Friday, September 28, 2007

Deep thoughts about the American "Kitchen Nightmares"

I confess to really enjoying the UK "Kitchen Nightmares" series. I generally enjoy Gordon Ramsay in whatever show he does - even the American "Hell's Kitchen" was not too bad (although the most recent series was pretty lame).

For those unfamiliar with "Kitchen Nightmares", the premise is a simple "reality TV" format where Gordon is brought in to rescue a failing restaurant. He spends one week working with the owner, chef, servers, etc. sorting things out, and usually manages to turn things around by the time he leaves. He then pops back a few months later (seemingly unannounced) to check on how things have progressed. This is the cherry on the pudding for me - I like to see what advice has stuck, and what has been forgotten; who has stuck to their promises, and who has been forced out (or quit).

The UK show is quite simple, with what feels like no scripting, minimal editing or "saucing up" and often some really good drama as relationships are forged under intense pressure in a short time. Chefs that are resistant and hate Ramsay at first often get won over and become his best friends by the end of the week. Lowly kitchen helpers are recognized as having great potential and given their chance to move ahead in their career. Really inspiring stuff.

So, back to the American version. It's pretty bad - not a huge surprise given it's on FOX and seems to be done by the Hell's Kitchen bunch. What do we get?
  1. Almost continuous background music that tries to manipulate your emotions and whip up the tension but just gets on your nerves,
  2. Tedious re-hashing of footage, especially after the frequent ad breaks. Episode 2 was particularly bad, with a 5min+ sequence of "re-runs" in the middle of the episode. Trust me, guys, I can remember what happened 5 minutes ago and how we got there...
  3. A scripted feel. Some of the scenes seem contrived and designed to inject arguing and swearing into the show. One of the refreshing things about the UK version is how nice Gordon is. Sure, he drops the f-bomb and s-bomb quite often, but he's not as shouty, and seems to use anger on when it's really needed. The US version seems to be trying to get everyone - Gordon and the restaurant staff - to the point of exploding.
  4. No return visit. The episodes end with Gordon's trade-mark "summing up" monologue, expressing hope that things will continue to go well now that he's righted the ship. We get no check-up to see if things actually have continued to do well.
  5. Loads of money thrown at the problem. I guess I should be happy that there is no overt sponsorship/advertising in the show, but each episode (there have been two so far), has featured Gordon bringing in experts and/or large sums of money to fix things. That doesn't feel right, and is in contrast to the UK show, where the restaurants are pretty much on their own. (In one episode of the UK show, Gordon asked the vain chef to sell his car's vanity plate to get more funds to put into the renovation of the restaurant). In the US series so far we've had: a complete new kitchen provided for free, a total redoration, professional steam-cleaning of the kitchen, and a "consulting chef" to do the actual cooking.

In closing, here's an interesting thing I noticed after the 2nd episode, which featured Dillon's Indian restaurant in New York (now called Purnima). From the start of the show it's clear the restaurant is atrocious before Gordon arrives. So, I looked around for some old reviews (pre-Gordon and Vikas Khanna) on the web. Nada. The closest I could find (and the address matches Purnima) is Dillon's, but the menu doesn't have anything remotely Indian. (Perhaps only the American menu made it online? They had what looked like two menus, one with Indian items). Here's the official website for Dillon's - the page came up blank for me for a while, but the Google cache still a copy.

It also looks like Dillon's is a theatre venue of sorts None of the stage/theatre stuff was mentioned in the show which is odd... This NY Magazine review also doesn't mention Indian food (or flies or cockroaches).

Which makes me wonder - was the Indian Dillon's a very recent start-up that took over the Dillon's Bar location (likely)? Did Purnima manage to get the old reviews taken offline (not likely)? Or did "Kitchen Nightmares" create the place and it never really existed? :)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

DAWG algorithms and Scrabble source code

I've noticed that quite a few people reach this blog looking for information on DAWG and Scrabble algorithms - I wrote about this topic here.

What I didn't mention in that old post, and have only just re-discovered on the net, is Graham Toal's amazing archive of resources for wordgame programmers. You'll find the original Appel & Jacobson paper, source code for building DAWG of various flavours, and even full Scrabble game source code. There's also a wordgame programmer's newsgroup if you want to bounce questions or ideas off of people that have similar interests.

Now the incentive to write the game again myself is a little less compelling! :)

Gary does South African red wines

Gary Vaynerchuck (of Wine Library TV fame) tastes three South African reds in this episode.

I'm not familiar with any of the wines he tasted, and haven't seen them available here in Seattle. I also wonder how he picked them- randomly, or based on what he's heard?

The only "established" winery in the bunch is Rustenberg. He does taste a Pinotage :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The oyster's revenge

For some reason I keep ordering fresh oysters and paying for it. Not always, but a large percentage of the time.

The worst offender was the Rogue-owned pub in downtown Issaquah. A and I used to live around the corner and loved going there, and one evening I decided to try their "oyster shooters". I didn't quite understand what I was getting into until it arived - a tall shot glass filled with tomato cocktail and oysters. The oysters were hidden - no way to check they were fresh - so I took a swallow. As soon as the oyster hit my mouth I knew something was off, but for some reason I swallowed anyway. I left the remaining few and tried to ignore the taste of old kitchen cloths that was lingering in my mouth. Needless to say, I didn't feel too good that night.

Cut to this past weekend when A and I spent the night on Orcas Island at the Rosario Resort. We were there to take a look at their wedding facilities, which looked very nice on their website, but sadly didn't live up to expectations once we were there in person. ("Faded glory" was my quick summary of the whole place, and their service was bad).

But back to the oysters. We decided to grab a bite to eat in the bar (since the restaurant was about to close and made it clear we were not welcome). The bar was loud, mostly filled with people watching football on the incongruous large TV screen above one fireplace (way to kill the atmoshpere!) I noticed fresh local oysters on the menu and decided to try them (how often do you get to have local oysters from the Orcase or San Juan islands?) They arrived on a bed of ice cubes (okaaay) and looked good. In fact, they were almost all delicious and I was feeling quite pleased with myself. Then I got to #6 - the last one, and noticed some "stuff" left in the water and juices in the oyster shell. Nothing too alarming, I thought, so down it went. It didn't taste bad, but wasn't quite right somehow, and sure enough, later that night I was making repeat visits to, umm, powder my nose.

Based on my past experience, it seems 50% of raw-oyster-eating outings are likely to go badly. If you're going to take the plunge, I'd say stick to a really good restaurant (which sadly seems to also imply expensive), or do them yourself.

If my readers know of any good local (Seattle) places for fresh oysters, let me know! E&O in the W hotel has the top spot in my experience, but I think they lost their chef a while back, so who knows how hey are now...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
I got a nice little phishing email today. I don't get too many, and luckily the mail had been filtered by Outlook automatically - the offending item was in my Junk Mail folder.

The message was also forced into plain-text mode, so the fake URL for PayPal was clear, but I decided to paste it into IE7 anyway, just to see how the Phishing Filter handled it. Sadly the website was not automatically recognized as a phishing site (I submitted it, so hopefully it will be recognized soon)

To recognize that this is a phishing page, notice the server address (the stuff after http://) is a weird domain name ending in The :81 is a port number - almost all normal websites won't have this in their URLs. Ignore anything after the '/' following the port - that looks like PayPal, but in fact it can be whatever the bad guy wants.
Incidentally, some phishing sites use server addresses that look more valid, such as

The phishing page is pretty brazen. First you have to "log in" with your email and password (anything you enter will be accepted). Then you are prompted to hand over all your private information: name, address, DOB, phone, credit card number + CVV2 and ATM pin. Why anyone would give their ATM PIN to a website purporting to be PayPal I don't know - perhaps the phishing folks just though they might get lucky?

They also ask for the last six digits of your SSN - I guess they don't ask for the whole thing since people are used to entering the last few digits only, and think this is safe. No-one apart from your employer and the IRS should ever need your SSN - even the last four digits! (And I think with the last six digits, the bad guys can figure out the remainder based on your ZIP code/State of residence).

I hope people now know to never enter this sort of personal information on a website - especially one linked to in an email.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

2007 Cannes Lions winners

The 2007 Cannes Lions International Advertising Awards for film/TV are worth taking a look at. For starters, there's the Dove Evolution ad which won the grand prix, but don't ignore the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners.

Here are some good ones (with my favourite first):
  1. The saddest picture in the world.
  2. Weirdest use of reincarnation in an advert.
  3. Even geckos fall in love.
  4. Changing clothes never looked this cool.
  5. It's A-R-T, and it's still good.
  6. Twist in the tale #1.
  7. Twist in the tale #2.
(Quicktime is required to view the clips)

Friday, September 07, 2007

South African auto ads

I recently was browsing around on YouTube looking for South African TV snippets, and found two distinctly different but memorable advertisements.

This one is for Ford, and has some fun with the "new" South Africa:

This one for VW is more sentimental and almost avoids being an auto ad until the last few seconds. VW ads in South Africa have a long track record of excellence, what with the David Kramer "volksie bus" ads. I might have to blog about that in them future :)

(Shockwave required to view the movies)

I must say these seem more interesting and memorable than the auto ads I've seen in America.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gem squash

Gem squash
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here's a shot of a nice gem squash (ignore the weed on the left).
This one is about the size of a large orange, and is ready to be eaten, but we left it on the plant to ripen fully so we have some fresh seeds for next year.

It's interestingly that Wikipedia says gem squashes are a domesticated form of two wild squashes found in the souther USA and Mexico. For some reason I've never seen seeds for sale up here in Seattle - perhaps they are only sold in the south?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Crowded House at Bumbershoot

The first concert on Saturday at Bumbershoot was Crowded House, and they were great! The new drummer, Matt Sherrod, was incredible - subtle and unobtrusive when he needed to be, and with lots of nice inventive touches when he stood out from the band.

The band seemed to be in good spirits and joked with the audience playfully, especially Nick Seymour's interaction with the fans in the front of audience.

I had hoped Edde Vedder would joined them for a few songs, and was not disappointed.

It was interesting seeing the audience make-up. There were lots of younger folks there that didn't know who Crowded House were, and of course plenty of older folks like me that were huge fans. (I smiled as I overheard one lady telling her friend about the Finn Brothers albums). Hopefully they have made some new fans, although their current album is not the energetic, hook-laden gem that their earlier albums were, so I doubt they'll be getting major airtime on popular radio stations.

Space Needle at dusk

Space Needle at dusk
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Taken on Saturday evening at Bumbershoot.

More green tomatoes

Green tomatoes
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here's another photo with some fat green tomatoes. Some of these are now going yellow and should turn red soon.

Green tomatoes

Green tomatoes
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here's a photo from about a week ago showing the tomatoes in our garden box. As you can see they're still quite green, due mainly to the strangely cool summer we had.

Since the picture was taken they have grown a little and we have one or two showing some signs of colour, but it's not clear whether we'll have vine-ripened tomatoes before the weather turns cold.

Luckily, they do driped if you pick them at this stage (as long as they're bug enough) - they just don't taste as good.