‘Hell’s Kitchen’ 18 winner Ariel Fox: Advice to other chefs is ‘Don’t get comfortable!’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Ariel Fox didn’t quite live up to her surname on the just-finished 18th season (click here to see the finale recap) of FOX’s reality cooking competition show, “Hell’s Kitchen.” As a returning chef to the series hosted by hot-headed Gordon Ramsay, whose concept this round began as “Rookies vs. Veterans” before shifting gears, the third-place finisher on Season 6 used her previous experience to avoid any conflict with other contestants and let her often high-scoring dishes do the talking. Ariel avoided the crazy. Instead, her stealthy game was almost turtle-like, slow and steady, until it was worth stepping up and sticking her neck out.

Ariel says this time she was more self-aware that there were cameras on everyone 24-7. “When you do anything like this and you progress in your career, with crew members and team members who report to you and look up to you, it is important that you carry yourself in a certain way. I was always very conscious of that and I don’t do any drama. There’s enough drama going on between everybody else. I had my moments, for sure, where I flipped out a little bit. But for the most part, I kept my eye on the prize, kept my head down.”

As a result, the California native, now 37,  who is currently in the New York City area, was the only one of the 16 original chefs to never be nominated for elimination. While her rival in last Friday’s finale, rookie Mia Castro, often beat her by a sliver when it came to cooking challenges, Ariel handled the pressure-cooker environment of the kitchen during dinner services with more aplomb and people skills. As a result, she won the chance to be the executive chef at Ramsay’s restaurant at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and $250,000 cash prize.

Right now, she is the concept executive chef for Dos Caminos, which has five restaurants in and around Manhattan. The finale was actually shot about two years ago, she says.  “It’s been a while. It is quite a long time to have to keep your mouth shut and not share that with everyone.”

But the cat, or rather the Fox, is out of the bag since her company made sure the finale was shown at all of their 600 restaurants. “It was pretty cool that everyone across the country was rooting for me and watching.”

In the exclusive video interview above, Ariel talks about everything from when Ramsay decided to trash the “Rookies vs. Veterans” concept of the season when performances were going downhill and going back to the traditional split of teams based on gender. She discusses why she thought that switch worked to her advantage as well as her decision to volunteer to be the last chef standing among her team on episode 7.

SEE the 16 chefs of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Season 18 –“Rookies vs. Veterans”

And, yes, she and fellow foodie Mia – who lives in the East Village and is a private chef for a family in the West Village – have gotten together for dinner on several occassions. In fact, they actually battled it out again at Caesars in Atlantic City at a “Hell’s Kitchen” takeover dinner at Ramsay’s Pub & Grill in January. And guess who won?

Her advice to other chefs, taken from her second chance on the show? “Don’t get comfortable – in your career, too, and not just when doing competitive cooking. If you want to be a successful chef and be relevant, you have to push yourself to be in an uncomfortable zone all the time.” Now that is food for thought.

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