Keeper of the Plans

Here’s what it was like to be an extra on Gordon Ramsay’s new TV show

Yes, that’s the Keeper of the Plans, Matt Riedl, on Gordon Ramsay’s “24 Hours to Hell and Back.” The episode airs on FOX next week.
Yes, that’s the Keeper of the Plans, Matt Riedl, on Gordon Ramsay’s “24 Hours to Hell and Back.” The episode airs on FOX next week. FOX

Last November, I met Gordon Ramsay in Wichita.

Not the police chief (though he was also there). I mean the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.

And he was under the impression I was the Eagle’s dining critic, there to review the menu he revamped at Fetch Bistro in 24 hours.

How did I get in this situation, you ask?

It all started earlier that month as I was filming an episode of “My Home,” my video series about unique houses in Wichita.

My colleague — the Eagle’s actual dining critic, Denise Neil — was out of town for Thanksgiving and was regrettably missing the big hullabaloo at Fetch Bistro.

I received an email from “Casting Dept.” that read: “Hey there! I’m the casting director for a new Gordon Ramsay restaurant show. Give me a call to discuss you being a part of our Grand Re-opening event tomorrow afternoon. Thanks!”

Long story short: I replied to the cryptic email and was given instructions to meet behind the strip center in which Fetch Bistro exists at 37th and Rock the following afternoon.

There were a few ground rules — bring dogs (over 4 months old and current on vaccinations) dressed up, park a good distance away from the restaurant, and don’t wear clothes with any logos or stripes.

“Chic looks welcomed!” the email read.

Needless to say, I dressed as chic as I could possibly muster.

Unfortunately, it was about 50 degrees and windy outside on filming day, Nov. 21.

After checking in alongside about 30 other Wichitans (including food blogger Eddy Brotemarkle of Wichita by E.B.), we waited outside for what seemed like an hour.

Toward the end of that hour, tech crews came to attach cordless lavalier microphones on Brotemarkle, myself and Police Chief Gordon Ramsay.

Eventually they led groups of extras into the restaurant in waves. I was in the first wave, which meant we got to witness the official “grand opening” moment.

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As we were waiting to go in, a neighboring business owner saw Police Chief Gordon Ramsay in line with the extras and took that opportunity to pull him aside to complain about how the show was taking away his front-row parking spaces that week.

A producer encouraged everyone in line to clap, cheer and generally be animated as he counted down to opening the doors. Because that’s how every good restaurant opens, right?

The biggest rule: No cellphones were allowed. Even pulling out your phone was grounds for expulsion from the set, a producer warned.

At least while I was there, I didn’t see anyone get booted for using a phone.

A hostess led me, my then-fiancée, Brotemarkle and a friend to the “VIP table,” reserved for local food reviewers.

There, our waitress brought a plate of just about everything on the menu, which the four of us split.

Meanwhile, three cameramen roamed the room, grabbing B-roll of Wichitans and their dogs eating in the newly renovated restaurant. Occasionally those cameras would point directly at us, which we took as a subtle cue to — in great detail — articulate our thoughts on the dishes in front of us (complete with animated facial expressions, hand gestures and the whole nine yards).

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Soon, chef Gordon Ramsay himself came over to the table and shook our hands, asking our general thoughts on the restaurant and favorite dishes (while the cameras rolled behind us, of course).

After about 10 minutes of Ramsay walking about the room, he disappeared for a long while, and we were left to our food.

One of the on-set producers came to our table and told us they wanted one-on-one interviews with both Brotemarkle and me.

Normally I’m the one doing the interviews, not being interviewed. And I sure hope that the interviews I conduct are less stressful on the interviewee than this was.

I was directed to a red X on the floor as three lights (one on both sides and one overhead) illuminated my face in what I’m sure was great detail.

A friendly producer asked me my thoughts on the renovation, on the food, on whether I thought the restaurant would last long term. I wanted to provide usable material for them, so I paid close attention to the producer. If he smiled and nodded after one of my answers, I assumed it was a worthy one. Sometimes he’d ask me to rephrase a thought or start over to take out the “ums,” “likes” and other verbal filler.

After that, I was told I was free to go, so I turned in my microphone and beat it.

We had been in the restaurant for about two hours at that point and were basically just people- and dog-watching.

When the show released a trailer for “24 Hours to Hell and Back” in May, I was surprised to see they had picked up an offhand comment I made at the table, mentioning how I “really like the gravy.”

I hope that’s not my claim to fame on the show, but if it is, then so be it.

I really do like gravy.

The Wichita episode of “24 Hours to Hell and Back” airs on FOX (Channel 4 locally) at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 25.