Chef Gordon Ramsay's latest challenge took him to New York state, just a couple hours outside of New York City, to the historic Cambridge Hotel, an establishment that opened its doors in 1885 and was the literal birthplace of the homemade apple pie a la mode. But unlike his first task, that of turning around the Juniper Hill Inn in Vermont, this hotel seemed to always have an occupant, regardless if anyone was actually on the premises or not. The Cambridge Hotel was haunted. Hotel Hell indeed...
Before he even met the proprietors, an ex-military man and former lawyer named John Imhof and his wife, Tina, Ramsay found numerous things wrong with the Hotel. For starters, the skeptical Ramsay was not amused by the story of the 4-year-old girl, Alice, that supposedly haunted the old hotel. (A picture of the child taken in 1913 showed her in a wheelchair and prompted the Chef to note that she looked straight out of "The Exorcist".) One staircase was lined with creepy old black-and-white photos of hideously hollow-eyed people that even the hotel's general manager, Brittany Thomas, could give him no information about (except that they had been there when the Imhof's bought the hotel). And his sense of tasteful decor was assaulted by the garish rose-covered wallpaper that nearly jumped from the walls when he entered his room ($105 dollars on weekdays). He noticed a white rod placed horizontal to the top of the bed and a few feet above the headboard. Brittany had no clue as to its function and when Chef Ramsay jumped on the bed and grabbed it, joking that it might be some sex device, it came loose from the wall and crashed to the floor. Closer inspection of the room revealed coarse towels, linens with holes, and a mattress that did not fit the box springs.
Armed with that, it was time to meet the owners. After introductions, the wife told Ramsay they had no experience in the hotel business when they bought the place. They admitted they were three-quarters of a million in debt and had mortgaged their house in addition to borrowing from both their daughters to keep the hotel afloat. When John told Chef he was keeping a positive attitude, Ramsay told him it was "one thing to sound positive and another to sound like you're full of crap."
Chef Ramsay then moved on to the dining room. He ordered after finding out that the soup du jour was the same each day, but when the pork and beans arrived, he found it completely cold in the center. He immediately switched to the hotel's signature dish, the homemade apple pie a la mode, and found it a crumbly, syrupy, partially cooked mess. Confronting Executive Chef Rich Wilson, he found that the menu was centered around frozen and reheated entrees, purposely constructed that way by the chef.
When Ramsay accused him of being lazy, the chef barely controlled his temper but insisted that he was not a lazy worker. Ramsay would later discover that it was John's budgeting and restrictions that had led to Rich's freeze, boil, and serve kitchen.
Ramsay also took time to talk to wife, Tina, alone. She admitted to being at her wit's end and said he husband was a control freak, something that Ramsay has already started to see. John has a hand in almost everything and yet the hotel appears to be run improperly. Tina said that he was always working but no matter what he tried to do, the hotel continued to lose money. And whenever she tried to make suggestions, neither John or Rich (who we discover is their oldest daughter's husband) listen to her.
Time for the staff meeting. When Chef Ramsay asked for feedback, Rich, Brittany, and Tina told him John was too controlling and refused to delegate authority. John insisted he was no micro-manager and Ramsay lost his patience. He told John that he wasn't listening to anyone. John adamantly repeated that he was not the one making the decisions. A man obviously in denial about his own controlling nature, Ramsay informed him that it was he -- and not ghosts -- that roamed the Cambridge that was scaring guests away. Ramsay accused him of treating his hotel like a dictator, like a "little (expletive) Hitler."
In confessional, John played stubborn, denying that his methods were the key problem in the failure of the hotel as a business.
The next day, Chef Ramsay convened a group of the guests from the previous night to voice their complaints. Among the complaints were hair on the towels and one room that had a door that would not lock. That revelation prompted Ramsay to disclose what had happened the night before when he decided to go to his vehicle and realized he had locked himself out. It turned out to be no problem because the outside doors were unlocked, there was no night clerk, no security guard, and nobody behind the desk to stop him from getting a key to any room in the hotel (duplicates were kept behind the desk). He, had he been a thief, also had access to the computer and all the guests records.
Ramsay then confronted John and his wife, told John that he truly had no idea what he was doing as a businessman and told him he was endangering peoples' lives. He told him to get his act together or sell the place before he lost everything he owned and his family as well. At least he would still have his house...
In order to get John to hopefully see the error of his ways, Chef Ramsay talked him into allowing his general manager to actually run the place for a day while the executive chef was allowed creative control in the kitchen. Brittany planned a Ladies Night (which annoyed John because he didn't see the Cambrige as some teen hangout bar) and Rich created a menu for the expected crowd. It was here that Chef Ramsay noticed a young prep chef putting together a platter. Chef Rich said Scooter Telford had just started culinary school and when Chef Ramsay complimented his quickness and eye for detail and asked what got him interested in food, he said his family had suggested it as an alternative to the sports he couldn't enjoy as a child. Chef asked his disability, he said he'd had two heart surgeries and two back surgeries -- and was just 19 years old.
The result of Brittany's Ladies Night and Chef Rich's menu was a $1400 dollar profit for just two hours of service. Brittany later said that it was more than the Cambridge had made in several Wednesday and Thursday nights combined.
While the bar was hopping, Chef Ramsay took John upstairs to the third floor (which was cordoned off and in utter disrepair, a handless mannequin in one window -- for haunted verisimilitude perhaps?) and showed him his future if he didn't get his act together (because Tina had told Ramsay that it was getting to the point where they could lose their house and have to move in to the hotel). While upstairs and remaining obstinate, Chef sent the oldest daughter to have a talk with her father. After several minutes, John seemed to have a breakthrough moment after confronted with the idea that he was spending no time with his family and that delegating responsibility was the answer to his problems.
Chef Ramsay's team did a complete makeover on the hotel that night, starting with a lock and key system for the front entrance. The rooms were transformed with the help of a $75,000 contribution of linens from the online outlet The Company Store into beautiful suites worthy of any nice inn. He also made one area on the ground floor of the hotel the A La Mode Room, where the signature dish of the Cambridge Hotel could be served. Along with homemade ice cream from a brand new ice cream maker, Chef Ramsay gave them one of his apple pie recipes for their very own.
But before leaving, Chef Ramsay had a surprise gift to bestow. He stopped by the kitchen to tell everyone good-bye and told Scooter he wanted him to keep in touch with him, letting him know how he was doing with his schooling. He asked how long he still had before completion and when Scooter told him four years, he told him he would finance those four years.
And who says Chef Gordon Ramsay has no heart?
Despite John's loosening of the reins and a turnaround for the better, an end caption informed "Hotel Hell" viewers that the Cambridge Hotel was foreclosed upon and closed its doors in June. However, Scooter Telford's bakery dreams are still ongoing.
"Hotel Hell" airs on Fox Television on Mondays at 8:00 p.m. EST.
(photo credit: Allan Warren, Creative Commons)