Is 'Hell's Kitchen' Reality or Unreality Television?

By Ung, Elisa | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), April 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Is 'Hell's Kitchen' Reality or Unreality Television?


Ung, Elisa, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


What's real and what's not on Fox's "Hell's Kitchen"? With the show in its 12th season, we gathered current and former contestants from North Jersey for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Gordon Ramsay's infamously demanding kitchen show.

At the table at Tony's Touch of Italy II in Wayne were current contestants Anton Testino of Butler (the executive chef at Tony's) and Jessica Vogel of Westwood, a cook and pastry chef at Grange in Westwood.

Joining them were two previous contestants who finished as runners-up: Justin Antiorio of Lyndhurst (the chef de cuisine at two Hoboken restaurants, Bin 14 and Anthony David's) and Will Lustberg of Clifton (the executive sous chef at the Princeton Club of NY).

The last two alums didn't make the finale, but did garner praise from Ramsay. Emerson's Dana Cohen finished third (she's now the culinary director and executive chef at Le Gourmet Factory in Englewood) and Wood-Ridge's Ji Cha left her season after two episodes with an injured ankle (a former Fort Lee restaurateur, she is now a territory manager for US Foods).

Their discussion (Part 1 can be found on Northjersey.com) has been edited for brevity, but here are some highlights:

* "HELL'S KITCHEN" DOES GET ONE THING RIGHT: HOW TOUGH IT IS TO BE A CHEF.

Testino (talking about a conversation he had with Ramsay in the airport): I wanted to know why he does this, and sacrifices the fact that he never gets to see his kids and family. And he's like, "well, to be honest, I see my kids maybe once a month, if I'm lucky." So I was like ... "is it really worth it, to go that much?" Being a chef - - in general, if you have kids, it's hard.

Antiorio: But I mean, every chef, somewhat, has to do that. Not to that extent. (He turns to Lustberg) You were going through it yourself.

Lustberg: I went through it for the first five months of my son, when I was working Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. 'til midnight. Never saw the kid. And I always said ... I never wanted to be that guy. So I left the Waldorf [Astoria Hotel] after 13 years and I took a job where I work Monday through Friday. I'm out the door at 3:30 in the afternoon. I get to be the hero, go pick up my kid from school, hang out with him on the weekends. And I think I have a good mix of both worlds.

Testino: Yeah the one thing that people don't get -- if you want to be a chef, you have to be willing to sacrifice your entire life. That's what it comes down to.

Cha: That's why I got out.

Cohen: That's why I don't work in a restaurant.

Testino: Not everybody can handle it. It takes a certain mentality to do this for the rest of your life.

Antiorio: I love it. I love every second of it. If I don't work in kitchens, I'll lose my mind.

Cha: How young are you?

Antiorio: 31.

Cha: There you go. (Laughter from the others)

Antiorio: I grew up in this, though, my father was a chef for 30 years.

Cha: So was I. I was in the restaurant business since I was 11 years old. [But] you know what? I'm 40.

Testino: I'm 40. I've been doing this for 22 years and I started putting in 12- to 14-hour days in every day. And I do it five days a week.

The Record: So the show does reflect that. How demanding the profession is.

Antiorio: Oh, 100 percent.

* TAPING "HELL'S KITCHEN" CAN BE COMPARED TO THE HUNGER GAMES ... OR JAIL.

Testino: They cut you off from society, 100 percent.

Cohen: You get so used to not being in control of anything. You never have a wallet. You never have your phone. You're wearing a microphone 24 hours a day. You fall asleep and then someone goes up your shirt to change your batteries.

Antiorio: I watch a lot of those "Lockup," "Lockdown," jail shows, and I don't want to say it's the same, but they pretty much take everything from you.

Cohen: Things you would never expect. Like turning off the lights. ... This is fluorescent -- in your face -- lights. They'll turn it off when they want to turn it off. …

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