After nine years, Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” is back on Fox, with Season 8 seeing the chef once again giving struggling restaurants across New York and New Jersey much-needed makeovers.
While most of the unscripted series is about Ramsay dishing out tough love to restaurant owners and their staff in order to teach them how to run a successful business, each episode sees the eatery at hand also getting a physical transformation.
“The real problems are usually the leadership and what’s going on in the kitchen. Our renovations are there to elevate the places and help them fix it in that way,” production designer Brian Crabb told IndieWire, revealing that the execution of those changes — which are only seen by the owner and staff after completion — typically takes place in 18 hours.
Responsible for the design of all the remodels on “Kitchen Nightmares” and leading the team through the entire renovation process, the department head, who previously worked on “Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back,” added, “We go in with a battle plan. Every hour, every 15 minutes is planned out.”
While a seemingly short amount of time to elevate a restaurant — like the premiere’s Bel Aire Diner, which seats 150 customers and is located in New York City’s Astoria neighborhood — to its highest potential, Crabb explained those 18 hours are actually the culmination of nearly two months of planning, designed to highlight a restaurant’s cultural identity and make sure it’s fully up to date.
“Each restaurant requires different things. But within that, we always want to stay true to the culture,” Crabb said. And in the case of the diner, which actually had been renovated prior to appearing on the show, it was a matter of elevating it beyond just another typical restaurant.
However, the Bel Aire Diner is not typical of the makeovers on “Kitchen Nightmares.” Crabb teased, “You’ll see throughout the season that some of these places we walk into are just an absolute trash dump nightmare of a restaurant. And that’s where our renovations really shine.”
In order to maximize the potential of these renovations, the planning stage is key, with Crabb working with 22 artists, coordinators and production managers during this time to figure out the final designs before an expanded team of 50, which includes tradesmen on-site, making these dream makeovers a reality.
That process starts with research, with Crabb and his team “digging into these people’s stories” in order to connect their personal stories to the restaurants at hand. “That way, they have a space that makes sense to them,” he said.
From there, they physically scout each location — from measuring to photographing the space — to identify what isn’t working or what needs fixing before everything is put into CAD (software for optimizing and simulating designs), “so we know it’s all going to work and fit,” Crabb said.
He added that once the renovations are finalized they start ordering products and pre-build things before they head back to the restaurant. (Although the approvals “go all the way to the top,” Crabb said that aside from Ramsay having “very specific thoughts about how to fix” each restaurant, the main design and execution are left up to him.)
And this is the same process and timeline for each restaurant, no matter if it has 180 or 26 seats. With the latter, the final execution just became more tricky — a “technical dance,” as Crabb put it — that required more coordination on site.
“There would be times where we’d have fully 35 to 40 people working at once in a restaurant. I remember in the small restaurant, we had wallpaper, paint, electrical and vinyl graphics guys going and carpentry going all at the same exact time,” Crabb said. “It was something to behold.”
He added that filming this season of “Kitchen Nightmares” “was just pure kismet magic. Everything came together flawlessly.”
And once “we’re done, it’s done,” Crabb said, explaining that after the execution is complete, “it’s good to go. We’re inspected and ready to go. Like, it’s a new restaurant, new day. Nothing is left. There’s no camera trickery.”
Not only that, but Crabb and his team waste no time getting out of there, with the production designer admitting that he didn’t stay for any of the reveals.
“I’m exhausted and I’m just ready to go because, again, we’ve already worked really long hours to get everything done,” he said, with the filming at that point focused on Ramsay training the staff on the new layout and the new menu (which is also something updated by Crabb’s team, with graphic designers handling that as well as signage and logos; the culinary department works with Ramsay on the food selection).
“I actually haven’t seen any reveals and I’ll be surprised as anyone to see if anyone liked it,” Crabb continued, adding, “I’m told that everyone’s very pleased. But I literally have not seen or spoken to anyone about it yet. So, I’ll be following along closely.” That said, he stands by his makeovers. “I really love a lot of these restaurateurs and these restaurants — and I know so many people just really gave their all to them. I’m very proud of what we accomplished.”
“Kitchen Nightmares” Season 8 premieres September 25 at 8 p.m., with new episodes airing every Monday.