expletive) about running a restaurant. OK, I get it, but don’t accuse me of not caring. I’m nonstop running this business.’”
Brown had to prove it by firing a key employee on the show.
She didn’t get a new kitchen out of Ramsay.
“He designed a menu that would work out of the old kitchen,” she said.
It’s a one-page menu with items such as duck leg salad, truffle cheese dip, meatloaf and king salmon. No grits and cornbread.
The restaurant employs about a dozen people. Some workers opted out of being on the show, but most were all in.
There were no fashion and makeup artists dolling them up for the cameras.
“It was very stressful,” said daytime manager and belly dancer Amalia “Molly” Cuthbert. “They followed us around. I have pretty bad stage fright.”
Still, Cuthbert said it was fun being around the film crew and seeing how the process works.
“I never got yelled at by Ramsay,” she said. “He was cute, charming. We really liked him. He seemed taller and leaner. On TV he’s always hunched over and screaming at people.”
After the crews left, “The excitement level came down,” Cuthbert said. “We had to get on board with a whole new order list and a whole new menu.”
Ramsay left his mark on the menu and beyond.
“They brought us in blindfolded,” Brown said of the reveal at the end. “The bar was the biggest shock. I was like, oh, no they didn’t paint my bar. Are you kidding me?”
Her dark cherry bar was painted cherry red.
The brick walls were accented with gold paint and frames. The name was changed from Grille to Gastropub. It’s a fancy word for pub food.
“It’s a cutting-edge concept in Europe,” Brown said. She likes the sound of it for Everett.
Ramsay’s modifications spanned brick and mortar to Brown’s boots and short skirt. Seems he didn’t care much for her “Britney Spears look.”
“He clearly didn’t like my trying-to-be-really-cute-for-the-camera getup,” Brown said.
“He powered me up in a really nice suit. And it did make me feel powerful.”
What did Ramsay think of Rishi? The Fox folks like to keep a lid on things.
The show’s co-executive producer Lindsay Kugler sent this email statement: “Rishi lacked restaurant experience but she showed she was committed to learning and listening to Chef Ramsay’s advice. Rishi truly cared about making Prohibition a success and proved to Chef Ramsay she was committed to change.”
Brown is glad Ramsay came.
“He’s welcome back anytime,” she said. “I’m grateful for his help.”
She often refers to him as “the greatest chef in the world.” She wears the power suit he bought for her.
She praises the dishes he created, but said his one-page menu wasn’t working. “It’s better for dinner than lunch.”
So, with the help of a consulting chef she recently hired, a lunch menu was added with Prohibition classics such as pulled pork and sweet potato fries. Also new is a revolving blackboard “fresh sheet” with mac-and-cheese and catfish gumbo.
“It’s food with a Southern flair,” Brown said, “but a new and improved take on it.” In other words, is she doing what Ramsay came there to fix?
Yes and no.
“He made me solemnly swear I would never have belly dancing here again,” she said. “But the future of that promise is uncertain.”
‘Nightmare’ on Hewitt Avenue
Prohibition Gastropub: 1414 Hewitt Avenue, Everett; 425-258-6100; www.prohibitiongastropub.com
To see a clip of the show: www.prohibitiongastropub.com
For show information: www.fox.com/kitchennightmares/recaps/season-5/episode-14