For many up-and-coming chefs, competing on a show like "Hell's Kitchen" is a faraway dream. A lucky few manage to land the spot of a lifetime under the watchful eye of chef Gordon Ramsay, and fewer still place as finalists. One of the most recent to do so is Johnathan Benvenuti, who defied the odds as runner-up to winner Ryan O'Sullivan in "American Dream," the 22nd season of the series. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, the Orange County, California, native discussed what led him to "Hell's Kitchen" — and the important lessons he learned during his time there. "I'm a huge superfan. I always told myself that that was one of the few cooking shows I would ever want to do, and when casting reached out, it was like a bucket list moment," he tells Tasting Table.
His journey to the Season 22 finale started well before the cameras rolled. Upon learning he'd join the ranks of the "Hell's Kitchen" cast, the ambitious young chef quickly got to work studying. "My brother and I — probably in a matter of 90 days — watched every episode beforehand," says Benvenuti. "When I got there, I couldn't wait for Gordon and all those chefs to taste my food. I think that was the best part, just to rise to those occasions." Despite taking second place, the chef radiates positivity. From finding a best friend in his opponent, O'Sullivan, to gleaning wisdom from Gordon Ramsay, Benvenuti never felt he'd lost anything.
Read more: The Untold Truth Of Hell's Kitchen
Hell's Kitchen Allowed Johnathan To Progress 'As A Person And A Chef'
Gordon Ramsay may have achieved meme status for his "Hell's Kitchen" meltdowns, with quips like "idiot sandwich" plastered across the internet in white Impact font. But no matter what you see on television, Johnathan Benvenuti says, the real Ramsay is completely different. "Working with Gordon Ramsay has changed my life. He teaches you so much about professionalism and being a young chef," he says. "When you get to spend some time with him, you progress a little bit as a person and as a chef ... By no means is he this mean, angry chef people think he is." His mentorship, says Benvenuti, is one reason why he'd repeat the entire filming experience if he could.
There are many lessons Benvenuti picked up from Ramsay, though it's the little ones that come to mind first. At a point when only eight contestants were remaining, the show's host shared some quick kitchen wisdom with the "Hell's Kitchen" hopeful. "He came over and showed me how to sear some steaks and go back and forth with the pans, and that was a special moment," says the chef. Of course, there was much more to absorb than culinary technique alone. Ramsay's sense of professionalism was infectious among several contestants, including Benvenuti. "He tells you to stand up straight and how to carry yourself in front of his judges, and those are things that you can't put a price tag on."
Casting Doubt Aside Is Necessary For Success
When asked what advice he'd give to aspiring cooking show competition contestants, Johnathan Benvenuti doesn't hesitate for a moment before replying, "Do it." If there's one thing Benvenuti wants other chefs to understand, it's that nerves have no place in the kitchen. "Take the chance, whether it's 'Hell's Kitchen' or whatever platform it is. Don't be afraid." That said, it wasn't easy for the "Hell's Kitchen: American Dream" finalist to follow his own advice at first. Early in his journey, he worried whether he'd be able to handle the emotional toll of filming or other pressures. Ultimately, those fears turned out to be unfounded. "To be honest, my life has changed completely the day I walked in that door, and I'm so happy about where it's taken me."
It's easy to see why Benvenuti became a favorite of "Hell's Kitchen" fans, who gather to discuss everything from his style of cooking ("nostalgic food," he tells Tasting Table) to his idyllic friendships with his fellow finalists. The feeling is mutual, according to the chef. "I read every single one of those messages," he says of his social media interactions. "I truly do, to the minute, read these comments, likes, and every follow, and it is super cool to see, organically, where food has taken me." And we can't wait to see where food will take Benvenuti next.
Static Media owns and operates Mashed and Tasting Table.
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