Some of us receive invitations to go to hell more frequently than others – that’s the nature of being a newspaper columnist. But when friends invited Derek and me to join them for dinner in hell we quickly agreed.
This particular Hades involved a taping of “Hotel Hell” at the Roosevelt Inn in Coeur d’Alene, and dinner was a mystery – a murder mystery. We received an email assigning us our roles. I was to portray Millicent the Milliner. Derek’s role? A professor and colleague of our host Sherlock Holmes, aka innkeeper, John Hough.
We were instructed to come in character and advised to bring cash for our $50 a plate dinner, as the inn’s credit card machine ran slow. Oh yeah, we were told it was strictly a BYOB meal. The Roosevelt had no wine, beer or liquor license.
After conferring with our friends Jeff “the Eccentric Scientist” Selle and his wife, Sue, “the Debutante,” we rustled up suitable evening wear.
When we arrived, we reported to the production tent, set up behind the inn. As other guests showed up in far fancier costumes, the four of us opened a bottle of wine and fell to studying character notes with vigor. Who knows? We reasoned. One of us might be up for an Emmy soon.
A producer, who appeared to be about 12, issued a barrage of instructions, including; “Don’t look at chef Ramsay. Do not engage him. Everything you do or say is on tape.”
By this point we felt the need to open another bottle of wine, but it was too late. We lined up in pairs like kindergartners on a field trip, and prepared for our entrance.
“I’m Millicent, the Milliner,” I mumbled to myself, frantically trying to “get in character,” as per our instructions. Derek gamely clinched his unlit professorial pipe between his teeth and offered me his arm.
We sauntered up the steps where Sherlock Holmes greeted us wearing his deerstalker hat and cape. He flourished his pipe as he spoke, and Derek looked sadly at his much smaller version.
Holmes/Hough ushered us into the study and there sat Gordon Ramsay.
What to do?
“Don’t make eye contact. Do not engage chef Ramsay.” Our instructions were clear. But Ramsay stood up and shook our hands and we HAD TO LOOK AT HIM.
We were at risk of getting kicked off the show before dinner!
Ramsay peppered us with questions. I panicked. Was I supposed to answer as Cindy Hval or Millicent? I sat at the edge of the uncomfortable sofa, a strained smile plastered on my face.
Ramsay had no qualms about engaging me. “Are you always like this?” he asked.
My unfocused eyes widened. “Are you trying to make ME cry?” I blurted.
I’d seen enough of “Hell’s Kitchen” to know that someone usually ends up in tears.
At last the awkward interview ended. We coughed up $100 under Ramsay’s watchful eye and joined our friends in the dining room.
By this time our stomachs growled. After a brief speech from Holmes/Hough, we introduced ourselves, or rather our characters, to each other. Finally, our pleasant server brought out the first course – a salad with blue cheese crumbles and a smattering of dried cranberries. Sue’s jaw dropped. “This is a bagged salad from Costco!” she whispered. Sue is an avid gardener – nobody knows fresh veggies better.
I took her word for it, but ate my salad anyway. This proved wise because hours passed before another edible bite was served.
Next, the main course arrived – pork loin with a huckleberry-ish glaze. Jeff, a barbecue expert, shook his head. His slice of pork was witheringly dry, without a hint of huckleberries.
My pork on the other hand was shockingly pink in the center. Jeff whipped a meat thermometer out of his jacket pocket and plunged it into my loin – my pork loin. He shook his head. “It’s not done,” he said. “And that’s not a glaze; those are just frozen huckleberries.”
His actions garnered the attention of Ramsay who stalked over to our table. He loomed over me, grabbed my fork and jabbed it into the meat. “Do NOT eat that!” he commanded.
Then he turned his attention to my husband’s dinner roll. Derek had set the doughy, undercooked tidbit on the edge of his plate. “Are you going to eat that?” barked Ramsay.
Derek shook his head. Ramsay grabbed the “bread” and rolled it around the table till it was snowball shaped. Then he threw it against the wall. “Ridiculous!” he thundered.
Now, I was hungry and a little bit scared, but we still had to enact the murder mystery. Local actors staged a scene, and one of them collapsed and “died.” The guests scrambled around trying to find clues to solve the crime.
We got a glimpse of the lovely inn as we stomped up and down stairs looking for clues. Thankfully, someone solved the mystery just in time for dessert.
Dessert proved to be more successful. It was some kind of chocolate cake with cherries and whipped cream. “Store-bought,” insisted Jeff.
The evening wasn’t a total loss. The four of us ended the night at Fire Artisan Pizza and demolished a couple of delicious pies.
I hope Ramsay was able to help the good-hearted owners of the Roosevelt Inn. Maybe he threw in a cooking lesson or two.
I know I learned something. If you go to hell you’ll probably end up hungry.