On the sixth season of Hell’s Kitchen, the set-up remains the same– sixteen contestants have been chosen out of a pool of 200,000 from around the country. World-renowned Chef Gordon Ramsay pits the men against the women once again. Each show begins with a challenge and the winners get a reward and the losers get some sort of punishment. Then each team preps, cooks and sends out a full dinner menu to the diners at Hell’s Kitchen while being judged in the process. Ramsay yells, swears and belittles the contestants as they hustle to get the food to the patrons on time. At the end of each episode, one chef gets eliminated. The winner of Hell’s Kitchen becomes Head Chef at Araxi Restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.
On the first episode, the contestants prepared their signature dishes for the challenge. The men won. In a strange twist, Chef Ramsay brought back a contestant from last year [who left due to a heart condition] for a second chance. He put Robert on the women’s team. Then on the second episode, the challenge was to clean shrimp in ten minutes time. Again the men won and the prize was a lunch with Chef Ramsay and then a trip out on a yacht. Sparks flew during the dining service when Chef Joseph, a former marine, got into a yelling match with Ramsay and basically challenged him to a rumble. Ramsay had wanted him to pick up a piece of food with his hands and taste it and the guy said, “I’m not an animal.” It will be continued on episode three.
I spoke with three contestants: Andy Husbands, Executive Chef and Owner of Boston restaurant Tremont647, sous chef Jim from New Hampshire and sous chef Ariel from Los Angeles.
Amy Steele [AS]: Why did you want to be on Hell’s Kitchen?
Andy: The best analogy I can give you is that in ’92 when I first saw someone with a tongue piercing, I thought, “Wow. I wonder how much does that hurt? How bad could it be? Can I take it?” So obviously, I got my tongue pierced. It’s the risk thing, the adventure, the challenge. Is there a risk that I’ll come off looking like I don’t know anything about cooking? There is that chance.
[Andy has been running a three-course Hell’s Kitchen themed dinner at Tremont647 every Tuesday night to coincide with the airing of each new episode. Check out the website for details]
Jim: I watched it and everybody said you could totally do it [20,000 chefs applied for the show]
Ariel: I wanted to see if I could meet the challenge.
AS: What did you expect when you arrived on the show/ or in the kitchen/during the competition?
Andy: I had no idea what to expect. It was like going on a roller coaster that you’ve never been on. That was a really cool roller coaster.
Jim: I knew it would be hard and intense and we’d be thrown into this living arrangement with people you don’t know. But you just think of nailing it and getting it done.
Ariel: I definitely wasn’t going in blind. I was not shell-shocked like some people. I was comfortable, nervous, but comfortable.
AS: What did you learn from the experience?
Andy: Push yourself hard and know how much your body can do. Also how much tolerance you have for a crazy atmosphere and working with insane people.
Jim: You have to be consistent with everything you cook. Everything has to be done the same way and you can’t take short cuts.
Ariel: Chef Ramsay is very high on standards, something I needed to find in myself. I have but I had to hone in on. I needed someone to bring it out of me more—something like this [competition] to bring this out more and make me more confident.
AS: How is it working with people from all different backgrounds?
Andy: What’s interesting is that you’re in an environment where everyone wants you to go home. You’re kind of working together and you’re kind of not. That’s interesting. So even on the guys team. The guy’s team wants to win, but you know one of the guys might go home that night.
Jim: I’ve had varying degrees of experience. My regular job, as sous chef, is getting people up to speed working with people. To get to [Hell’s Kitchen] and how everyone else breaks it down to run a kitchen is interesting.
Ariel: It boosts your confidence. You are chosen out of thousands which boosts your confidence and then walk in and meet all those contestants and that talent around you and you are among these contestants and have that right to be there. It is awkward running into a new kitchen with people from different backgrounds, with different styles but it gets more comfortable
AS: What did you know about Chef Ramsay before the show?
Andy: I knew he was a task master and had a colorful way of explaining himself.
Jim: He’s intense. He’s a presence. He wants to get the best out of you. You always push yourself even if others aren’t pushing you. The whole process of being a chef never stops.
Ariel: Ramsay wanted to be most successful chef on the planet. I have respect for him. He’s made a name for himself. He cares for the craft. I haven’t had a chance to get to know him yet.
AS: How is it to be in constant competition?
Jim: In competition I wanted everyone to do really good and not be half-assing it.
Ariel: I automatically look at the male contestants as the main competition because this is a male-dominated field.
AS: How different is it to work when every move is scrutinized, names are called, and people are undermined?
Andy: I’ve worked like that a before and you learn to ignore it. You hear what you need to hear.
Jim: You have to put it out of your head or it’ll eat you up. Do your best. Focus on containing composure. Put everyone else out of head when on line—how am I being perceived?–I just put it out of my head and work. : I have a real life to go back to and how do I want this little piece of Americana to remember me? I never say anything bad about anyone. [Jim seems to be one of the most laid back guys on the show. He said in the first episode, “I’m not intimidated by anybody. Alright, I’m a little intimidated by Chef Ramsay.” And on the marine guy he commented: “Go ahead and burn yourself out with that attitude.”]
Ariel: At first it was very difficult for me. I thought everyone is going to see and I don’t want to cut myself but you soon forget about it. It is nerve-wracking with Chef Ramsay hanging over your shoulder.
AS: What has been the best part of being on the show thus far?
Andy: Getting on [Hell’s Kitchen]. It’s such a bizarre experience that I got to be a part of and such a unique thing. Season Six is such a cool adventure.
Jim: All the new friends I’ve made and being in contact with them in real life. We understand the experience like no one else can and that’ll always be a bond.
Ariel: The exciting unknown.—what’s going to be thrown your way and how can you handle being in a competition and seeing all these people around and seeing if you can knock them out along the way, and working with Chef Ramsay. And becoming he best chef you can be.
AS: What has been the greatest challenge?
Andy: Hanging in and dealing with the pressure.
Jim: Being selected to be on the show. The process of being selected, going through all the questions and being picked.
AS: Is post-editing in line with what the show is like and what you think of folks?
Andy: You get the brutality in the kitchen but don’t get how long it lasts. It’s intense. We’re in there for hours. They didn’t change anything. What you see is what you get.