On ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Season 18 premiere, something’s burning. Is it the Veterans, the Rookies or scorched fish?

Hell’s Kitchen is back for Season 18 with something old and new, but also something tried and true from other reality competition shows:  pitting Rookies vs. Veterans. For the first time ever, former competitors, including several  first runners-up who just missed coming in first – have returned and are hungry to savor redemption.

One other twist: For the first time since Season 1,  the teams aren’t split up by gender.

What’s up for grabs as these 16 competitors face either the praise or wrath of Chef Gordon Ramsay? It’s a career-changing goodie: a position at the world’s first Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas – with a bonus of $250,000.Yummy, indeed.


It doesn’t take long for the all-stars on the Blue Team to check out the Red Team of newbies. Kevin Cottle, 44, the runner-up on Season 6 from Plymouth, Massachusetts, , describes the advantage that the experienced contestants have: “We’ve been here. We know what we’re doing. They don’t.” As for what the Rookies think will lead to the veterans’ downfall? The fact that they all have egos. Cut to Season 4’s 4th-place finisher Jen Gavin, 34, of Chicago rudely mouthing off to Ramsay.

The first Rookie to arrive at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant is Kanae Houston, 25, a lead line cook who hails from Los Angeles.  “Growing up in South Central is rough. But my family believes in me and I want to make them proud.”

The sous chefs introduce themselves – Christina for Red and Jocky for Blue — and announce that they will be serving “the classic Hell’s Kitchen appetizer – butternut risotto” for lunch. They also get to sip champagne.

But some Rookies might have lost their appetites after spying their Blue Team rivals sitting across from them. That’s because they are in disguise, hiding behind obvious wigs, phony noses and fake facial hair. Mia Castro, 28, a private chef from Miami Beach, Florida, is taken aback. “What the hell is going on here? Everyone across from me looks so ugly. All of them.”

Behind that floppy handlebar mustache is Trevor McGrath, 38, the Season 8 chef from Chicago who came in  4th place. When Chris Mendonca,  an executive chef who hails from Boston, tells him he likes his faux lip fur, McGrath responds that he is “a Dapper Dan man.”  Hey, an “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” shout-out.

Meanwhile, Rookie Gizzy Barton, 31, from Atlanta  goes right for the snark as she tastes her meal of lobster and risotto: “Who’s going to be the bitch and say, ‘This needs salt.’” I am guessing, that would be you. But be-wigged vet Ariel Contreras-Fox, 36,  who placed third on Season 6, calls her out. “I don’t know if Gizzy has what it takes to back up that mouth of hers. She is coming out of the gate strong. In my opinion, not such a smart move on Day One.”

Ramsay himself sashays into the proceedings and tells them about the fabulous opportunity that awaits the Season 18 winner. He then asks Chris Motto, 35, an executive chef at a premium upscale Creole eatery in Baton Rouge, to introduce himself. For some reason, he calls himself Motto – presumably because there is another Chris in the group. Gordo then questions the source of Gizzy’s name and correctly guesses it is short for Lizzy or rather Elizabeth. She is a sous chef at a modern European dining establishment in Atlanta.

Ramsay, stirring the pot a bit, asks Scotley Innis, 33, a sous chef who also works in Atlanta, whether he and teammate Gizzy “know each other on a personal level.” And they do, since they work for the same company. “Who is the better chef?”  Gizzy, without hesitation, declares, “I am.” Turns out Scotley, formerly from the Bronx, took over her former position. She goes in for the kill: “From what I’ve heard, people miss me.” Ouch.

Speaking of ouch, Ramsay decides to tease Chris for his lack of stature, demanding that he should stand up and then sarcastically observing, “Oh, you are standing up.” Chris, 25, reveals he is 5-foot-7- 1/2  and blames his stubby Portugese short legs.

Height aside, the Rookies do come bearing some impressive cred. Kanae works with Chef Eric Greenspan while Jose DeJesus of the Bronx is chef de cuisine at El Peche at Italy in New York City. Then there is Scott Popovic, 39, who owns a restaurant in Cleveland. Chef Ramsay is taken aback. “A restaurant you own? What the (bleep) are you doing here?”  Scott then rattles off an impressive array of chefs who he has worked with such as Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller.

Mia chimes in that she, too, has worked with Keller at Bouchon and Wolfgang Puck. Don’t let that dazzling smile fool you. She says a lot of people underestimate her and she seems determined to show she is a fighter.


It’s the seasoned  players turn to reveal themselves and make their introductions. Ariel Co is an executive chef who oversees 36 restaurants. She then strips off her fake nose, glasses and obvious red wig – as if she was really fooling anyone. Ramsay then says he invited Ariel back personally, adding, “I felt like she deserved one more chance.”

Then outspoken Jen steps up and says that for the past seven years, she has worked as a private concert tour catering chef. She then name-drops such clients as Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Usher, Jay Z and Beyonce. She takes off her wig and tells Ramsay, “I’ve let go of my wanker ways and I am definitely a nice girl now.” We, or rather, he will be the judge of that.

Heather Williams, 34, of Easton, Pennsylvania, can’t wait to get her wig off. She was runner-up in Season 16. “That door is mine this time,” she vows.

Suddenly, Gizzy – apparently doing a foodie version of “Mean Girls” –interjects, “I’m not intimidated by the all-stars at all. Most of their food is probably outdated anyways. They’re here as has-beens.” She should be careful since she might have to eat those words.

Also taking their bows, are Kevin, Trevor and Torrece “T” Gregoire, 43, of Atlanta who was a runner-up in Season 14.  But someone who truly left too soon is Bret Hauser, 33, a personal chef from Delray Beach, Florida, who came in 11th in Season 14 after being pulled out when he suffered a back injury. As for his wig, it looks like he is trying out to be Javier Bardem’s stand-in in “No Country for Old Men.” Last but not least is Roe DiLeo, 37, of Houston, who came in 5th on Season 13.

One last chance for the Rookies to trash talk, via Mia: “If they were previous ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ winners, I would be nervous. But they are previous ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ losers.”


Chef Ramsay tells the teams to line up behind their domes in the kitchen area. He asks Scotley, “What is your signature dish?”  He replies, “They call me the curry chef because my background is Jamaican.” His signature dish: Pan-seared snapper with a coconut curry sauce.

Jen’s signature dish: A classic Thai curry with lemongrass king crab legs, little see mussels and sticky rice in a banana leaf.

Chef G then announces, “On count of three, lift those domes.”  Surprise. The Rookies have food but not the Veterans. That is because the returnees to the game will be making one of the newcomers’  dishes.

Trevor raises his hand to go head to head with Scotley’s curry.

Gizzy says hers is seared scallops with cucumber gazpacho. Ramsay asks, “if you could take down one all-star, who would it be? Gizzy: “I’m going to go with Heather.” Heather says, “Oh, damn. Gizzy’s got a set of balls.”

Kanae’s turn: Louisiana-style fish stew with plantains. The  Veterans seem reluctant to raise their hands but Kevin finally volunteers.

Scott’s choice: A pan-roasted black bass over root vegetables.

Roe jumps in before he gets to “a little bit of apple butter sauce and a mache salad.”

Roe says, “Scott’s dish isn’t really what I want. I just want to beat Scott.”

Chris’ pick:  pan-seared duck breast with mango and blackberry puree. Bret goes for it.

Motto announces New Orleans barbecue shrimp and grits. T grabs it.

For Jose, it’s pan-seared scallops with parsnips.  Ariel will do likewise.

Mia’s signature is grilled pork tenderloin with chorizo chimichurri. Jen puts a fork in it .

The pairings are complete as Ramsay says, “Your 45 minutes start now.”


Soon enough, they are down to their last 90 seconds.

Jen’s reaction to the news: “I really just overcooked Mia’s signature pork.”

We learn that each dish will be judge on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being brilliant and 1 a disaster. The team with the higher overall points wins the challenge.

Battle 1. Motto’s  shrimp and grits against Veteran T’s

Ramsay tastes T’s first. His reaction: “Grits delicious, shrimps slightly overcooked. She gets a 3 for her efforts.” T looks crestfallen.

As for Motto, his grits lack salt, and he also gets a 3 out of 5.

Battle 2: Kanae’s fish stew with plantains vs. Kevin’s attempt.

Kanae  mashed her plantains and Ramsay is not pleased. “Am I the only one in the room who thinks visually it looks like some camel’s turd.”  She gets 3 out of 5.

Kevin, being from New England, thinks a stew and ‘chowdah’ go hand in hand. Actually, his dish looks delicious. That he fried his fish skin earns brownie points. He gets a perfect score of 5 and the Vets take the lead by two.

Battle 3: Scott’s herb-crusted black bass compared to Roe’s.

Roe’s dish is slightly overcooked and she gets a 3.Scott makes an impression of his own. One that is bad “Scott, the fish is overcooked. The good news is your restaurant is closed . No one is eating (bleep). He gets a 2 and the Blue Team extend their lead by 3.

Battle 4: Chris presents his signature duck breast and gets a “nailed”  from Gordo with a score of 4. Bret hears, “This is delicious.  The duck’s done beautifully.” He gets a strong 4.

Battle 5:  Jose’s seared scallops with a pasta plate vs. Ariel.  Ramsay praises both of their purees and both earn a 4.

Battle 6: Scotley is first to deliver his pan-seared snapper with jasmine rice. Ramsay asks him if he has ever won any awards. He answers,  I’m one of the hottest chefs in Atlanta.” His fish, however, could be prettier. “It’s slight scorched there.” He gets a 3.

Trevor’s fish is declared “delicious.” But his lemon twist is too 1970s. He also gets a 3. The score is Blue 22, Red 19.

Battle 7: Mia’s grilled pork loin vs. Jen’s overcooked version.

Jen says “I wanted to make something that Chef Ramsay wouldn’t spit out.” He eats it but gives her dish a 2.

Mia’s signature, however, gets a very strong 5, which ties the teams at 24 each.

Battle 8: It comes down to Gizzy’s seared scallops with cucumber gazpacho. But gossip first. Ramsay leans over and asks about her “showmance” flirtation with Andrew during her season. She says, “Him and I don’t speak anymore.”

Gizzy’s  dish is sampled first and it is declared “delicious.” She then mocks Heather’s toast points, but they both get a 5 for their efforts – and the tie is now 29 vs. 29.

Chef Ramsay decides to pit the two best dishes from both teams against one another. So it is Mia vs. Kevin. And he gives a slight edge to Mia, thanks to the inspiration she got from her Puerto Rican granny.

As a result, the Rookies get to spend the night dining at Charcoal with Michelin star chef Josiah Citron. The Veterans have to do the prep for the next day, including shelling thousands of sunflower seeds and clean large batches of mushrooms. Bret starts rubbing Jen the wrong way in the kitchen but, when they go back to the dorm, he opens up about being in mourning over his recently deceased parents.


With an apparent funeral theme going on, Bret is pushed to the edge and is on the verge of a meltdown.








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