Oct. 4, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
A well-known diner in Astoria has made some changes to its day-to-day operations after being blasted by Gordon Ramsay during the celebrity chef’s popular TV show ‘Kitchen Nightmares.’
Bel Aire Diner, an old-school diner located at 31-91 21st St., featured on an episode of the series that aired last week showing Ramsay visiting the eatery and ordering various food items before he gives the owners his trademark no-holds-barred talk down — labeling the diner a “death trap.”
Ramsay, who is known for his fiery temper and profanity-laced outbursts, didn’t hold back during the episode and criticized the owners — brothers Peter and Kal Dellaportas — for the diner’s overly complex menu, and its serious food safety issues.
The series, which shows Ramsay troubleshooting struggling restaurants in order to help the businesses come up with better operational practices, also revealed a rocky relationship between the brothers leading to an uneasy work environment for staff. The decades-old diner was handed over to the brothers from their parents and has been a neighborhood staple for years.
Ramsay slammed the brothers for having chicken and other meats on the premises which was out of date. The ‘behind the scenes” shots show Ramsay and his cameraman gagging at the sight of the chicken. And, when Ramsay saw heavy grease under the cooker hoods, he told all the customers to leave, and closed down the diner.
“This place is seconds away from going up in flames,” Ramsay yelled at Kal. “This place is a death trap.”
Kal addressed the issue of the chicken and meats on Instagram.
“We have 10,000 pounds of food downstairs, stuff goes bad, it gets thrown away,” Kal said. “We would never serve that chicken, yes it should have never been in the building and we’ve taken measures to change it, but I would have absolutely never ever serve that to anyone. For it to be there and to be found and to be shoved in my face, it was super embarrassing… we’ve changed a lot since then to make sure that never happens again.”
Despite the criticisms, the brothers say it was a positive experience, while customers at the diner told the Queens/Astoria Post on Friday, Sept. 29, that they think the show has already benefited the eatery.
“The whole experience did bring us closer together, it did make us better business owners,” Kal said in a video posted to Instagram.
The brothers are contractually unable to speak to media unaffiliated with the show, according to a worker at the diner.
“Even if we may not have felt like we were a ‘nightmare’ at the start, we are definitely a better business after the whole situation for sure,” Kal said in the Instagram video.
Another one of Ramsay’s gripes was the hundreds of different food items on the menu, and he lost patience while attempting to count the total number of options on it.
“It’s like an encyclopedia thing,’ Ramsay tells the waitress. “I’ve lost count at 270 and I’m only halfway through.”
Ramsay suggested the owners offer customers a condensed menu and he came up with his own version, which is currently hanging on a wall inside the diner.
The owners opted against implementing Ramsay’s menu but did shave the current one. Local favorites like stacked pancakes, steaks, burgers and cheesecakes, are still being served up at the hotspot.
“It allows us to focus on higher quality ingredients, better recipes, and having the food taste much better than a larger menu,” Kal said in the Instagram video.
Ramsay was also taken aback to see coq au vin on the menu, so he ordered it. The dish, which Ramsay said is typically served in restaurants specializing in fine dining and not in diners, comes with chicken braised with wine, lardons, and mushrooms.
And Ramsay was not pleased with how his coq au vin turned out and suspected that the chicken had been cooked at least 24 hours earlier.
“The coq au van, someone needs to go back to France, I’ll pay for the flight… coq au van my ass,” Ramsay says to the waitress.
Since filming the show in May, the owners have installed new kitchen equipment, including new ovens to bake cakes and pastries, new tables and chairs.
The owners have also implemented organizational charts, better labeling practices, and modified how items in the cooler are stored. During the show, a section of the diner was revamped with brighter paint while new lighting was also installed.
Customers at the diner said that the changes were noticeable.
For instance, Joshua Gamboa, 24, and Katherine Reyes, 26, who were eating at the diner on Sept. 29 when the Astoria/Queens Post visited the eatery, said the food had improved. They said they come to the diner often, and agreed with Ramsay about the menu being too vast.
“I definitely think the food is better now, but I liked it before to be honest,” said Gamboa, who added he typically comes for breakfast and orders scrambled eggs, bacon and toast.
Gamboa said Ramsay helped identify problems with the business and also helped the brothers iron out some of their differences.
“It was more trying to figure out the family problems in the episode, Gamboa said. “I thought Gordon Ramsay was being more of a therapist which is good, maybe they needed that hopefully everything is working out between them now and they figured it out, but the food is great.”
John Muccini, who eats at the diner once a month and usually orders a Caesar salad with grilled chicken, said disagreement among siblings in family-run businesses is common and understandable. He said the show essentially turned out as expected.
“In the beginning [Ramsay] basically criticized the place and told us everything that was wrong with it,” Muccini said. “But that’s part of the game, that’s part of him making himself the hero… and helping it to improve. In the end, it was a happy ending. It was a positive thing.”
The episode can be watched in full via the streaming service Hulu. New episodes of Kitchen Nightmares air on Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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