Stacey Place wouldn’t call herself a well-known food critic/blogger.
Now, thanks to Gordon Ramsay and his Fox television show “Kitchen Nightmares,” she’s the most famous food critic in the Ocean State.
Given a small starring role on the show because of her blog – Adventures in R.I. Dining – she started because “it was for fun,” Place has become a local celebrity and has seen her weekly readership jump from 250 per week to around 10,000 in just a few short days.
Not bad for a music teacher.
Place has always had a passion for food and in the summer of 2009, after some pushing from friends, she started Adventures in R.I. Dining, which chronicles her experiences at restaurants in Rhode Island and wherever else her taste buds take her.
Over the summer, producers for Kitchen Nightmares – where Ramsay, the world-renown chef, tries to turn a struggling restaurant into a respectable one – advertised they were looked for people to come to check out DownCity, which was going to be featured on the show.
A food connoisseur, Place wanted to be involved. She responded and when it was discovered she had a blog where she had been critical of the restaurant, producers asked her to be on the show, but not just as an ordinary diner for DownCity’s relaunch.
They wanted her to be one of the shows featured stars, to come on as an “influential blogger.”
“I hadn’t done a whole review (on DownCity), but I had gone and said something about the food being tasteless and bland,” Place said. “That was the quote they picked up on.”
Place got on camera in the show’s penultimate and final segment that aired on March 11 during a hectic dinner service as Ramsay continually reminded the staff about her presence and the need to have her approve of what they were putting out for her.
The cameras showed an infuriated Ramsay – per the norm for him on the show – screaming at the staff, telling them how important she was to their success. He whipped out his BlackBerry, and showed the owner what she had just Tweeted:
“Waiting for our appetizers. Getting hungry. Come on!”
The staff heard Ramsay’s pleaded loud and clear and Place and her guests – ticket No. 30, or as the show called it, “the golden ticket” – got their food – including a goat cheese truffle dip and lamb chops - and all was good.
But not just for DownCity; in the one second Place’s Twitter feed was on camera, she began seeing traffic to her site and her Twitter feed she could have never imagined.
“Since then I’ve gotten visitors from every state in the U.S. and 59 countries,” Place said.
Not every comment was nice. Some ridiculed Place for her unusual texting style, where she used only her middle finger to type on her iPhone, something done out of necessity thanks to an unfortunate injury trying to slice potatoes.
But the negatives have been far outweighed by the positive feedback she’s received from everyone from her blog’s followers to her friends, family and students.
“The kids were so excited. … They can’t believe their music teacher does something else,” Place said. “For them, I’m just Place, the old music teacher; for them it was pretty cool to see that you can do something else, you don’t have to be stuck at one thing and you can try whatever you want to do.”
While the cameras showed the interaction between Place and Ramsay as minimal at most – she was on-screen for a only a few moments after being at DownCity for two-and-a-half hours - her experience with the chef went well behind the cameras.
“He was awesome and was really nice and friendly to me. Obviously he had different feelings to the people that owned the restaurant,” Place said. “I talked to him a lot and he treated me like the professional that I am. I was surprised. He wasn’t like ‘you’re some blogger;’ he really wanted to talk to me to get my opinion.”
The visibility has done wonders for her site, but it has also made Place a commodity for restaurants around Rhode Island.
While she could sneak into any place in Rhode Island without being noticed before the show aired, things are certainly starting to change.
Since the show, Place has been asked by restaurants to come for a visit and she is weary of what they hope to gain from exposure on her blog.
“If somebody does recognize me now, I would make sure I put that in my blog,” said Place, who had dinner last weekend at Pane E Vino on Federal Hill without being noticed. “A review like that is different than if I just came in as an unknown.”
Place never intended to gain any sort of notoriety when she started the blog.
“Really, I thought no one would read it,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous when I started because it just seemed like something fun for me to do.”
Now Place has strangers asking her for advice on food, what she’s cooking up and what kind of wines she enjoys.
The clock may be ticking on Place’s 15 minutes, but to friends, family and locals, she’ll always be a star.
“We don’t have things like this,” Place said, “happen in Exeter.”