Restaurant News & Reviews

She famously rejected Gordon Ramsay’s menu makeover. Here’s a look at Sandra Dee’s season finale

Gordon Ramsay’s attempted makeover of Sandra Dee’s Bar-B-Que and Seafood will air Wednesday as the season finale of the celebrity chef’s new show, “24 Hours to Hell and Back.”

The episode, which airs from 9-10 p.m. Wednesday, is billed as “Gordon’s most emotional transformation of the season” in Fox’s promotional trailer.

That’s not hard to believe given co-owner Sandra Dee Johnson’s ultimate rejection of nearly all suggested menu changes, which included eliminating ribs, hot links — and nose-clearing seasoning. A TV Guide description of the episode said Ramsay also believed Johnson’s lack of discipline with her own family was handicapping her business.

“My customers don’t want me to change the menu,” Johnson told The Bee after the shoot in December 2017. “As to changing to his menu, I will not be doing it. I’m Creole and I don’t know how to cook without spice.”

Johnson did keep some of Ramsay’s interior design alterations, including wood planks on the walls and a pig silhouette with butcher cut lines. A local construction company also deep-cleaned the kitchen at Fox’s expense.

Ramsay arrived at Sandra Dee’s dressed as a construction worker, concealing his identity behind a fake beard, temporary beer gut, baseball cap and safety glasses. He and four others in similar outfits griped to each other about the canned cheese and green beans, soggy calamari and odd-shaped items on their plates.

“Looks like something out of a (expletive) science museum,” Ramsay said as he examined a hunk of fried meat.

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One of Ramsay’s dining companions sent his food back, telling the server it was burnt and greasy. When the server came back to the kitchen with an untouched plate, Johnson — who said Fox has asked her to appear on makeover shows for years and didn’t know she’d be working with Ramsay — went out to confront the table.

“Excuse me, I call my own (expletive). Y’all don’t need to call it for me,” she said as Ramsay kept his head down. “Food’s on us. Have a great day.”

The celebrity chef known for his hot temper and sailor’s vocabulary revealed himself shortly thereafter, kicking off a 24-hour transformation of the barbecue restaurant’s interior and menu at the corner of 15th and F streets.

An episode clip shows Ramsay’s assistants watching over Johnson and her staff as they prepared a fish and succotash dish, with one “24 Hours to Hell and Back” employee chiding the restaurant co-owner for not tasting the meal as she prepared it.

Sandra Dee’s opened at the corner of 15th and F streets in 2002, a year after Kings star Chris Webber famously griped to ESPN basketball analyst David Aldridge that he had to drive an hour and a half “just to get some soul food.”

The restaurant has since been joined by competitors such as Tank House BBQ & Bar, South and Cora Lorraine’s, and Johnson has admitted it has struggled financially in recent years. Ramsay’s attempted face-lift wasn’t what she had in mind, though, and her response was chronicled in international publications such as Eater and The Daily Mail based on The Bee’s reporting.

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