“Kitchen Nightmares” sticks its knife in New Jersey

Gordon Ramsay is in love with the Garden State.

Is there any doubt? His Fox series “Kitchen Nightmares” has featured two New Jersey restaurants – including Campania’s in Fair Lawn and the now-defunct Hannah & Mason’s in Cranbury – in its first two seasons. And now, as the third season kicks off, the show includes a one-two punch of Jersey goodness with two brand new episodes taking place in the Garden State.

Flamangos Roadhouse - pre-Gordon Ramsay makeover - is the subject of this week's "Kitchen Nightmares" episode./Credit Ava Gacser

First up is one I first reported on last spring. Flamangos Roadhouse in Whitehouse Station will be the “Kitchen Nightmares” subject at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2. The Hunterdon County eatery – located on Main Street adjacent to the train station – reportedly changed its across-the-board menu to strictly American and also changed its name to The Junction.

Then, only a few days later – Friday, Feb. 5 to be exact – “Kitchen Nightmares” returns to New Jersey for an episode featuring Bazzini at 28 Oak Street in Ridgewood. Bill Pitcher, author of Second Helpings, has a favorable, first-person account of the post-Ramsay Bazzini makeover.

“Vampire Diaries” take a bite out of the Garden State

I learned a few things about the cast of “The Vampire Diaries” yesterday that I didn’t know.

Jersey boy Paul seemed happy to be home./All Garden State Plaza event photos by Ava Gacser

First – and most importantly – Paul Wesley, who plays *good* brother vampire Stefan, is a Jersey boy.

“My home state!” he shouted in greeting, moments after taking the stage during a Q&A with fellow castmates Ian Somerhalder and Nina Dobrev at Paramus’ Garden State Plaza.  (The event followed a meet-and-greet/signing at the mall’s Hot Topic.)

Who knew?

While one of the some 500+ fans gathered at the mall told me she thought he was from Cherry Hill, the truth is – according to IMDB and Wikipedia – Paul is another Marlboro celebrity. (He joins the Hayes family from TLC’s “Table for 12.”) He was born in New Brunswick (as was I, albeit a *few* years earlier) and reportedly attended Rutgers (ditto) for one semester before leaving to pursue acting.

Ian, who plays bad boy Damon on the show, seemed to enjoy all of the adulation - most of which came from teenage girls. (Shocking!)

I also learned that Paul, who plays *good* boy vampire Stefan, is a big fan of a certain kooky reporter from Kazakhstan.

“Paul does the best ‘Borat’ impression ever!” revealed Nina.

(Paul quickly confirmed that with a quick “Hello, hello!” in a full-on Sacha Baron Cohen voice.)

Fans had an overall better view of these posters (for a good five hours or more) than they did of the "Vampire Diaries" stars.

As for Ian (he of the piercing baby-blue eyes), who plays oh-so-bad-boy vampire Damon (Stefan’s older brother), he confirmed that he will return to his roots as the ill-fated (or maybe not so ill-fated?) Boone on the new – and final – season of “Lost,” which kicks off at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, on ABC.

When asked how many episodes he will be in, he replied, “I think three.”

I bet Nina - sandwiched between Ian on her left and Paul on her right - was the envy of every single female in the mall yesterday.

Nina refused to take sides in the fans’ battle over which vampy brother is hotter.

“I am on ‘Team Defan,'” she joked.

Nina did offer a tiny hint at this week’s eagerly anticipated episode, “Children of the Damned” (see above clip) – which features the introduction of her character Elena’s alter-ego, Katherine: “There will be blood.”

Before the question-and-answer session ended, I made my way around the corner to the entrance of Urban Outfitters. The actors had come through the store on their way in, so I figured they would leave that way, too. And it’s a good thing I was standing there, because that’s exactly what happened.

Paul walks through Urban Outfitters on his way out of the event.

Paul was the first one through. When fans began tapping on the window, he turned around, smiled and waved hello. Ditto Nina.

Ian was the last to walk by, but he wasn’t content with just smiling and waving. Oh, no.

This photo was snapped seconds before Ian got *up close and personal* - albeit through a glass window - with some fans.

Ian took it a step further: He walked over to the window, smiled and pressed his lips against it in a kiss! (If only I’d caught that on video!)

If it wasn’t already obvious, Ian enjoyed himself thoroughly.

“I feel like a Beatle!” he said during the Q&A.

Later, he wrote on Twitter: “New Jersey rocked our world! Thank you to everyone there tonight- completely surreal… Thank you thank you thank you.”

A short article about the event is featured in today’s issue of The Record and professional photos are available here and here. In addition, there is an assortment of videos taken by fans on Youtube. The picture quality of this one is particularly good. Enjoy!

Also, the new issue of Nylon magazine features the trio in a cover story. Alas, the magazine is cleverly keeping most of the article offline, ensuring people will actually buy the issue. They know how to whet the fans’ appetite (for blood?), that’s for sure. However, the mag’s site does sport some great photos of the actors. Here are just a few:

Credit for this photo and the two below, Nylon Magazine

If anyone was at the Garden State Plaza event and would like to share their stories, photos, or video, please leave a comment!

And by the way, I would love to know how Ian got ahold of my cat. I want Ginger back!

The kitty Ian's holding in his Twitter photo bears a striking resemblance to a certain cat I know...

Is my Ginger a doppelganger for Ian's cat or what?/Credit Ava Gacser

Have “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” agreed to forgive and forget?

Most people spend December celebrating the holidays and January the new year. But not “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Danielle Staub.

It's a good idea if Danielle and Jacqueline keep a table - and some distance - between them./Credit Bravo

No, Danielle prefers to spend her time filing complaints against her *friends* in court.

If you even recall, Danielle was at the center of an altercation which also involved two of her co-stars, Jacqueline Laurita and Teresa “Fabulous!” Giudice, and Jacqueline’s daughter, Ashley Holmes, on Nov. 11. Danielle alleged that Ashley, 19, yelled “I’ll get her” and “I’ll kill you” prior to pulling one of Danielle’s hair extensions out by the root during the fashion show at Wayne’s North Jersey Country Club.

During a court date in early December, Judge Lawrence Katz issued a summons against Ashley on charges of harassment and simple assault, both of which are disorderly persons offenses.

In a report dated yesterday, The Record says Ashley was found guilty on the assault count. She must pay a whopping fine of $189. The charge of harassment was dismissed.

Gee, how will she ever cobble together that much money?

Scott Bocker, Ashley’s attorney, told The Record, “The judge was very sympathetic and I want to thank the prosecutor; when it came down to sentencing Ashley, (Prosecutor Tom) Melani also expressed sympathy for Ashley and asked the judge to be extremely lenient.”

Hmmm… let me get this straight: The lawyer representing Danielle felt sorry for Ashley and asked the judge to be “extremely” lenient?

Either Danielle had a change of heart (or an epiphany along the lines of “Oh, gee. If I want to stay friends with Jacqueline, maybe I shouldn’t be going after her offspring in court!”), Danielle’s lawyer thinks she’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs or… the entire incident was blown out of proportion on purpose for the benefits of – yep, you guessed it – television.

I go with the latter.

And yes, Bravo cameras were on hand for both the incident and an earlier court appearance in December – though surprisingly they reportedly were not present yesterday.

Interestingly, Ashley’s sole Tweet of the day (that would be Jan. 29) was this:

“When someone hurts us, We want to hurt them back. When someone wrongs us, We want to be right. Without forgiveness, nothing is ever settled.”

“Paranormal State” turns to these New Jersey PROs

By Ava Gacser

(Editor’s Note: Hours before this episode of “Paranormal State” aired, I was informed that the footage featuring NJ-PRO did not make the final cut.)

In a world where reality television is the norm, and for many, Andy Warhol’s prediction of everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame is often attainable, it’s unusual – and pretty darn sweet – when fame literally falls into your lap.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “#ParanormalState Sneak Peek posted! W…“, posted with vodpod

Yet that’s exactly what happened to Greg Papalcure, who – along with his fellow New Jersey Paranormal Research Organization (NJ-PRO) co-founders, husband and wife Andy and Christine Rivera – will be featured in the Tuesday, Feb. 2 episode of “Paranormal State” (10 p.m., A&E), entitled “Lost Souls.”

And it’s all thanks to a seemingly innocent conversation Greg had with a Pennsylvania woman named Kathy.

“‘Oh, my house is haunted,'” Greg, 23, recalls the woman telling him back in 2008. “Do you want to come in?”

Greg Papalcure

Andy Rivera

Christine Rivera

Did he ever. With his NJ-PRO colleagues in tow, Greg – who serves as a lead investigator and tech specialist for the Central Jersey-based group – took Kathy up on her invitation. And then they came back, again and again.

“Every time we were there we uncovered something,” Greg recalls.

“Everything was escalating,” explains lead investigator and case manager Christine, 34. Unexplained events (which allegedly began during home renovations several years earlier) were disrupting Kathy’s daily life and negatively affecting her relationships with friends and family, as well as impacting her son, Michael.

“She was being locked up in her own home because nobody wanted to come visit her,” Christine says.

Things took an even more serious turn when unexplained phenomena began happening while Kathy’s infant grandchild was visiting.

“The baby was interrupted sleeping,” lead investigator and audio specialist Andy, 27, says. “(Something) was taking the covers off of the child.”

It was then that the team decided to contact Paranormal Research Society (PRS) at Pennsylvania State University. Founded by then-student Ryan Buell in 2001, PRS and its investigations have been the subject of the hit A&E program “Paranormal State” since 2007.

The evidence NJ-PRO had amassed in a year of documenting Kathy’s case – which includes electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) and the physical manipulation of objects – was enough not only to intrigue PRS but convince Ryan to check it out for himself. A week after sending off an email, Greg received a response: PRS was interested.

The investigation of Kathy’s home took place in September 2009 and includes impressions by Michelle Belanger, one of PRS’ go-to psychic mediums. Filming lasted three days, and Christine, Andy and Greg were present on one day. Christine and Greg were interviewed on camera by Ryan and his tech specialist, Sergey Poberezhny, but the team was not invited to join PRS’ investigation of the property.

“We were getting updates from PRS throughout” the day, however, Christine explains.

PRS has often expressed a willingness to work with other paranormal research groups. In an A&E online video, Ryan explains, “The great thing about having a paranormal team that’s already worked on a case is that you suddenly have a lot of information.”

NJ-PRO’s members say they appreciated PRS’ involvement in the case. They also enjoyed watching how the seasoned team works, which Andy says is similar to how his group functions – with one main difference.

“They tend to go with psychics, and we try to stay away from that,” he says.

Greg agrees.

“We deal with more of the scientific side of the investigation,” he adds.

However, the trio doesn’t rule out working with psychics in the future. And they definitely admired how PRS relates to the people it is trying to help.

“We really like the way that they are more client-based,” Greg says.

Being so close in age – the PRS members are in their teens and 20s – certainly helped the groups get along, too.

“Everybody was really nice,” says Andy.

“They were very approachable – individually and as a group,” agrees Christine.

The two teams got along so well, in fact, that PRS last fall invited Greg, Andy and Christine to attend an advance screening of the film “Paranormal Activity” on the university’s State College, Pa., campus.

The positive experience with PRS has whetted NJ-PRO’s appetite for a show of their own.

“We are working with a producer in developing episodes we hope to market to TV channels,” Christine says. “It’s a new field that’s been opened up to us.”

And while the status of PRS’ investigation into Kathy’s home remains uncertain (the conclusion of Tuesday’s episode will hopefully shed light on that), NJ-PRO says its case remains open.

Contact NJ-PRO

In the meantime, the non-profit group is actively seeking clients. If you are experiencing unexplained phenomena and live in the tri-state area (or beyond), you may contact NJ-PRO by visiting its website, Facebook and Twitter pages, or by calling (908) 4-HAUNT-0.

Author’s note: Special thanks to my friend/former newspaper colleague Pulp Tone for promoting this story. If you don’t follow him – via his website, Twitter or Facebook pages  – you certainly should.

Vera Farmiga: You give Jersey a good name

I’m a Jersey girl, born and bred – but you’d probably never know that by looking at my name. I’ve heard more wrong pronunciations of my names (both last and first) to last me a lifetime.

Can you say Va-va-va Vera?

And I bet another Jersey girl – that would be Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards nominee Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”) – has probably had similar experiences.

Yep, you got that right: Vera (whom I’d always mistakenly assumed was European and sported a thick, sexy accent) is Jersey born and bred, too: She was born to Ukrainian immigrants in Passaic County, raised in Essex and Hunterdon counties and graduated from Flemington’s Hunterdon Central Regional High School in 1991.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Not me… at least until I saw this interview she did with David Letterman last summer.

Hmmm… she’s clever, quick-witted and saucy. Definitely, definitely Jersey.

Vera Farmiga loves cuddling with her baby boy, Fynn./Credit Cookie Magazine

You may also recognize Vera for her roles in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” (she played Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend) or last summer’s thriller “Orphan” with Peter Sarsgaard.

There’s also a good interview with her – replete with adorable photos of her baby boy, Fynn – in Cookie Magazine.

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