Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Into the Fire

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Into the Fire

Article excerpt

Dana Cohen knows how you watch Fox's "Hell's Kitchen": scornfully. Right? She used to be the same way, laughing at whatever poor sap was being sworn at by Gordon Ramsay for serving raw scallops.

"It's so easy to sit at home and say, 'I'd be better at that. What is wrong with these people?' " says Cohen, a River Vale chef who believed this so much that she signed up to compete on the show's 10th season.

But then "you get there, and it is a completely different experience" -- fraught with little sleep, unfamiliar menus and strangers out to sabotage you -- all under the bright lights of national television. "There are so many things going on that make it a little harder than it looks," Cohen said.

Cohen and fellow Bergen competitor Justin Antiorio of Lyndhurst will get a taste of what it's like to be scrutinized on couches around the country when "Hell's Kitchen" premieres at 8 tonight on Fox.

Antiorio didn't come in with Cohen's attitude, though: He had never seen the show. His father, a retired chef and big fan of "Hell's Kitchen," talked him into trying out.

"I went in there completely blind, hoping my cooking abilities would take me as far as they could," he said. The pressure set in from the first episode, where Antiorio made his signature pretzel- crusted crab cake for Ramsay. "I've made that dish probably 2 million times, but to do it in that situation was such a different task. You don't want to screw up on national TV."

In the premiere, which Fox made available for preview, both Cohen and Antiorio come out looking pretty good: Ramsay says Antiorio "nailed the seasoning" and Cohen's scallops were "cooked beautifully." Antiorio later complains of being "completely sabatoged" by some scallops of his own, though the real blame lands elsewhere.

Neither contestant can reveal how they ultimately fared (the show was taped last year). But if neither wins the grand prize of a chef job at Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas, they clearly hope the spotlight will bring them new opportunities: Both Cohen and Antiorio are unemployed.

That status might not last long, if past "Hell's Kitchen" contenders are any indication.

Elsie Ramos of Maywood, an office manager who made it to the final four of the first season of the show in 2005, subsequently got a deal to publish a Puerto Rican cookbook and serves as a "celebrity chef" spokeswoman for cookware and medical-insurance companies. Ramos may write a second cookbook. "I've been approached on many different projects," she says. "It really hasn't stopped."

Ji Cha of Ridgefield Park competed on only two episodes of the show in 2009 -- she left voluntarily after spraining her ankle. …

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