Season 2 | Episode 1 | “Meson de Mesilla” | Aired July 21, 2014
While it may seem that Gordon Ramsay is getting thisclose to having what I like to call “RSS” (Ryan Seacrest Syndrome—being on or behind the scenes of every show on television), or is at least mere moments away from taking over the Fox network and every kitchen on earth, he does set down his knives and take off his apron occasionally (and unveils skimpy swimwear when he does, but we’ll get to that later). The season 2 premiere of summer 2012’s big hit Hotel Hell is Gordon Ramsay at his finest, brutally [bleeping] honest self. Much like the premise of Kitchen Nightmares, Hotel Hell finds Ramsay venturing to boutique hotels across America that are in dire need of help (instead of restaurants), and with his typically candid and straightforward advice to the oftentimes belligerent owners, turning them around.
Don’t forget, people, it’s Gordon Ramsay’s world, we just live in it. And he wants to make damn sure it looks brilliant.
Season 2 takes us to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Meson de Mesilla, an adobe prison-looking building in the middle of the desert that owner Cali Szczawinski has decided to turn into a European/Tuscan experience on the inside, by painting everything beige. I’ve never been to Tuscany, but in my mind, it’s much more lavenders and mustards and olive greens and George Cloonies than beige. But what do I know? Let’s break down the reasons Meson de Mesilla—and Cali—are dangerously close to failure.
• Upon arrival, guests must sign a “cleaning agreement,” which is a waiver saying they will be responsible for anything that happens to the very expensive ($7.50 a square foot!) Venetian plaster. Beige Venetian plaster. Apparently one time, someone threw red wine all over the wall and stained it and Cali went berserk. Um, I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty Tuscan-authentic to me, not to mention an upgrade to the beige walls, but again, not a seasoned traveler. When Ramsay was presented with his waiver, he immediately ripped it in half.
• The rooms are bleak and boring and so, so beige. There is a questionable stain on the wall that Ramsay thinks looks like poop. (Ew. Where’s the waiver for that?)
• Cali thinks she is Cher. Like, for real. Or at least, thinks she can sing just like Cher, and subjects her guests to her—as Ramsay so perfectly put it—“Cali-aoke” in every public room in the hotel (because Cher is so Tuscan, obviously). She tells Ramsay that she bought the hotel to sing, and that they get a lot of phone calls wanting to know, “Is Cali singing tonight?” which obviously means they like her. When she takes the mic and belts out “If I Could Turn Back Time,” it’s shockingly evident that the guests definitely do not like her and that Ramsay indeed wishes he could turn back time to 1988, and beg Cher to never record that song.
Later, when Ramsay attempts to escape into the bar for a quiet nightcap, Cali appears and takes a seat on her barstool in the corner, plugs in her mic and proceeds to sing the exact same set list of Cher covers. BRB, I need to go clean my ears out with an ice pick.
• The pool is dismal, dirty and surrounded by a barred gate that Ramsay compares to a prison.
• The new general manager (Zan Steinberg) has only been at Meson de Mesilla for nine weeks and doesn’t actually have any hotel management experience. Ramsay is a bit appalled by this news, but Steinberg assures him that his experience as a restaurant manager is enough. Before you think that kind of makes sense, keep reading.
•The restaurant is depressing-looking (waxy, plastic tablecloths), and the food served is—or is a sorry attempt at—Tuscan fare. Ramsay thinks it looks like vomit and is dismayed to discover that it’s frozen. (Ahh! I’m having Kitchen Nightmares flashbacks!) The chefs are apologetic, but much like Sony Bono in the early ’70s, their hands are tied by Cher.
It’s time for our man Ramsay to get to work.
First item on his agenda? Get the owner and the GM on the same page. As expected, a “he-said, she-said” shouting match instantly ensues. Lots of accusations. Lots of denial. Zan says that Cali doesn’t trust him. Cali accuses Zan of setting her up to fail, and says that he’s often heard saying things like, “In six months I’ll be running this place,” so of course she has to watch her back. Zan is trying to push her out and take over! When the head chef agrees that she also gets a Napoleon vibe from Zan, Ramsay is horrified and asks Zan what he’d do if he were in Cali’s shoes. Zan: “I’d fire him.” DONE. Cali fires Zan, and he and his wife Mitzi (who also works at the hotel) escape in their Ford Fiesta.
With that cancer cured, Ramsay decides to take a quick swim to clear his head, so he heads to the pool in his white (not beige?) bathrobe to take a dip. Words really cannot do justice to what happened next, and since they say a picture paints a thousand of them, I give you this.
Holy six-pack hell, Ramsay. Where have you been hiding all these years? Hey, Fox, I’ve got a new show for you: Beach Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. He can hit Daytona Beach, the Jersey Shore, etc., and you know, clean them up for America. And OK, fine, if he has to wear a swimsuit while doing it, we’ll endure it. Moving on.
Since there’s no breakfast service at Meson de Mesilla, Ramsay heads to the local street fair and happily discovers one of the hotel’s chefs (the ever-polite David) runs a food truck that serves up delicious local fare. Ramsay loves it.
Later, Ramsay has a group of locals who have stayed at MdM give it to Cali straight. They complain about the waiver, the pool and—maybe the harshest grievance—Cali’s singing: “I would pay you $100 not to sing.” Ouch. Ramsay has even brought in a senior corespondent from Travel & Leisure magazine, who gives maybe the best advice of the night: “It’s not a hobby, it’s a business.”
After more discussion with Ramsay, Cali agrees to place her guests over her microphone and succumb to Ramsay and his Hotel Hell transformation team. And what a transformation it is. The beige rooms now pulse with bright Southwestern color and décor; the old stage is now a coffee bar; the pool is set up with colorful chaises and couches and deemed to be “the hippest, coolest pool in the middle of the desert” (I wouldn’t go that far, but it is an improvement); and to top it all off, Ramsay introduces them to a new poolside menu of local bites cooked up by none other than food-truck David.
And they all lived happily ever after. The end.
JUST KIDDING. While initially thrilled at the changes, Cali has a momentary freak-out when she can’t find all her old stuff: “WHERE ARE MY PLASTIC GRAPES?” When Ramsay shows her all the stuff out back and nicely offers “to put this [bleep] here back,” he realizes it’s time for some tough love, and he discloses some personal information that makes Super-Ramsay a bit more human.
Ultimately, after a celebratory pool party, Cali sees the error in her old ways, and finally—fully—hands her life and her livelihood over to Gordon Ramsay … as we all eventually will.
Hotel Hell, rated TV-14, airs Mondays at 9/8C on FOX.