British super-chef Gordon Ramsay has been as succcessful on TV as he’s been in restaurants around the world.
Ramsay has 12 Michelin stars to his name for popular restaurants on both sides of the Atlantic, but he has become a multi-media celebrity from a series of TV ventures that includes the current Fox series, “Hell’s Kitchen.”
I’ve never seen any of the U.S. Ramsay reality shows, but I had a great time earlier this week watching the new Acorn Media release of the first season of the U.K. series, “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” in which the chef was called in to save four struggling restaurants.
It didn’t take long to see why Ramsay has become a TV star as well as a culinary celebrity — he’s charismatic, funny and seems to have an unfailing B.S. meter.
In my college days, I worked four summers in the kitchen of a hotel restaurant in New Jersey and I have been fascinated by the subject ever since. Almost any restaurant becomes an intersection of personal drama, history, nostalgia, and psychology on both sides of the equation — the customers who eat there and the people who prepare and serve the food.
It is hard to imagine a better video primer on running a restaurant than the eight episodes of “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightamres” that show us how he salvages dining establishments in West Yorkshire, the Lake District, Surrey and Wales.
Ramsay was given a week to work his magic and in all four cases we get to see how significant improvements were made.
The producers of the 2004 season did a great job of picking a wide variety of eateries from a disastrously managed wine bar with delusions of grandeur (Bonaparte’s in Silsden, West Yorkshire) to a once posh Michelin-honored establishment that has slipped under new management (The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, Wales).
Ramsay’s tough love approach extends from lowly waiters to misguided owners but his F-bomb-laden hectoring is never personal — it’s always about improving the food and the ambiance. He reminds me of a very tough but sharp kitchen boss who whipped me into shape during my first week in restaurant work.
Half of the episopes are devoted to follow-up visits from Ramsay a year after his first visit to the restaurants.
“Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” should be required viewing for those poor souls who have always fantasized about opening a restaurant.
British super-chef Gordon Ramsay has been as succcessful on TV as he’s been in restaurants around the world.
I’m not a gambling man but I would wager that the March 20 release, “Duplicity,” is going to be the first big hit of spring.
The trailer featuring the very potent star pairing of Julia Roberts and Clive Owen has been been greeted with sighs of anticipation during my most recent visits to multiplexes in Connecticut and Manhattan.
And more than a few friends have told me they are looking forward to this romantic thriller by writer-director Tony Gilroy, whose last film was the extremely entertaining 2007 hit “Michael Clayton.”
Roberts hasn’t headlined a film for a few years now and she and Owen have already displayed considerable screen chemistry in “Closer,” the 2004 Mike Nichols picture. It’s nice to see a slick piece of escapsim come along featuring two mature stars who are in the same ballpark, age-wise.
Movie chemistry and what folks in the business call “want-to-see” are such mysterious things.
Owen opened in a very fine thriller, “The International,” just a few weeks ago that quickly became a notable late winter flop. The Brit actor was paired with the Australian actress Naomi Watts — they play professional partners on the trail of a huge international banking conspiracy — and I was one of about a half-dozen people in the theater the night I saw the picture. You might think that a slick suspense film about an evil global banking concern would be perfectly in sync with the 2009 zeitgeist, but perhaps audiences were turned off by the idea of a financial services thriller at a time when many people wonder if they will be employed next week.
Everyone I know seems to like Owen a lot, but despite his strong presence and prodigious talent, he has never displayed much ticket-selling ability on his own. He has starred in some of my favorite films of the last 20 years — “Children of Men” (2006) and “Close My Eyes” (1991) among them — but he has yet to score a solo box-office hit.
The new Andrew Gross novel, “Don’t Look Twice” (William Morrow), starts with a crime that seems mundane by the standards of contemporary thrillers.
Our hero from the last Gross book — Greenwich cop (and single dad) Ty Hauck — is in the middle of taking his teen daughter on a final autumn sail on Long Island Sound when they stop at an Exxon station for fuel and some snacks.
Suddenly, a red truck pulls up in front of the gas station and bullets come tearing into the store.
Hauck and his daughter survive, but the man next to them in line at the register is killed.
At first, it appears that the target of the drive-by is the shop owner whose son was involved in an incident where a girl drowned in a swimming pool. A failed attempt at a revenge killing. The fact that the dead man is a federal prosecutor seems to be simply a case of bad luck for the victim.
Yes, a drive-by killing in Greenwich is highly unusual, but as I read the first few chapters of “Don’t Look Twice” I couldn’t help but think that Gross was aiming low in this follow-up to last year’s terrific “The Dark Tide,” which began with an apparent terrorist bombing of a Metro North train heading into Grand Central Terminal.
It only took a few more brief chapters to see, however, that the Exxon shooting was simply the tip of a huge ice-berg of conspiracy and murder involving some of the richest and most powerful people in the country.
“Don’t Look Twice” keeps expanding and the vice-like hold on the reader keeps tightening as Hauck finds himself going up against the gambling industry, defense contractors and corrupt politicians.
Gross keeps the suspense building as Hauck’s chances for survival seem to be running out.
Hauck is a wonderful hero whose penchant for finding himself in dangerous scrapes puts him right up there with the Lee Child hero Jack Reacher in terms of action and suspense. Ty is a much more human figure than Jack, however, with the personal attachments that Reacher eschews as he wanders the country in lone wolf mode.
The Reacher novels are marvels of streamlined thrills, but there is more at stake — in purely human terms — in Andrew Gross’s wonderful new series.
(William Morrow is making the first few chapters of “Don’t Look Twice” available online: http://browseinside.harpercollins.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9780061143441)
It was thrilling — and moving — to see Placido Domingo’s performance as Maurizio in “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Metropolitan Opera Wednesday night.
The role is the same one that served as Domingo’s Met debut in 1968. I wouldn’t know if his singing was better 41 years ago, but he couldn’t have had more stage presence or been more convincing as a man with two powerful women madly in love with him.
The production will have its last performance of the season tomorrow night. The sumptuousness of the staging by Connecticut director Mark Lamos matches the lush beauty of the score by Francesco Cilea.
Domingo has been a culture hero of mine for many years — for being a hard worker as well as a brilliant artist — and friends who know more about opera than me say he has managed to sing at a high level for more years than seems possible.
Here’s what Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times had to say on Feb. 8:
“Now 68, he remains a wonder of vocal longevity. He missed the dress rehearsal because of a cold and took time to clear his throat and warm up during the performance on Friday. But soon he was singing with vigor, stylistic insight and ringing top notes. Some of the music was transposed down to suit Mr. Domingo’s current comfort zone. ‘That’s cheating,’ purists might complain. But the trade-off is a Maurizio sung by a major tenor who still sounds like one.”
The plot of “Adriana Lecouvreur” is a jumble of political intrigue and marital infidelity but Lamos keeps the production steaming forward on the power of the love triangle and the wonderful portrayal of life in the French theater of the 18th century.
The character of Adriana is drawn from Adrienne Lecouvreur, a real stage star of the early 18th century who was famous for her off-stage romances as well as her performances in plays such as “Phedre.” Adrienne died under mysterious circumstances which in the opera are transformed into a rival poisoning her. Maria Guleghina (above, with Domingo) is a knock-out in the title role and Olga Borodina makes for a formidable love rival, the Princess de Bouillon.
It was Domingo’s night, however, and despite a rather weird vibe in the house (an audience stressed out by financial worries?), the singer-actor’s performance was greeted with the tremendous ovation it deserved.
(A Friday afternoon check of the Met Web site — www.metoperafamily.org — showed some seats still available for Saturday night’s performance of “Adriana Lecouvreur.”)
Sutton Foster’s debut CD, “Wish” (Ghostlight Records), has been in the works for four years, but it doesn’t sound — or feel — like a collection of songs that have been endlessly labored over.
Indeed, the album released just a few weeks ago has a fresh, unstudied sound that you might never guess is the work of one of the reigning Broadway leading ladies of this generation. Foster is a genuine star but she doesn’t “belt” the tunes on this CD in the manner of a Broadway diva.
Foster broke through as a star in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in 2002 — winning the Tony for best actress — and has been smart (and lucky) in her stage choices since then. The singer actress has gone from show to show in a manner that recalls the old days on Broadway, when stars like Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera spent virtually their whole careers on stage, with a new show almost every season.
“Wish” is an eclectic group of songs, ranging from folk to pop to offbeat Broadway (Foster includes the wonderful Charles Strouse and Lee Adams ballad “Once Upon a Time” from the long-forgotten 1961 Ray Bolger flop musical, “All American”).
Foster also takes an old John Denver hit, “Sunshine on My Shoulders” — which I thought I had heard a few hundred times too many in the 1970s — and makes it sound newly minted.
The whole notion of CD “albums” of songs carefully chosen — and precisely sequenced — by recording artists might be under assault at this moment, but “Wish” demonstrates that the art form is alive and well.
The Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries of New York City novelist S.J. Rozan are near the top of my list of favorite contemporary detective stories.
In eight books, starting with “China Trade” in 1995, Rozan found a simple but brilliant way of keeping a crime series fresh by alternating the point-of-view from book to book. Fans knew a “Lydia novel” would be followed by a “Bill novel,” moving from the young Chinese-American female detective Chin to her white (and older) partner Smith.
Although I’ve always been partial to the Lydia books — for their insider’s view of New York’s Chinatown — the series stayed sharp year after year because of the shifting perspective.
Rozan lives in downtown Manhattan and the events of 9/11 caused her to stop the series and to work on two stand-alones — “Absent Friends” and “In This Rain.”
“Absent Friends” is one of the best novels about the impact of the terrorist attack on the city, a big book (with mystery elements woven into the narrative) that earned Rozan new readers and some of the best reviews of her career.
I was a fan of both novels, but feared we might never seen Lydia and Bill again.
My good news today is that the two detectives are back in the just-published “The Shanghai Moon” (Minotaur Books) and it’s a fantastic combination of a contemporary Manhattan crime story with a look back at life in Shanghai just before and during World War II. The result is a book that should have broad appeal — a merging of the detective story and the historical novel.
The first two words in the novel — “I’m back” — have a double-meaning. A beloved fictional series resumes after a seven-year gap and Lydia has just returned to New York from California to face one of the toughest cases of her career. Lydia is estranged from Bill when she is hired by sixtysomething detective Joel Pilarsky to assist him in tracking down jewels that went missing after the war. The client is a woman who has made a personal cause out of finding and returning art work and other valuables that were taken by the Germans and the Japanese when Jews and other minorities were shipped off to concentration camps.
Lydia starts reading a cache of letters written by a girl named Rosalie Gilder who was sent from Europe to China — with her younger brother Paul — by her parents to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The parents never made it to China and died in the death camps.
As she searches for the Gilder family jewels — and a legendary (and possibly apocryphal) priceless brooch known as “The Shanghai Moon” — Lydia finds herself forming a strong emotional bond to Rosalie just from reading the young woman’s letters.
The device allows Rozan to create a wonderful parallel narrative of the search for the jewels in New York City and the events in Shanghai more than 60 years ago.
Despite the personal problems they had during their last case, Bill returns as Lydia’s partner (thanks in no small part to Chin’s best friend, Mary, who is a police detective specializing in Chinese cases) and we are off on a thrilling adventure that might remind you of the search for another fabled art object — the Maltese Falcon.
Rozan is in peak form, mixing personal drama, suspense and regular infusions of New York City gallows humor in a book most readers should finish very quickly.
You don’t want to miss the new play by Itamar Moses — “Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used to It)” — running through March 9 at The Flea Theater in downtown Manhattan.
In a brisk 90 minutes (without intermission) Moses explores the nature of love — between actors working intently on shows and between “real” people within the context of drama — in a series of scenes that are alternately moving and witty.
Two of the episodes in “Love/Stories” are funnier than anything I’ve seen on stage or in a movie in recent weeks.
An office temp (Maren Langdon) gets the heave-ho from her boyfriend in a long phone call that is overheard by another temp (Michael Micalizzi) who carries a torch for the young woman.
Langdon turns the one-sided phone call into a virtuoso comedy bit that gets funnier with each pause and each passive-aggressive response to the unseen ex-lover.
The second riotous episode (right) is about miscommunication and backstage love in which an avant garde Russian director (Felipe Bonilla) answers questions at an American drama seminar. The Russian actress/translator (Langdon again) — who barely speaks English — suffers terrible embarrassment as we come to realize she is the director’s girlfriend and that he means to humiliate her.
Moses makes us stop and think about the mysteries of love and how naively we project fantasy virtues onto any potential girlfriend or boyfriend in a new romantic relationship, whether it involves neurotic theater people or ordinary office workers.
The play has it weaknesses — including a navel-gazing final scene in which the writer self-consciously decontructs the autobiographical nature of what we’ve been watching — but this is a dazzling display of sophisticated contemporary comedy powered by terrific acting.
The “Love/Stories” cast is made up of members of the Flea’s young resident company — The Bats — and all five actors get a chance to show their stuff. The two women, Langdon and Laurel Holland, are especially impressive because they get to play the alluring and mysterious objects of desire of the men played by Bonilla, Micalizzi and John Russo.
(The Flea Theater is at 41 White St. in Tribeca. Tickets are a steal at $20. Visit www.theflea.org for dates and times.)
Fashion Week ends in Manhattan this afternoon, giving the release of “Eleven Minutes” a very high timeliness quotient.
The movie opening today in theaters (and debuting simultaneously on the here! cable network) follows “Project Runway” winner Jay McCarroll through his first — and, so far, only — Bryant Park tent show during Fashion Week three years ago.
Director-producers Michael Seiditch and Rob Tate show the madness, the hype and the very hard work that goes into the unveiling of a new fashion line in front of the press and celebrities who assemble in tents behind the New York Public Library on 42nd St.
The title “Eleven Minutes” refers to what everything boils down to for a designer during Fashion Week — the average running time of the unveiling of a new and untested line of clothes.
McCarroll was in the special position of receiving a financial sponsorship for his show from an animal rights group (as part of its campaign against fur in American fashion). He was spared the added burden designers face in raising enormous amounts of money to produce the clothes and the glitzy tent show.
“Eleven Minutes” moves the flamboyant Pennsylvanian McCarroll from the artificial atmosphere of a TV reality competition to the real world of fashion promotion and commerce.
The Bryant Park show turned out to be a semi-flop — the big buyers didn’t want to buy much of McCarroll’s line — but it is gripping to see all of the backstage drama and intense labor that goes into an expensive one-time-only production that is immediately boiled down to a few pictures in newspapers and magazines (and a “slideshow” on Style.com).
Like it or not, fashion is a huge industry in this country and Seiditch and Tate are to be commended for giving us a lively insider’s view.
(The photo above is from the Fashion Week coverage in this week’s New York Magazine, specifically a terrific story by Mike Albo — “Petey and the Boys” — about the lifestyles of the male models who converge on the city for fashion work.)