Hell’s Kitchen recap S18E1: Rookies vs. Veterans


In this Hell’s Kitchen recap, we meet the sixteen competing chefs for the first (or second) time and enjoy a twist on the classic first challenge- the signature dish.

Ready for the first Hell’s Kitchen recap? This season, Hell’s Kitchen is a little different. We will have eight Hell’s Kitchen rookies battling against eight HK veterans. I’ve seen this set up on other competition shows before and it has always seemed unfair. The experience of cooking in the competition kitchen previously is invaluable. The veterans know the kitchen, the standard HK menu items, and most importantly, how to work with Gordon Ramsay. On top of that, the veterans are generally older, with more experience in the culinary field. As the episode unfolded, I think Hell’s Kitchen dealt with these concerns quite well, giving me more hope for a balanced battle.

The episode opens with the traditional arrival to the kitchen. The contestants are met by Marino Monferrato, the maître d, as well as Christina Wilson and Jocky Petrie as the red and blue sous chefs, respectively. Christina and Jocky prepare a classic Hell’s Kitchen lunch for the cooks- butternut squash risotto.

The cooks are seated at a long dining table, and one side as some decidedly weird looking folks. These are clearly the veterans and they are all wearing truly awful wigs. How no one noticed something was off is anyone’s guess.

As they sample their lunch, Jen, a veteran, announces that it is “like they poached this lobster tail in a tear from baby Jesus himself.” Gizzy, a rookie, speaks up that she thinks it needs salt. Bold move to insult your first Hell’s Kitchen food, prepared by your sous chefs. This sets up an early dynamic of Gizzy being one of the more outspoken rookie contestants. Will she be able to back up those bold statements in the kitchen?

HELL’S KITCHEN recap, S18E1: Rookies vs. Veterans, photo provided by FOX

Gordon appears and tells them that they are competing for something better than all 278 chefs who have come before. For the first time ever, the prize is to be the executive chef of the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in Las Vegas. Note that last season, the prize was to be head chef of the same kitchen. Gordon asks each contestant to introduce themselves.

We begin with Motto, a thirty-five-year-old from Baton Rouge. He is the executive chef of a French Creole restaurant. Next up is the outspoken Gizzy (short for Elizabeth) who is thirty-one and works in Atlanta. She is sous for a modern European restaurant in Atlanta.

She is followed by Scotley, another thirty-one-year-old Atlantan who works as a sous in a Midtown restaurant. Gordon asks if he and Gizzy know each other and they reveal they work for the same company. When asked who is the better chef, Gizzy immediately speaks up to claim herself, and she tells us that Scotley took her position when she left her last restaurant and “from what I’ve heard, people miss me.”

Interesting side note, I am an Atlantan and we have a diverse restaurant group here- the Fifth Group. Hearing they work for the same company but at different restaurants, I figured they almost certainly work for Fifth Group. A little research proved this correct. It looks like Gizzy left South City Kitchen and moved to Ecco. South City Kitchen is one of my favorite places to take visitors as they serve excellent modern Southern food. We’ve even taken a mole cooking class from the chefs of Alma Cocina, an upscale Mexican restaurant in the Fifth Group. I’ll certainly be rooting for my hometown chefs.

We move on to Chris, a twenty-five-year-old from Boston who works as an executive chef in the financial district. Kanae, also twenty-five, surprises me by saying she works under Eric Greenspan. Jose is chef de cuisine at Il Pesce in Eataly, NYC. Scott, a thirty-nine-year-old, tells us he owns a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio.

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  • Gordon stops him there to make sure he heard him correctly that he owns a restaurant. Scott confirms. “So what the (bleep) are you doing here?” Ramsay asks if the restaurant is doing OK and Scott confirms it is doing well due to his training from past employers. Edited to make it look like he went on forever, I do hear him casually mention names like Charlie Palmer, Eric Ripert, and Thomas Keller.

    Mia, a twenty-eight-year-old from Puerto Rico, is the final rookie to introduce herself and while she doesn’t name seven or eight famous mentors, she has worked for Thomas Keller at Bouchon and also Wolfgang Puck.

    So here we have the first way that Hell’s Kitchen alleviated my concerns about this whole rookie vs veteran concept. Often, the Hell’s Kitchen contestants seem to be line cooks looking for a quick route to head chef. These rookies are no line cooks. They all boast impressive resumes and clearly have a lot of talent. They can hold their own against the veterans.

    It is time for the rookies to understand just what they are up against. Ariel is first to reveal herself, pulling off a fake nose, glasses, and a wig. She came in third on season six. She has done well for herself since then and is now executive chef, managing thirty-six restaurants.

    Jen, who finished fourth in season four, is a private concert tour catering chef now, serving Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Usher, Jay Z, and Beyonce. Bret from season fourteen is similarly a personal chef for celebrities, notably Sean Combs. He left early in his season due to a back injury.

    The veterans round out with Kevin, season six runner up, and Trevor, who finished fourth in season eight. We also have T, the season fourteen runner up, Heather, runner up in season sixteen and Roe, who finished fifth in season thirteen.

    Gizzy interviews that she is not intimidated. She guesses that their food will be outdated and says they are has-beens. Mia says essentially the same when she says these are previous Hell’s Kitchen losers. I certainly wouldn’t write these chefs off for losing in the past because their previous HK experience will really be useful, but it is possible that they are not as modern (or as energetic) as the younger rookie chefs.

    It’s time to see what everyone can bring to the table (literally). The chefs head to the kitchen and stand behind cloches. We are going to start as tradition dictates with the signature dish challenge. When they lift their cloche domes, the rookies find the ingredients for their signature dishes but the veterans find nothing but air. The twist is that they will need to compete head-to-head with a rookie by cooking a rookie signature dish.

    This is the second way that I felt HK did a good job leveling the playing field. This gives a distinct advantage to the rookies who are cooking something comfortable and familiar.

    Scotley’s signature dish is a pan-seared snapper with a coconut curry sauce. Trevor volunteers to compete against him. Gizzy’s signature dish is seared scallops with cucumber gazpacho and Heather is her match. Kanae will do a Balinese-style fish stew with plantains. No veterans volunteer to take her dish initially, probably due to its unfamiliarity, but Kevin finally steps up. The show reminds us that Kevin does not back down from a challenge, having competed last time with a severely sprained ankle.

    HELL’S KITCHEN recap: S18E1, Rookies vs. Veterans, photo provided by FOX

    Scott has chosen a pan-roasted black bass over root vegetables with an apple butter sauce and mache salad. Before he gets past the word bass, Roe has her hand up, loudly whispering, “Psst, chef!” I thought she really wanted to cook bass, but she just wanted to best Scott after his long intro of name-dropping famous chefs.

    Chris’s signature dish is a pan-seared duck breast with mango and blackberry puree which Bret is eager to cook. Motto’s dish is a New Orleans barbecue shrimp and grits, and T accepts the challenge. Jose will cook pan-seared scallops with parsnips which Ariel will attempt. This leaves Jen to tackle Mia’s grilled pork tenderloin with chorizo and chimichurri, a tricky dish given that the pork is frightfully lean and easy to overcook.

    The chefs work hard for forty-five minutes and then present in pairs to Gordon. He will rank them on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best, and the team with the most points wins. If this is like most team challenges on Hell’s Kitchen, we will end up with a tie.

    First up is Motto vs T in a shrimp and grits face off. Gordon offers Motto a taste of T’s dish and Motto claims her grits are bland. Ramsay thinks he’s nuts and proclaims the grits delicious. Sadly, her shrimp are overcooked so she earns a 3. Motto, meanwhile, is missing salt in his grits, so if anyone has bland grits, it’s him. He too earns a 3.

    Next we have Kanae and Kevin with the unusual fish stew. I am initially confused by Kanae’s plate. In the center, she has a round ball of green stuff. It looks like solidified canned split pea soup. Sadly, this is her mashed plantain. The rest of her dish is good but the plantains are a mistake so she earns a 3. Kevin has gone with a chowder style, topping his fish with crispy fried skin. He gets the first 5 of the night.

    Roe and Scott bring up their black bass. Both are overcooked. Roe gets a 3 and Scott a 2. Chris and Bret both earn a 4 for their duck breast. Ariel and Jose also both earn 4 points for the scallop dish. Scotley and Trevor seem well-matched for their cockiness, with Scotley claiming to be one of the hottest chefs in Atlanta in terms of cooking and looks. They both earn a 3.

    If you are counting, the veteran’s have a three point lead. Mia and Jen are up with the pork tenderloin dish. Jen has overcooked her dish whereas Mia has made a flavorful, well-cooked plate. Jen earns a measly 2 and Mia earns top marks with a 5. This now has evened the score and, as usually happens on Hell’s Kitchen, we enter the final stretch in a tie.

    The last dish is a scallop dish- Heather vs Gizzy. Heather has put her scallops on brioche toast points which seems odd to me and I am sure she will be marked down, but the both earn a score of five. That means the challenge ends in a tie.

    Gordon decides to sample the best dishes again. He picks rookie Mia’s pork and veteran Kevin’s stew and Mia wins the first challenge for the rookies.

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    The winning team is rewarded with a delicious meal at Charcoal Venice, dining with Gordon and the executive chef, Josiah Citrin. They enjoy a duck that has been aged twenty-one days and looks divine.

    Meanwhile, the veterans have earned punishment. This time they must prep both kitchens for service. Per usual, they are set to tedious tasks that I am sure no kitchen really does, like shelling thousands of sunflower seeds. They also have enormous tubs of mushrooms to prep for duxelles.

    Jen begins food processing the prepared mushrooms, but she has neglected to wash them. When the sous chef calls her out, she spends her time grumbling and complaining. After her poor showing in the challenge, this is not a good start for Jen.

    Bret has noticed Jen’s poor score in the signature dish challenge and nearly called her out on it. This has caused some bad blood between them, and she has decided that she finds him very annoying as they prep. Later, she decides to make up with him and asks about his tattoos. This leads to a reveal that he lost both parents recently, within five months of each other, and he is still very emotional. This will apparently play a larger role in the next episode.

    Before the episode finishes, Ramsay calls the exhausted chefs back to the kitchen from their dorm. They arrive to find bagpipers playing Amazing Grace, and Gordon tells them, “I’m about to tell you something quite shocking. We are saying goodbye to one of our near and dear.” According to the typically melodramatic reveal for next time, we are told that “grief drives one all-star to madness.” We shall see.

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    I’m pleasantly surprised to see that Hell’s Kitchen, which often comes at you with a sledge hammer, has so far handled the pitfalls of rookies vs veterans deftly. We have also had very little drama for Hell’s Kitchen, but I am sure it is coming. I’m going to try something related to that. I want to track Ramsay temper tantrums. I don’t have much to report tonight, but I think we will have plenty in the future!

    Gordon tantrums: none tonight!

    Best Gordon insult: “Looks like some camel’s turd” in reference to Kanae’s unfortunate green plantain lump