As any avid reality show program enthusiast will tell you, one need not flip far in the programming to find the hit television reality series “Hell’s Kitchen”, which is presently airing in its 15th season on FOX.
Like so many, I have watched this series with skepticism over the years – wondering exactly how much of this program is edited out, and even if the tirades of Michelin-starred Chef Gordon Ramsay were scripted in for viewing luster. The answers to my quandary could only be solved by finding one of those who had seen the inside of the dragon’s lair… one who had braved the toils of the grueling flames arising from Hell’s Kitchen and lived to tell the tale – I had to find one of HK’s competitors, and not just any competitor, I was determined to find one of the top 10.
As I began my research delving into this season of HK, there were several competitors that stood out in my mind. At the onset my initial reaction was to watch the men, but my mind quickly changed watching a rather quiet chef who kept her head down and her eyes open week after week. Her persona was a draw, and I found myself truly watching the show in amazement of her talent. As the weeks progressed, this young woman seemed to “come into her own” as it were, and her skill-set continues improving as the series moves along. Without any further hesitation I knew I had the chef I wanted for this quest into food glory. Who could it be, you may inquire? Why, none other than Chef Kristin Barone, who’s signature dish of grilled pork loin with apricot mango puree, fried brussel sprouts and garlic aioli earned her a golden ticket into HK.
Beginning my interview with Kristin I couldn’t help but notice the humbleness in her voice. As I opened with my interrogatories, I asked her to tell me about herself, “I’m kind of a cowboy, but a girlie girl too”, she says with a giggle. “I think I’m a workaholic, I always think about food… I am a perfectionist to the point that I have anxiety about it”, and when I asked her what she wanted readers to know about her personally, without hesitation she replied, “I’m not too different than I am on the show, although I’ve been told I am very sensitive to others”, which was a vibe that I picked up from her immediately.
Chef Barone laments that one of the hardest things she’s ever done was being in Hell’s Kitchen. “EVERYTHING on the show is real and the dishes that are created are our dishes – everything is totally real and I am a very real person”, Barone says emphatically. “There’s definitely a lot that hasn’t been seen yet, but when you’re normally accustomed to being given 40-45 minutes to create a dish and they (Hell’s Kitchen) only gives you 30 minutes – that shit is for real!” Barone goes on to say, “… it appears from those who are watching that everything is scripted – that Chef Ramsay really isn’t like that – like we are all actors and we aren’t! He really does smash food and he really does throw things – this is his life and what we are doing is a representation of him!”
As I delved closer, Barone recalls more of her time in HK, “I would get up before everyone else and get the coffee started, but I would gladly do it all over again because it (HK) made me feel normal – almost wish I could go back to HK because it’s a lot more normal that my life right now,” she says with laughter in her voice.
“I definitely realized who I was – I say that completely and whole heartedly”, Barone says. “I went out on a limb and didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but having the support of the friends that I have made, realizing my own cooking style, it’s been over a year and a ½ and my experience on the show helped me to realize that no matter what life throws at me, I can get through it.”
In the background, Chef Barone was dealing with an insurmountable amount of personal as well as professional stress, which she credits the support of Chef Christina and Chef Ramsay, in addition to the outpouring support of her family and friends who helped her keep it together. Barone states, “I had these huge famous people directing me and making me better – and for that I am grateful.”
As I pressed forward with my questions for Chef Barone, I couldn’t help but ask if she would do it all again, and was not surprised with her reply – “HELL YEAH!!!”
Barone is a fierce competitor who continuously expressed her gratitude throughout my interview for being a part of one of the most talked about television reality series, and for which I have dubbed her henceforth as “One Hell of a Chef”.
Lagniappe – Q & A with Chef Kristin Barone
Q: Do you feel as though you are a stronger chef because of your time in HK?
KB: Absolutely! My chef now could be the Queens version of Gordon Ramsay!
Q: Bloopers – did you have any?
KB: We really didn’t have “bloopers” so to speak. We had to figure out ways of entertaining ourselves and Joe could sound just like Chef Ramsay, so he would speak and the cast would drop everything and come running – so much fun stuff like that.
Q: What was your most embarrassing moment?
KB: I was pretty embarrassed over the incident with Jackie – it shows me in a light that I didn’t want people to see – I’m really not like that and it still bothers me that I allowed someone to get to me like that.
Q: How long were you given to learn the menus set forth?
KB: We were all given the books with the recipes in them and such – we were shown how to do things properly once, but we had the tools and the books to figure it out. Like if you see a dinner service – there may have been one day of training, then BOOM right into service!
Q: What did you do when you were not filming and/or cooking?
KB: We were ALWAYS filming, but we got to leave the house once in a while, which was nice.
Q: Aside from the obvious time away from friends and loved ones, what was the most difficult thing to you about participating on HK?
KB: Hard to say because when I went there, I wasn’t thinking twice about not having a phone and communicating with my family because I was so focused. Hardest part would have to be, who do I trust?
Q: What was the dinner service that you adored most? Why?
KB: Well, I can’t really say YET, but we are all starting to come together – Chef Andy was one of the coolest moments for me – she actually gave a great pep talk. She is very real and very, very serious, but she gave us a good push. To see how Chef Ramsay was with Chef Andy, he really respects her and has a look like a father to a daughter in his eyes.
Q: What was the dinner service you disliked most and why?
KB: Episode 1 where Vanessa and I were at the station together – I thought she was going to completely pass out. I was completely freaking out because Vanessa was hyperventilating! Aside from that one, Episode 3 was brutal – that was the episode where Meese and I had the recipes on our jackets. I had never cooked that dish… it was just a bomb. Overall in the earlier episodes I just didn’t have much confidence, and because of it every day was a roller coaster.
Q: What was the dish you dreaded cooking most and why?
KB: I dreaded cooking brunch the most because everyone has a brunch nightmare – it’s something you do a lot more earlier on in your career, but I surprised myself and pulled it off… I’m always more confident in savory.
Q: During the episode with Jackie Fuchs wherein she became belligerently irate, do you look back now and think you could have handled it differently, if so, what would you have done different?
KB: I have literally watched that episode so many times. When I was in high school I wasn’t very comfortable with myself and I was in constant altercations like that. It brought me back to how I felt being in high school. I felt like I was being egged on, and I felt the intensity of it all. I really didn’t like seeing myself like that, but I am really proud of myself for handling it the way I did. I don’t know if there’s any other way to have handled it, but I believe I am the better person because of how I handled it overall. Jackie isn’t a terrible person, but she was talking shit to me. One of the things that wasn’t shown, was right after she bombed the breakfast challenge Jackie came to me for advice and I talked with her just about food. That’s what we are supposed to do as chefs, and I felt like I was able to be a chef mentor to her. I have no ill will toward Jackie, and I did regret that she pushed me to that point.
Q: What was your favorite reward?
KB: There was so many, but the animals were definitely my favorite. I have always wanted to pet a tiger – it was such a cool experience, and I don’t know who else gets to see all of that.
Q: What was your favorite moment during your time in HK?
KB: Well, I got to be really good friends with those who were on the show. Since we all went through it together and became so close, we will all be friends for life.
Q: Are you a classically trained chef or self taught?
KB: Classically trained. I went to culinary school about nine years ago, when I was about 20, I guess. I don’t do too much pastry, but I have a huge respect for those that do, but I’ve always been more savory. I have dabbled in a little bit of science – molecular cooking, but my roots always go back to French and Italian… I view making pasta as an art form.
Q: What were your biggest hurdles (that you saw for yourself) going into Hell’s Kitchen? i.e., did you have any one hiccup in your abilities as a chef that you viewed as an obstacle that you’d hoped being on HK would cure?
KB: My shyness. As a chef you’re always told you’re not good enough and have to work harder, so now I embrace confidence in whatever I do.
Q: What would you say to any chef considering auditioning for Hell’s Kitchen?
KB: You have to be prepared. You will find that you have fans, but they can be critical even though they may not be in the food service industry. You must be prepared for the criticism and constantly be aware of your actions because you don’t want anything negative following you when you leave HK.
By Tara Ambrose of Tara’s Taste of the Town
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