STEELE INTERVIEWS: Hell’s Kitchen Chef Benjamin “rice is poor people food” Knack

Amy Steele [AS]: What are your thoughts on making it into the final six on Hell’s Kitchen?

Benjamin Knack [BS]: It’s the first steps to success. It’s day by day; no matter how bad or good you do as long as you don’t get kicked off the service. Getting the black jacket was very exciting.

Note: Hell’s Kitchen had 16 contestants at the start

AS: What are your expectations in working in teams compared to competing as individuals?

BK: I’ve always said we’re a team until we’re not a team. We need to work together whether we like each other or don’t. Now it’s a scarier situation. You need to get the service done but everyone is playing a game to get ahead. People might hold back on food or go quickly to make others look better. To make others look less competent. You play a game but if you’re not good at it, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s not who the best cook is but who can play the game the best.

AS: Why do you believe you’ve made it this far on Hell’s Kitchen?

BK: I’m interesting. I’ve kept it interesting. Some comments may have come off as obnoxious or over the top but it’s TV and people watch for drama.

AS: Would you like to explain your rice is poor people food comment?

BK: Anyone who’s ever been to four-star restaurants knows it’s uncommon to serve rice dishes. Price per pound it doesn’t offer the best value. You wouldn’t see that. I said it that way to be outlandish and over the top. People go to Hell’s Kitchen because it’s fine dining. Rice is not a fine dining item. On Hell’s Kitchen I need to get my point across as quickly as possible. We needed to get the menu going. I’m not going to spend time debating something.

AS: How do you think you’ve come across on TV that’s different from the way you are in your own restaurant?

BK: I come across as villain/ cocky guy. I see myself in different light. On Hell’s Kitchen, the things you say, you say as a rise, for a joke. I knew that I could be edited any way. Either in a good or bad way. I’m on TV a lot. But before, Chef Ramsay says: “Ben, go take off that station.” People that know me think it’s hilarious because they know how I really am. The producers are doing their job. I’m not really this cocky guy and I’m not going to get upset. If people don’t like me, that’s fine.

No doubt in my mind that Jason and I are best cooks at that time. Not because we’re cocky. We’re confident. We’ve worked for great chefs, run tight kitchens and serve great food. If you look at other resumes, ours are way better. I got on Hell’s Kitchen because of my attitude and confidence in what I do. We work hard and take everything we do very seriously.

AS: Chef Ramsay appeared to pick you and Jason [aka Blue Jay] as leaders early on.

BK: The blue team before were rolling over the red team. For 40 minutes, the women got yelled at. Jason and I together both work professionally. If Jason needs to be the leader I can follow and vice-versa. We know how to work a kitchen. In order to be a really great chef, you work long hours and learn different methods. When you work with these chefs, you work with each other, you complement each other. Gordon saw that and decided to split us up and see what happened.

Being in a kitchen, it’s polite when there’s perfection: “please” and “thank-you.” But when the shit hits the fan, it’s “I need this now.” In the end, I say: “What did we do well today? What did we do in a bad way? How did you set us up for failure?” I go over how it all affects everything. If one person is inconsistent, I say exactly how it is. I worked for hotels, James Beard award winners, and four-star restaurants. I’ve seen a barrage of different services and styles. The reason why my restaurant is good is I manage the way I want. People look for me to work for them. Hell’s Kitchen wanted me to be outlandish and over the top. I’ll say it’s wrong. I don’t argue with anybody. I state what is wrong. I address it. If you don’t like that I stated the truth, I’m not saying it to attack you. This is what it looked like.

AS: How difficult was it to go from the men’s team to women’s team?

BK: I’ve never had a problem or hard time working with women before and for the first time, I did. At my restaurant, out of seven cooks, three are women. I’m not sexist. I just care if they are hard working and want to learn. Holli did a good job but Siobhan and Fran didn’t care and didn’t want to work together. There were dishes I made that I wasn’t happy with. But that’s what TV is about.

AS: What have been the best and worst challenges in what you had to do?

BK: The pork challenge: Bok choy and pork loin. Eddie and me. Beautiful dish. Quick sauté and chopped stems. Cooked perfect piece of pork.
I was pissed off about the sandwich. It was awesome. Eddie vs. me and I should have gotten the point. Open faced tuna sandwich. It was a tie. That was most upsetting. That was BS. My sandwich was so much better.

For any challenge, I was either going to win or lose. I’m not going to play it safe. If things don’t come together I’m screwed. The challenges are challenges.

AS: Other teammates don’t seem to want to take your advice even though you have experience. Can you explain the dynamics we see on TV?

BK: Siobhan was always a mess. Fran couldn’t handle the stress. Even though she has a very successful catering business. Autumn is another one. She worked as a personal assistant and had very little cooking experience and always talked about how she could do so much. In the kitchen there’s a lot of talk it’s part of the culture. People who get really stressed don’t belong there. I never talk like that. I just get it done.

You’re going to go through a barrage of moments. It’s nothing you can expect. Every day it’s up and down with emotions.

If you’re in Boston and want to visit Executive Chef Benjamin Knack’s restaurant:

Sel de la Terre

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