How did it feel to watch the first episode air?
It was relieving. I guess I looked okay on camera, so that’s good. [Laughs.]
How was it meeting William Shatner [part of an award the men's team received in the first episode]?
It was awesome. I’m a Trekkie, so that was totally mind-blowing for me. I met Gordon Ramsay, and then about six hours later, I met William Shatner. It was a pretty great first day in LA.
What was it like having your first conversation with Gordon?
I was really, really nervous. It was cool. It was nerve-wracking. The first time you talk to him, you’re presenting food to him, but it was great. He’s a really, really nice guy — and down to earth when he’s not yelling at you. He’s really cool and fun to talk to.
I’ve been watching MasterChef Junior, and it's nice to see his other side come out when he's with the kids.
The way he is with those little kids is the way he is with all of us when it’s not dinner service on Hell’s Kitchen. But that’s the majority of the show — Gordon berating us.
You did well in that signature dish challenge, earning four out of five. Anything you would have changed?
It was a tempura soft-shell crab, and I think it was pretty spot on. It’s a small plate and I think he was maybe looking for more of an entree, so that might be the only thing I would have changed, but I think it was pretty good. It was crispy and fresh and acidic and umami; it had all of that going on.
At that stage in the game, had you already started to build relationships with the other competitors? Were there any special alliances among the Massachusetts people, for example?
I think Nick is awesome. He’s definitely one of my favorites, and I also just think he’s hysterical. We hate all the same things, so of course we got along quite well.
Could you zero in on any possible frontrunners at that early stage?
As soon as you do the signature dish challenge, you kind of get to see what people can really do, so right away my eyes were on Meghan and T on the girls’ team — they both got five out of five, and they’re both pretty serious — and then over on my side, I was probably sizing up Cameron. Cameron got four out of five.
Do you think the right person went home from the first episode?
Yeah, I think so. Chrissa was a real sweetheart, but yeah. She has a grilled cheese food truck, and she made us grilled cheese the night before. She was really nice.
How long ago was this actually filmed, and what was your cover story?
It was filmed about a year ago. I told people I was doing restaurant consulting in LA. People bought it.
Were those silly opening credits show early on in the process?
Yeah, we did that towards the beginning. That was really, really fun. It’s all green screen, so I had to pretend that this giant camera on a boom was a jungle mosquito trying to kill me. The high school drama geek in me came out.
I know you can’t talk specifics about what’s to come, but can you make a general statement about what viewers should expect from the rest of the season?
Lots of drama. Injuries. Fire trucks and ambulances.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?
We’re all in touch with each other on social media and whatnot. We couldn’t until the cast got announced so people wouldn’t read into it, but we’re all in touch now, so we’re watching it and live-tweeting at each other.
It must be so different being part of something like this now compared to the early seasons, before social media really blew up. [Season 1 aired before Twitter’s debut, and Facebook wasn’t yet open to the general public.]
The people who were on last year have more “likes” and “follows” on their fan pages than the people from previous years. It’s a lot easier to get your name out there now, I guess.
According to your official bio, you’d wanted to be on the show since the beginning?
When you watch Hell’s Kitchen, for the most part, you’re really just seeing cooks mess up — it looks like no one can cook. So I was like, I want to do that. I’m not sure that I could win Top Chef, but I can win this. Then you get there, and people can actually cook. It’s just a really high-pressure environment. There are some surprisingly good cooks on Hell’s Kitchen.
What kind of prep did you do leading up to shooting? Did you practice Gordon’s signature dishes or anything like that?
We had one day with the sous chefs to go over the dishes. No practice, though — you’re really thrown into the fire. That’s kind of how it goes down. It’s really scary, and there are tons of cameras and a live audience and you know you’re on national television and Gordon’s screaming at you and you’re working with a bunch of people you’ve never worked with before. Half of them know how to cook and half of them think that they do — it’s a lot.
Is there much downtime? On the show we don’t see too much of the lounging around, obviously, although there seems to be a little bit. But how many hours a day are you actually in the kitchen?
So many. Like, the majority of the day. There are some days that we really only got maybe two hours of sleep. I know some people just couldn’t even sleep at all. There were early wake-up calls at, like, 4 a.m. to go do these crazy challenges, and it’s kind of like bootcamp. You’re on camera all day, all night, even when you’re asleep. You never really have time to decompress, and that’s where a lot of the crazy drama and emotions come from. You’re also living with these people whom you’re cooking with, so it’s really 24/7.
From those first days, did you have any regrets at that point — were you wondering why you decided to do this? — or were you still excited to be there?
Still really excited to be there. I’m a pretty optimistic person, I think, and I tried to stay positive the entire time. Even if things weren’t going my way, I tried to stay positive because it’s just a really cool experience. For me, it wasn’t like this was going to make or break my career. I’m going into it thinking that my dream was to be a chef at a restaurant, and I’m already doing that, so that’s awesome. This was just icing on the cake. I took a shot at being on a show and they said I could do it, and I think that’s amazing, so why not do it? It was a really crazy experience. It was weird. Most people don’t get to do any of this stuff.