“Hell’s Kitchen,” that is.
Chef Christina Wilson, 33, is a Phillipsburg, N.J., native who moved to Philadelphia to pursue her cooking career, and has worked in establishments such as Gypsy Saloon in West Conshohocken and Lolita’s and Mercato, owned by out entrepreneurs Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, in Center City.
Now she and 17 other hopeful chefs are competing for glory and the head-chef position at Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris Las Vegas on the new season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” which premiered June 4 on Fox.
Wilson said cutting her culinary teeth in the Philadelphia area definitely had its advantages as far as kitchen skills and competition.
“Growing up in this region, I’m lucky to get all four seasons to be able to work with so many types of produce,” she said. “We really have it good in that capacity as chefs. I love Italian, Cajun/Creole and Southern American cooking. But I don’t spend enough time traveling or getting a true cultural influence on any one cuisine to pigeonhole my style. I love to cook and I like things that take a long time and taste good when they finish. I think all chefs have a quirkiness to them. I like consistency and repetition. I’ve only worked in small restaurants, so I think one of the things that sets me apart in the environment that I have been lucky to work in is that I tend to be a natural leader. Maybe because I didn’t go to culinary school and I don’t have the traditional foundation, I don’t know that I’m doing anything overly innovative. I feel like the things I am doing, I’m doing well.”
“Hell’s Kitchen” has been around for 10 seasons now, but Wilson said she didn’t watch the show until recently and then instantly became a fan.
“The first time I really watched it was season eight,” she said. “I had gone out to my brother’s house to watch the Yankees game and Fox had the show on after the game. I saw the final challenge and I remember going out the next night and just needing to see the finale and being hooked immediately. The next fall, things started rolling for season 10, which I ended up on. The first time I saw it I was hooked and knew what a challenge it would be to go after a spot on the show.”
Challenge is an understatement. Anyone who has seen five minutes of any episode knows that, beyond the tests of the chef’s talents, contestants have to endure the seemingly inexhaustible wrath of chef Gordon Ramsay and constant yelling and bickering with their fellow competitors.
“I underestimated the amount of mental strength you would need,” Wilson said. “But I didn’t realize that we would have access to nothing: no cookbooks, no Internet, no phone calls to my Uncle Joe because he makes the best sauce. As a chef, you want to cross-reference recipes. That doesn’t happen. You go downstairs and you have a pile of food that you have to make something out of. All you have is what your hands and mouth know and what your mind can think of in the amount of time given to accomplish that task.”
She added that sometimes all the drama is indicative of what a chef can face in a real restaurant.
“Some things are a little bit realistic and it’s not always how it goes in the kitchen, but when you see people’s raw emotions on that show, that’s real,” she said. “So whether you’re in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and your teammate just threw you under the bus or you’re in your restaurant in South Philly and your waitress just screwed up a ticket and you have to re-cook three things, the same emotion runs through you. The one thing I appreciated about this show is they let us go with that, if we were just showing what that pressure and intensity brings out of us.”
“Hell’s Kitchen” airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox. For more information, visit www.fox.com/hellskitchen.