Amy's Baking Company: Overcooked Reality and the Decline of Western Civility
When the Amy's Baking Company episode of Kitchen Nightmares, one that Fox felt warranted (and rightly so) its season finale, finally aired on Friday, May 10, incredulous viewers watched the host of the show do something he hadn't done in the series' more than 80 episodes: He walked away.
Ramsay, known to be a bit of a shouter himself, had met his match in Samy and Amy, whose motivation for being on the show seemed to be, as they told Ramsay, was exposing the dining public to his opinion -- not those of the "online bullies" -- when it came to the quality their food.
Maddeningly controlling, unwilling to accept criticism (constructive or otherwise), and living in what seemed an impenetrable fortress of denial, the Bouzaglos were Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares nightmare, his disastrous failure.
And it was on this episode that the force a few in the Valley knew as "Crazy Amy" in 2010 was unleashed in full, not only for Gordon Ramsay to witness, but for all of America, as well. In front of a national TV audience, she berated customers and staff, argued with Ramsay, vehemently rejected criticism, and fired a young female food runner on the spot for asking a question.
"There's no point in talking to you," Amy told Ramsay at one point during show. And for a rare moment, he was speechless.
But the antics of Crazy Amy weren't the show's only highlights. Equally, if not more cringe-worthy was the revelation that Samy took tips made by the servers, a disclosure that ultimately incited viewers more than the store-bought ravioli Samy told chef Ramsay was made fresh. Real One Percenter shit, for sure.
"I think you're too far gone," a defeated-looking Ramsay tells the couple before walking out the door at the episode's denouement.
It's hard not to speculate where the Bouzaglos, Amy's Baking Company, and the rest of the universe would be now if the show had ended differently -- if, as in the series' previous episodes, the storm clouds had parted and produced a triple rainbow of introspection, atonement, and new beginnings.
In our imaginary episode, the show ends much differently: There is a final dinner service where happy customers, their mouths full of food, shake their heads in disbelief at its deliciousness exclaiming, "Thish is wonnerful!" Katy Cipriani, the food runner who Amy fired, is tearfully asked forgiveness and offered her job back. And Amy earnestly looks into the camera and says, "Thanks to Chef Ramsay, we're ready to make some serious changes -- starting with us." She coyly smiles and adds, "Meow, meow!"
The music fades out, the credits roll, and our hearts, now successfully warmed, can go on to beat for another day.
But, once in a while, reality TV actually turns out to be real. Or does it?
In January 2012, the Valley food community cried foul when another reality show, Food Network's Mystery Diners, came to town, paying visits to restaurants such as Big Earl's Greasy Eats in Cave Creek, Murphy's in Glendale, and Caffe Boa in Tempe. The show, which features "undercover operatives" conducting surveillance and investigating "problem" employees at the supposed request of restaurant owners, has come under attack by many people who claim the show is fake and uses tactics such as paid actors and enlisting the help of owners who, for whatever reason, seem to think it's a good idea to have their restaurants featured in such a light.
When Dwayne Allen, owner of The Breadfruit in Phoenix, was contacted by the Food Network to participate in Mystery Diners, he became suspicious almost immediately.
"Let's say you have a bartender who has a soft spot for pretty women," Allen says the Food Network representative explained to him in a phone call. "We'll bring in the pretty women, and we'll set up the cameras so you can bust him."
"But we don't have a bartender with a soft spot for women," Allen replied. He then declined to participate in the show.
And then there's ABC's much different portrayal on another, albeit much different reality show. In February of this year, two months after the disastrous first night of taping Kitchen Nightmares and three months before its airdate, Amy's Baking Company was featured on Check Please! Arizona, PBS' popular restaurant-review series on which Arizonans share their dining experiences with host Robert McGrath, a James Beard Award-winning chef.