Kitchen Nightmares: The biggest scandals to ever hit the show

Imagine the hellspawn of Disney villain Cruella de Vil and the infamous Seinfeld Soup Nazi coming to your home in a chef's coat, screaming his head off about everything, and then threatening to shut it all down upon coming across a moldy orange you've been meaning to throw away. This is exactly what Kitchen Nightmares with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is like, only your home is actually a restaurant, and the orange is actually a refrigerator full of expired meat. Big mistake. You'd better have a good excuse lined up, because you're about to be accused of trying to kill everybody with rotten food. 

Gordon Ramsay has made an entire career out of shaming failing restaurateurs. He may be the scariest thing to come out of Scotland since the Loch Ness Monster and deep fried haggis pops. It's a wonder he's never been slapped. But this is reality TV, and Kitchen Nightmares has been hit with a fair bit of controversy over the years. We're talking lawsuits, smear campaigns, cheating allegations, and more. Here are the worst scandals of all.

Restaurant sues Kitchen Nightmares for over-dramatizing how gross it is

In the culinary world, you know things are bad when Gordon Ramsay shows up to your rat-infested kitchen, opens a container of old shrimp, and immediately throws up. Just ask Moe and Rami, befuddled brothers and co-owners of New Orleans' Oceana Grill featured on Kitchen Nightmares. They didn't mean to almost poison him to death, but since they have no clue how to run their business, it was bound to happen to someone sooner or later. Luckily for them, Chef Ramsay is there to help. He sits the brothers down and calls Moe, who's been drinking and throwing chairs at the staff, a "busy idiot." Rami explains this is actually a compliment (it's not), adding, "He's from British, he doesn't speak English." Sigh.

Although the show aired in 2011, supposedly with an agreement in place about what clips could and couldn't be used, the restaurant's parent company filed suit against the show in 2019 claiming defamation and seeking monetary damages. Why eight years later? Because a video was posted to Facebook, including the scenes showing dead mice and Gordon Ramsay vomiting at the smell of bad shrimp, which the restaurant says were fabricated. The lawsuit claims that they were to receive $10,000 and an "update statement" should any of the more damaging clips be made public, neither of which were received. And now nobody wants to eat at the Oceana Grill anymore even though this all happened years ago. A classic lose-lose scenario, really.

Gordon Ramsay's swearing is out of control on Kitchen Nightmares, and the UK is sick of it

Gordon Ramsay likes to use the F word. A lot. Usually it's being yelled in someone's face as a result of their ineptitude. Gordon Ramsay also uses quite a few other swear words, none of which you'll hear on American television. The UK, however is a different story, and people were not happy when those expletives were edited back in.

UK standards are different. You can cuss as much as you want on British television, provided it's "justified by the context." In the U.S., they'll just bleep you no matter the context. In one episode, Chef Ramsay tries to help Sebastian's, a struggling pizzeria in Burbank, California, and they get bleeped 40 times. With commercials, that's like once a minute. In the British version of the same show they only get bleeped twice. A spokesperson for the show's broadcaster states, "Gordon Ramsay is a well-known TV personality and viewers watching his programs know what to expect. In the context of Kitchen Nightmares the strong language is a genuine expression of Gordon's passion and frustration." 

A special one-off episode, Ramsay's Great British Nightmare, was also broadcast and over 300 swear words were used. Once a minute is one thing, but it's pretty hard to justify cussing every 20 seconds. The British broadcasting regulator got 51 complaints, and the channel got off with a warning.

For the first time ever, Gordon Ramsay walks out on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares

Amy's Baking Company can be a terrifying place to eat. Anything other than a fawning, effervescent reaction to your dining experience will get you screamed at, called a mother*****r, and maybe even get you physically threatened by one or both of the owners. This is how Amy and Samy Bouzaglo choose to run their business. They're in a constant state of childish petulance and psychotic rage, both of which are exacerbated by the online "haters" who apparently like to lie and tell everyone the food is disgusting when really, according to Amy, it's delicious. They also pocket their server's tips. When Chef Ramsay confronts Samy on the matter, he responds, "I am the gangster, not you," which might be the weirdest defense ever.

Watching this episode is exhausting. It's less appetizing than Amy's dramatically undercooked pizza, but can make you feel just as nauseous. It's like watching someone's mom and dad inappropriately lose it at a parent/teacher conference. One diner told a reporter, "The producers told me they had never seen anything like this." By the end, you almost feel a little sorry for Gordon Ramsay, who finally figures out Amy and Samy are goners and actually quits. "Yala," Amy blurts out nonsensically, unless she's trying to say "YOLO," as in "You Only Live Once," which really doesn't apply at all here but it's the closest we got to figuring them out.

Restaurant owners featured on Kitchen Nightmares flip out on social media after backlash

When their Kitchen Nightmares episode aired, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo were instantly hated. It's not often you get to see that much insanity packed into one hour-long episode of television. Memes were made. Internet trolls trolled. Even their cats got death threats. It seemed the whole world had gone bonkers, all because of wide-eyed Amy and her angry husband. 

You (almost) have to hand it to the Bouzaglos. Anyone relegated to the level of universal humiliation they were might have simply tried to fade into the oblivion of the restaurant version of witness protection, but not these two. They fought back. That's right, Amy and Samy retaliated with the kind of profane, all-caps Facebook rampage you wouldn't normally expect from full grown adults. "PISS OFF ALL OF YOU," stated one post."F**K REDDITS, F**K YELP AND F**K ALL OF YOU. BRING IT." People were trash, they were pansies, and they were obviously all working together to bring down Amy's Baking Company. "You are all little punks," they said. "Nothing. You are all nothing. We are laughing at you. All of you, just fools." 

Predictably enough, Amy and Samy said they were hacked. Hard to believe, considering the supposed hackers pretty much nailed their exact tone and lack of self awareness. It was the meltdown of the year, with a special place in Kitchen Nightmare's history. And hey, it likely earned the small restaurant its own Wikipedia page, so at least they got something out of it.

Kitchen Nightmares filming temporarily halts due to Gordon Ramsay's alleged extramarital affair

If you're going to sleep with someone behind your wife's back, you might not want to do it with someone who likes to publicly brag about the multitude of affairs she's had with married men. Not that we can say for sure Gordon Ramsay even had an affair, but in 2008 British authoress and self-titled "professional mistress" Sarah Symonds did, and furthermore, that they'd been carrying on the on-again, off-again relationship for the past seven years.

Lurid details of hotel trysts quickly emerged, as did the inevitable media frenzy. Ramsay was a family man. He and his wife, Tana, had been happily married for 12 years and had four kids. So why, the British press wanted to know, was he holed up in a hotel room for three hours one day with Symonds who'd just been spotted in nearby SoHo purchasing the sex drug amyl nitrate? It didn't look good. This was a woman who'd recently written a book called Having An Affair? A Handbook For The Other Woman. As for Ramsay, he remained uncharacteristically silent on the matter, except to tell a cooking show audience in Birmingham, "If I was really going to cheat, it wouldn't be with a complete slapper." Shortly after the story broke, filming for the U.S. Kitchen Nightmares was put on hold, presumably to give Ramsay time with his family.

Popular chef from Kitchen Nightmares dies by suicide

If you watch Kitchen Nightmares enough, you start to get the feeling all chefs are psychopaths. They scream a lot, they never smile, and some of them will berate their servers simply for returning someone's undercooked steak. (In their defense, standing in front of a scalding hot griddle all day long can't possibly be good for you.) Joe Cerniglia, on the other hand, was the chef everyone loved. Cerniglia was the owner of Campania, an Italian eatery in Fair Lawn, New Jersey where the staff likes to goof off all day and serve over-garlicky ravioli. They don't even use actual recipes — they just eyeball stuff. Meanwhile, the freezer doors are broken and so is the oven, which is being used for storage. It's no surprise Cerniglia is $80,000 in debt. "I'm financially in trouble," he tells Chef Ramsay. "The debt of the restaurant alone is overwhelming. My personal debt — wife, kids, mortgage — that's a lot of debt."

"Your business," Ramsay tells him at one point, "is about to f***ing swim down the Hudson." And chillingly enough, he was right. Three years after the Campania episode aired, Cerniglia was estranged from his wife and three young sons, dating his pastry chef, getting rushed to the emergency room for a cocaine overdose, and still plagued with debt. He sold Campania, and eight days later died by suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. A sad ending to the story.

Gordon Ramsay pushes ham on unsuspecting vegetarian on Kitchen Nightmares

Fact: Gordon Ramsay hates vegetarians. If you ask us, he's either under the impression they only eat bland, uninspired food (they don't), or he doesn't like the fact that none of them will ever truly appreciate what he can do with a lamb chop. "My biggest nightmare," Ramsay once told The Daily Mirror (via What's on TV), "would be if the kids ever said: 'Dad, I'm a vegetarian.' Then I would sit them on the fence and electrocute them." This is information one young man could have used before he was lured into La Lanterna, an Italian eatery in Hertfordshire, England to sample their vegetarian pizza for the Kitchen Nightmares cameras and sneakily fed Parma ham. Not cool. The guy hadn't eaten meat in eight years. To make matters worse, Chef Ramsay and the restaurant staff think this is hysterical and not at all a big deal just because he didn't get a face rash. Clearly not happy, the young man leaves as Ramsay says, "Good luck with the Vegemite!" 

First of all, not all vegetarians eat Vegemite because Vegemite is gross. And second, it's totally not funny. Giving a vegetarian ham without telling him is like handing a sober person a Jack and Coke without mentioning the alcohol. It's just mean. Critics called it outrageous, offensive, and even unethical. But really, Ramsay is a man who once tweeted, "I'm a member of PETA! People eating tasty animals." Are we really that surprised?

A Kitchen Nightmares Twitter post backfires

Believe it or not, there are people in the world who are not at all entertained by watching Gordon Ramsay verbally abuse failing restaurant owners. And some of them are on Twitter, as Channel 4 (the UK's broadcaster of Kitchen Nightmares) found out when they shared a video montage called Gordon Ramsay's Top Meltdowns. "When Gordon Ramsay loses it," read the caption, "be afraid." As if there's not enough nastiness on Twitter already. 

Reactions to the video were mixed, but mostly people were over it. The insults, the unnecessary level of vitriol, the possible stroke-inducing amount of fury — it had all lost its charm. There's only so much yelling a person can take in one lifetime, and they'd reached their limit. But more importantly, it managed to reopen the conversation about aggressive chef behavior and the damage it causes within the industry. Jay Rayner, restaurant critic for The Guardian and apparent anti-Ramsay guy, tweeted back, saying, "What a sad, inadequate man. This is everything that has been wrong about restaurant kitchen culture. Because he suffered violence and abuse as a young cook, Ramsay thinks it's character building and so the cycle continues. All he's doing is glamourising bullying." Hard to argue with. And we're not even going to try.

Gordon Ramsay sues a journalist for libelous Kitchen Nightmares write-up

In 2005, British journalist Victor Lewis-Smith did something really stupid: He called Gordon Ramsay a fake. In print. Uh-oh. The article in question, published by the Evening Standard, specifically took issue with the episode of Kitchen Nightmares in which Ramsay visits Bonapartes restaurant in Silsden and — shocker — finds it to be a disaster. The kitchen is a health hazard, they're totally unorganized, and somehow no one seems to think it's all that big of a deal when Chef Ramsay gags on a rotten scallop.

Victor Lewis-Smith wasn't buying it. In the article, he claimed Chef Ramsay was in cahoots with his production company, Optomen, to take Bonapartes down by "installing an incompetent chef" and "fabricating culinary disasters." Call us crazy, but assembling a reality show crew and getting everyone to be in on some kind of diabolical scheme certainly seems like quite an elaborate way to sabotage someone's place of business. Or maybe the journalist was under the impression the things that happened never do actually happen in real life, and he had no other choice but to assume it was all fake. "Gastronomic mendacity," he called it. Gordon Ramsay wasn't having it. He sued the guy for libel and won, saying, "I won't let people write anything they want about me — even I have limits and on this occasion the line was crossed." 

Restaurant manager turned scapegoat sues Kitchen Nightmares

Martin Hyde is not very good at his job. As the general manager of Dillons, an "American Irish restaurant with an Indian-ness connected to it" (whatever that means) in New York City, he's supposed to look out for things like rotten food being served and cockroach infestations. But the kitchen at Dillons is in chaos, so much so that Gordon Ramsay fears someone will die any second from eating a mushy tomato. Hamburger meat is spoiled, everything is filthy, and nobody knows what's going on except to say the restaurant is losing a ton of money every month. Meanwhile, mild-mannered Martin Hyde seems completely nonplussed by the situation, almost as if he knows his presence there is pretty much pointless and that if he keeps up the hurt dog routine maybe Gordon Ramsay will stop screaming at him. It doesn't work. In the end, Hyde walks off. For good.

Sensing serious humiliation in his near future, Hyde takes legal action against Kitchen Nightmares to prevent the episode from airing and gets nowhere. A second lawsuit alleged the show had misrepresented him with "deceitful editing practices," and that he deserved about $800,000 in damages for harming his reputation. Perhaps Hyde had never actually seen Kitchen Nightmares, because someone is always disproportionately vilified. "Call me naive, call me dumb or something, I was totally, totally, totally shocked," he admits. "I believe everything." A judge threw the second lawsuit out, and Martin Hyde never got his money.