Hoots at a Hampden screening of Cafe Hon “Kitchen Nightmares” episode

cafe hon gr 1

Marlene and Karen Zechman, harsh Cafe Hon critics, brightened when Karen won a $25 Hon gift certificate at last night’s Kitchen Nightmares screening.

Photo by: Fern Shen

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.”

Hampden crowd gathers to see how their city, and their local eatery, fared on national TV. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen.)

Hampden crowd gathers to see how their city, and their local eatery, fared on national TV. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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.

One of the weepy moments the audience caught in last night's screening of the Kitchen Nightmares Cafe Hon episode. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

One of the weepy moments the audience caught in last night's Hampden screening of the Kitchen Nightmares Cafe Hon episode. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

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.

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  • Unellu

    As I see it–Denise Whiting–Hon and the Pink Flamingo

    She robbed “Hon”,
    said the word belonged to her,
    it was a case of finder keeper,
    the loser weeper was Baltimore,
    by the “Pink Flamingo”
    at the door to her restaurant–
    she said she gave status to “Hon”.

    she scooped the word
    from the mouths of moms–
    in bee hives–
    used to bandying “Hon” about–
    on lazy afternoons of badinage–

    she abducted “Hon” from them–
    and from others who said–
    “Hon” was not a mere word-
    but an icon–
    in the homes and in the bars–
    in the saloons and in the salons–
    among the pimps and the prostitutes–
    the aristocrats and the paupers–
    the queens and the queenies–
    ‘Hon” was an inseparable–indelible–
    inescapable part of the lexicon–
    of Baltimore–but she said–“Not so soon–
    the word doesn’t belong until it’s patented.”

    replete with lawyers–
    hired to her ignoble cause–
    she ignored the rabble–
    patented “Hon”–
    and swept it like a mere bauble
    into her collection of kitsch–
    then Baltimore booed–
    in a jiffy–the city rallied–
    said she was patently wrong about the patent–
    challenged her to several bouts of  boxing–
    knocked her to the ground–
    bruised her where it hurt–
    how dare she appropriate an endearment–
    a distinct use of dialect–
    a peculiarity of address–
    a linguistic pearl–
    from the storied verbiage of Baltimore?
    How presumptuous of her to think–
    she could get away with piracy?

    then she gave it back–the word–
    she gave it up–the fight–
    picked up the dare she threw–
    swallowed it–and gave in–
    because the fire went out of her–

    the pink flamingo–
    her source of pride–
    had seared her conscience–every night–
    sitting atop her grease and grime–
    it had ordered her to do what’s right–

    confiscated– then returned
    to its native perch–
    the flamingo knew–
    its boss was wrong–
    to swipe the sweet, seductive “Hon”
    from Baltimore’s unique lexicon–
    and hold it hostage to her greed.

    that is how it came about–
    “Hon” escaped a patent’s grip–
    a tawdry tacit flamingo tipped–
    the balance in favor of Baltimore–

    Usha Nellore




  • SUE

    LOVE HER OR HATE HER the people of Hampden have made her famous I have used the term HON since I was a child and will continue to do so she can not stop me from using a word…. but needless to say by giving her name and keep talking about HER everyone will know who she is and go to her eatery just to see what it’s all about good job Hampden. Well the good side is everyone has heard about HAMPDEN.

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