The show was called “Kitchen Nightmares,” and for one French Quarter restaurant featured on an episode in 2011 the bad dream won't end.
In fact, the restaurant is suing the show's star, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and its producers, for dredging up old footage of the restaurant, while also accusing them of "fabricating" scenes to inject some added drama and make the restaurant look as bad as possible.
Oceana Grill, a seafood restaurant a few steps off Bourbon Street, was once the subject of the Fox Network reality show. Over seven seasons, the show featured Ramsay as a foul-mouthed truth-talker brought in to turn around troubled restaurants.
The Oceana Grill episode aired in 2011. But last week, a clip was posted to Facebook, with an especially revolting scene of Ramsay inspecting the kitchen and subsequently vomiting after getting a whiff of some shrimp stored there.
On Wednesday, the parent company for Oceana Grill filed a lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against Ramsay and the production company behind “Kitchen Nightmares.” The restaurant company, Cajun Conti, claims defamation and is seeking damages and also asking the court to block the use of the clip.
“The problem we have is the fact that it’s so misleading,” said Daniel Davillier, an attorney for Oceana Grill. “People think it’s something current, when in fact it’s very old.”
A message to Ramsay's representatives seeking comment was not returned.
The clip in question was posted late last week, and by Thursday evening it had garnered some 1.5 million views. By Friday morning, the clip was no longer available on Facebook. However, another video, showing some of the same scenes, including of Ramsay retching in the restaurant, was posted to the "Kitchen Nightmares" Facebook page on Thursday morning. It had racked up 1.2 million views by Friday morning.
In the lawsuit, attorneys for Cajun Conti claim that posting the clip violated a 2011 agreement between the restaurant and the show. And they claim the show’s producers “went beyond their creative liberty manufacturing fake scenes and portray Oceana Grill in a false light.”
“During the episode's filming, defendants went to great lengths to over-dramatize and even fabricate problems with the restaurant in order to increase ratings,” the suit reads. “The footage intentionally portrayed Oceana and its employees in a patently false and negative light, as it depicted the appealing restaurant as an unsuccessful, unsanitary and mismanaged restaurant.”
The five-minute clip would be hard for any restaurant customer to stomach, never mind a restaurant owner.
It shows customers in the dining room complaining about food and sending back dishes, and the restaurant’s chef roughly dismissing their complaints. It shows Ramsay rummaging through the kitchen’s food storage areas and turning up one example after another of unsanitary conditions, while he loudly berates the chef. An argument ensues with the chef cursing back at Ramsay.
The clip includes an extended scene of Ramsay vomiting after opening a bin of shrimp. Later, it shows Ramsay opening a rodent trap to find three dead mice in it.
In the suit, Cajun Conti’s attorneys contend that “none of the above-described events were real, but were contrived and orchestrated by defendants to manufacture drama for their show.”
In addition to Ramsay, the suit from Cajun Conti names as defendants Upper Ground Enterprises, A. Smith & Co. and Optomen Productions.
“Kitchen Nightmares” was part of a slew of reality-TV shows focused on the inner workings of restaurants. This particular show was based on Ramsay kicking troubled restaurants into shape.
Oceana Grill, however, evidently had misgivings about the show early on after the taping. In 2011, the restaurant company sued Fox Broadcasting and Upper Ground Enterprises, trying to block them from broadcasting the episode “to prevent any impending harm to Oceana’s business,” according to court filings.
Although that episode did air, on May 20, 2011, Cajun Conti says in its current suit that the two sides reached an agreement that year that “restricted defendants’ use of the footage of the episode.”
According to that settlement, if the show producers used “re-mixed” footage from the episode in the future, they were required to pay the restaurant an additional $10,000 and present an “update statement” about the current condition of the restaurant.
The new clip, the restaurant’s attorneys argue in their filing, “implied that the choreographed events in the trailer were still plaguing Oceana.”
They argue that when the producers issued a “re-mix” they had a “contractual obligation to provide a positive, factual statement about Oceana’s then-current business” and that they “should have exercised more caution to avoid portraying Oceana as a currently grotesque, inedible restaurant.”
Davillier, the restaurant's attorney, said in an interview that the clip portrays the Oceana Grill "as a failing restaurant when in fact it's very successful. The food is great and people love it. They should come down and see for themselves," he said.
Oceana Grill, with a menu of po-boys, seafood platters, fish entrees and char-grilled oysters, does typically draw a crowd. It's common to see a line of customers waiting outside for tables on busy days.
Ramsay was last in New Orleans in 2017 to tape a new restaurant-rehab show called "Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back." For this show he visited the Old Coffee Pot, another French Quarter eatery, where in a widely circulated clip he was shown discovering a dead mouse — this time in a toaster.
In 2014, the Daily Mail newspaper in England reported that 60 percent of the restaurants that appeared on "Kitchen Nightmares" subsequently closed, some before their episodes even aired. One of those was a local restaurant, Zeke's in Old Metairie, which was part of a 2011 episode and closed the following year.
"Kitchen Nightmares" itself ended in 2014 after seven seasons.
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