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Tears, then hugs on Cafe Hon episode of 'Kitchen Nightmares'

By Richard Gorelick

The Baltimore Sun

5:20 PM EST, February 24, 2012

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Denise Whiting cried, was scolded by Chef Gordon Ramsay and then hugged out months of drama on tonight's "Kitchen Nightmares" episode featuring Whiting, who Baltimoreans -- and the staff of her Hampden theme restaurant Cafe Hon -- love to hate.

The show did an exceptionally good job of explaining the controversy that mired Cafe Hon and Whiting for the better part of a year.

If you knew nothing about Whiting and "Hon" trademark, you'd come away with an accurate understanding of how the story played out in Baltimore. Things really did get as bad for Whiting and Cafe Hon as this episode suggests. But if you're worried about a whitewash, don't be. The pre-makeover Whiting comes across as insufferable and clueless. And Gordon Ramsay calls her out on her self-deception. 

Viewers coming fresh to the Cafe Hon story will have a different viewing experience than will Baltimoreans. I can't say whether anyone still opposed to Whiting will be persuaded by this account of her redemption. I needed no persuading, having long ago moved over to Team Denise — nothing she did remotely merited the absurd scapegoating she was subjected to.

Is Whiting acting in "Kitchen Nightmares"? If so, she's in the wrong business.  

The stars of the episode are Whiting's loyal staff. Of course, they're encouraged to voice their serious anger and mounting frustration with Whiting, but "Kitchen Nightmares" also shows them displaying compassion and concern for their boss. It's a nice touch. Credit likewise goes to the production team of "Kitchen Nightmares" for the show's crisp pacing and impressive production values. There is a scene in the alleyway behind Cafe Hon with Ramsay, the head chef and the manager that is truly lovely.

You'll be glad to see how well Baltimore and its citizens come off, too. Hampden (identified here as a small town outside Baltimore) looks great, and the city footage that intercuts the narrative shows the side of Baltimore viewers didn't see on"The Wire." The morning disc jockeys on Mix 106.5 are shown to be astute and articulate as are the citizen members of a focus group convened by Ramsay.

If you missed the it, the full episode will available on Hulu and Fox's website beginning March 3.