Private chef Nick Peters, 25, of Stoneham, was packing his bags to appear on season 14 of “Hell’s Kitchen” as was Brendan Pelley, 36, chef at Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar in Medfield. The two, who had never been introduced, managed not to meet until they arrived on the Los Angeles set. They had taken very different paths to the reality cooking show, where contestants are put through their paces by expletive-prone chef Gordon Ramsay to compete for a head chef position and $250,000 prize.
After making it through an open casting call and interview with dozens of other Boston chefs, the pair were sworn to secrecy and knew nothing about fellow contestants until the show began. “We have no idea what we’re getting into,” Pelley says of arriving in LA. With taping completed, the two remain friendly. But during the competition when drama happens both in and out of the kitchen, friendship is another matter entirely. “No one really gets along completely,” says Peters.
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Q. Were you fans of the show before you auditioned?
I didn’t watch avidly, but I obviously know of chef Ramsay. Someone actually approached me from casting here in Boston. I was hesitant but then I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I just had to go for it.
I’ve been a fan of the show and Gordon Ramsay as a chef for a long time. I heard about the open casting call and said, Why not?
Q. How did you prepare when you found out you were going to be on?
I didn’t want to think about it too much. I just packed my bags and went. We didn’t find out until the last minute. I kind of liked the fact that I didn’t know the ins and outs of the show. That gave me the chance to be surprised.
Knowing that there was a chance of being on the show, I stopped expediting in the kitchen and started working saute every night. I seared a few thousand scallops and made a few million risottos. But there’s nothing that can prepare you for it. Once you get there you’re just, Holy crap!
I completely agree. You can’t really prepare even if you cook as much risotto and scallops as you want. But those are two of the dishes people always seem to mess up on “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Q. What was it like to step onto the “Hell’s Kitchen” set for the first time?
The first thing that scared the hell out of me was running through the dining room. All these people are cheering and high-fiving you. That’s where I feel completely weird and awkward. But then once I started cooking and put on an apron, I’m OK. When we’re standing there and looking at the audience, that’s when I’m making awkward faces and shuffling my feet.
When the first dinner service came, it’s kind of jarring. You just say, yes, chef, and keep cooking. I don’t think I ever got used to dinner service with chef Ramsay’s menu. It was just constantly a battle in the kitchen with other people, other skill sets, and chef Ramsay yelling at you.
Q. When did you first get the full chef Ramsay treatment?
My first move in the kitchen was that I accidentally dropped a piece of Swiss chard out of my pan and onto chef Ramsay’s foot. He was like, What the hell are you doing? Everyone gets an equal bollocking. And each dinner service is equally as hard. There are menu additions, specials. You work different stations. You work with different cooks who you may already be building rivalries with.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who is going to be on the show?
It’s changing every episode. You can’t control the personalities. I would just say go in with zero expectations and an optimistic outlook.
If you’re an executive chef or sous chef who doesn’t work the line, get on the line. Get in that mentality of hustle and bustle and constantly moving as a line cook because that essentially was what we were.
Q. What was hardest?
There’s sleep deprivation because you’re stressed out and on all these cameras. You’re living with 16 other people and everyone has different personalities, different ages, different walks of life. It’s like being thrown into a relationship with someone you really don’t want to be with.
Q. Now that it’s over, what did you take away from the experience?
It wasn’t easy. Some people are beaten down by it, but I think it had the opposite effect on me. I definitely gained independence and confidence.
I took away a lot of cooking advice from chef Ramsay. For him it’s always about putting the guest first. That’s why he’s just destroying you if you don’t put up perfect food. His food isn’t terribly fussy. Everyone thinks it’s Gordon Ramsay so it’s super fine dining. It’s good honest food without too many bells and whistles.
Season 14 of “Hell’s Kitchen” airs on Fox Wednesdays at 8 p.m.
Interview was edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at [email protected].