How did it feel when you actually won?
I remember saying the F-word. It’s just one of my mannerisms, my dad does it too, when we laugh or have some kind of emotional reaction, we tend to put our hand on our heart. I can remember doing that when the door opened. Justin and I, I felt like, we got along so well and I really, truly felt like we were neck and neck all season. We have very different leadership styles and I think that’s what tipped it for me, in the end.
I can remember holding my heart, saying the F-word, quietly, not loud. I kind of dipped back a little bit to see, did they may be open both doors this season, maybe it’s something new, some new twist. I dipped back and I saw chef hugging him in consolation. I was like, okay. Then I got on the top of the steps and saw everybody down there and I remember very consciously making myself take a second just to kind of breathe it in because I won’t experience that again in my life. Yeah, took a second and then just made sure I didn’t trip going down.
I wasn’t shocked. I was super proud. I knew I had given my best and it was very satisfying to know that my best was enough.
How did other contestants react when you won in Season 10?
My teammates were great. Even a lot of the people on the blue [team] were really good. I didn’t get too involved in much of the drama. For me, I was on a job interview and I did my best to handle it that way the entire time.
Even Justin, who I went up against, I remember the night before, I was writing my menu as he was writing his and we were talking about it because I respect him so much and him for me. We’re still great friends. He’s doing amazing up in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Have you talked to other Hell’s Kitchen winners? Has that been their experience winning, too?
Yeah, I do. Yeah, I’ve talked to winners and I’ve talked to runners up and a couple of the third place finalists.
I still have great relationships with a lot of those guys. I think ultimately, there’s this sense of relief that it’s over, that this thing that you signed up for that just absolutely throws you through the ringer, you’re at that end point. I think most people just realize that they’ve given their best and the best result had come out.
How does it feel to be a role model, since you won?
Yeah. It’s amazing. It’s hard to find the things that make you feel good as a human being, in the food and beverage industry. I get off on creating jobs for other people, bringing great cuisine to regional markets, being a trendsetter.
But it’s hard to really, truly feel like you’re contributing to the harmony of the world, in this industry, or at least I find it hard. It wasn’t something I was expecting, coming off the show….
I do my best, like I said, the camera’s never off, but those moments that don’t make the edit, I do my best to support and coach my team the best I can. Coming off the show, that was by far the most rewarding thing. I can say that even about my job now, is how many parents reached out to me about their young daughters who just were inspired, or want to learn how to cook now, or just that visibility is so important.
Has it been meaningful to you to have broken down barriers in the traditionally male dominated field of restaurants?
Yeah. It’s great. I think when you’re in the thick of it, or at least when I’m in the thick of it, I don’t think about it. I don’t operate on that level of thinking. But when I step away from it all and I look at the bigger picture, it is pretty remarkable.
One of the best things about working for Gordon is that he promotes and gives opportunity based on merit. People wouldn’t know this either because you don’t see the behind the scenes but it’s all women. Women run all of his shows. My kitchen in the back, my support kitchen, it was all women led.
When you look at MasterChef, 24 Hours to Hell and Back, Nat Geo’s Uncharted, there is a woman in charge of every single one of those culinary departments. Gordon gets it. He knows, to speak generally, we’re just organized, we’re on it, we listen, we work with less ego and we just stay focused. I think he, especially with the shows, just prefers that interaction.
It’s crazy to think in 2020 that we’re still trying to break ceilings here. I don’t quite get it. But I also had the good fortune of growing up with three older brothers, so I never had that, “you can’t do it.” I was expected to keep up.