While a white-tablecloth crowd gathered at Café Hon to watch last night’s Kitchen Nightmares episode featuring the revered/reviled local restaurant, about 20 people gathered two blocks away in the Roosevelt Recreation Center for a more down-and-dirty viewing.
You had longtime Hampden-ites like sisters Marlene and Karen Zechman with ancient grievances against owner Denise Whiting. And then you had relative newcomers with no emotional ties to the term “hon,” people like artist Carol Aaron and her husband Mike Aaron.
“We’re from Texas. We got no skin in the game,” Mike Aaron said. “For the record, I pretty much like the food.”
Both camps shared a gasp at the pivotal moment in the episode where the Hon staff, egged on by the show’s star, Gordon Ramsay, unload on Whiting, calling her an egotistical control freak, a trashing we pretty much predicted back in November.
“Omigod, they’re telling her she’s a bitch!” Carol Aaron said. “They must have given them all drinks. It’s the Rikki Lake effect.”
Meanwhile the Ramsay treatment wasn’t mean enough for the Zechman sisters, who appear in the scenes filmed in the Colonnade.
“They cut out the really serious complaints – you should have heard it!” Zechman said, from a front row seat at last night’s screening. “It didn’t scratch the surface.” (For these two, the serious complaints, too numerous to recount here, include much more than Whiting’s trademarking of the term “hon.”)
As for the tongue-loosening effects of drink, Aaron and four friends (who by request shall go nameless) know whereof they speak.
As they watched, they passed around a small silver flask of tequila. (“Whoa! She’s going to cry again!” one of them said, as onscreen Whiting’s lip quivered. “If this were a drinking game, we’d be wasted!”)
At times, the women piled on about Whiting. (Mike, perhaps wisely, sat a couple of seats away from the klatch.) They groaned about the stagy sobbing and snickered when Ramsay called the restaurateur out for denying that she had taken legal action against people who used the term “hon.”
“You’re being very devious,” Ramsay said, eliciting from Whiting a harrumph and eye-roll, captured expertly by the camera crew.
More often, though, the women were gagging at the reality show shtick, the portentious Ramsay delivery (“He’s so melodramatic!”) and the harsh assessment of the still-pretty-meh food (“Wait a minute, English-style fish and chips are supposed to be greasy!”) and, in effect, sympathizing with Whiting.
“See, he’s making it worse. They just poke ’em til they cry,” one said. “He’s like the Roman gladiators in the Coliseum.”
When Whiting declared that she’d had death threats, prompting Ramsay to drop his jaw in horror, that got a big hoot. “People get that every day in Hampden,” Aaron cracked. “You go to the bank, you get a death threat.”
When the show concluded, the event’s organizer, Roosevelt Recreation Council president Genny Dill, came to the front of the room to announce the winners of the $25 gift certificate to – where else – Café Hon.
“I asked Denise and she was happy to donate them,” Dill said. “So ‘Thanks, Café Hon!’”
Meanwhile, who should one of the holders of a winning ticket turn out to be? None other than Karen Zechman.
“I hope they don’t ruin the food,” she said, grinning.