Two Hudson County Chefs Face Turbulent Chef Gordon Ramsey of “Hell’s Kitchen” in their Quest to win the Top Prize on Season Nine
By Sally Deering
He screams, breaks plates and throws food – three fabulous reasons to watch Chef Gordon Ramsey, the King of Reality Cooking Shows as he sets ablaze Season 9 of the hit competitive cooking show
“Hell’s Kitchen.” (Premiering Monday, July 18 at 8 pm on FOX)
Here in Hudson County, we’re lucky to have two local chefs to root for — Brendan Heavey of Hoboken, and Will Lustberg of Jersey City – who with 16 other chefs from across the U.S. chopped, seared, boiled and broiled behind the stove and under the piercing eye – and sometimes brutal tongue — of Chef Gordon Ramsey for the top prize of head chef at BLT Steak in New York City.
Originally from Ridgewood, New Jersey, Heavey, 31, learned he had a talent for cooking in his 7th grade “Teen Living” class. Years later, while a student at George Mason University in Washington D.C., Heavey studied abroad in Florence, Italy, and that distinct Italian cooking, where ingredients must be fresh and simply seasoned — inspired him. He followed in his dad’s footprints and become a narcotics officer for a while until deciding he’d rather wield a whisk than a gun. Heavey attended Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and worked as head chef for a New York City restaurant when he got the call from Los Angeles to appear on “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Lustberg grew up in Hudson County, his dad’s from North Bergen and mom was raised in Union City. A high school hockey player, his dream of a professional career ended from injuries, similar to Chef Ramsey who started out a soccer player and turned to cooking when injuries kicked him off the professional soccer field for good. Lustberg, 31, was also working as a professional chef when Hell’s Kitchen tapped him to be a contender.
Although Heavey and Lustberg couldn’t tell all in this interview, they shared with Riverview Observer some tasty highlights of their experiences sweating it out in Hell’s Kitchen and the lessons they learned cooking for master chef Gordon Ramsey.
RO: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO COOK FOR CHEF RAMSEY? WAS IT SCARY?
BH: He’s scarier in person than on TV. And he’s real sudden. All of a sudden, he’s right there behind you, yelling “The dish is wrong!” and all of a sudden the plate is flying somewhere. He’s a physically intimidating guy, too. I’m 5’9″ and I’d put him at 6’1″ and. he looks like he lifts weights. You don’t get the gist of his physical size until you’re standing in front of him.
WL: Chef Ramsey is a pussycat. He’s real. I work with chefs who are the same way – yelling, throwing food at you – so I’m accustomed to that. My bosses have no problem telling me what’s on their minds. During my professional career, I’ve built up immunity to that.
RO: WHAT DID YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING ON THE SHOW?
BH: This year, “Hell’s Kitchen” raised the game. When you see the show, the prizes are better and everything seems to be more epic. There’s one experience we had that I thought this is incredible. It was one of those life experiences where I thought I can’t believe this is my life. I can’t believe this is happening.
WL: The entire process was inspiring. To show you that anything is a possibility, no matter what you’re given in life. Being in the kitchen and being given the opportunity to cook your food; during challenges you have a hundred percent free will what to cook.
RO: WHAT DID YOU LIKE LEAST ABOUT THE SHOW?
BH: You’re miked up 24/7 other than when you’re in the shower. If you get up at 4 am, you’re miked up. It’s rough. Think of things you say on a daily basis, inside jokes, somebody’s acting up, that’s going to come up. You can be the most politically correct person and through the course of the day you’re going to say something a little too personal.
WL: It’s going to sound cheesy, but the hardest part was not being able to talk to my wife, see my dog
or talk to my family. When you arrive in L.A., the second you get off the plane, they take your cell phone. You have no contact with the outside world. I got married in October so when I left to do the show, it was just six months of being married. That was the hardest thing, leaving my wife here, paying the bills, taking care of the dog and not being able to call her up. There was no TV, no news. I’m a diehard Rangers fan and when we did it, it was during the Play Offs. I missed the opening of baseball season. I get why they do it. You’re supposed to focus on the competition. You’re in reality (TV) world.
RO: DO YOU THINK BEING ON THE SHOW MADE YOU A BETTER COOK?
BH: I’ve worked for some famous chefs in the city and sometimes I saw sub-standard dishes. They didn’t check everything like Chef Ramsey checked everything. That’s why people should go to a Gordon Ramsey restaurant because you know every single dish is checked and perfect. It’s something you don’t see every day in a mass-production kitchen.
WL: I think it gave me a better outlook upon the industry. You’re seeing first-hand what other people are doing. It’s different when you’re actually seeing it face-to-face and you realize, wow I’m better or worse than I thought I was. It’s a reality check and it gives you the opportunity to improve yourself. I need to learn that; I need to do this. Chef Ramsey has no problem telling you what to improve on. You need to take that advice and roll with it.
RO: WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST THING YOU LEARNED FROM CHEF RAMSEY?
BH: All the little things you wouldn’t normally see on TV, things you wouldn’t notice are perfect. He’s spent years honing his craft. He’s solid in the fundamentals. He made a Risotto and a Squab Salad and the way he sets up the plate, how artistically everything was done. I learned from one of the best chefs of the world under the most brutal circumstances possible. That’s the kind of thing I won’t forget. If you mess up slightly on the dish, just a little, like maybe one thing wasn’t seasoned right – seasoning’s big with him – he catches it immediately. It just raises the day. Everything has to be perfect. That’s what customers are paying for. When they come into a great chef’s restaurant, they’re paying for that perfection, that passion for every single dish. That’s what it’s all about.
WL: Chef Ramsey has a similar background to what I have. I played hockey my whole life and three surgeries later, I had to find something else to do. Chef Ramsey played professional soccer, he was 18 or 19, and he had to find something different after his injuries. I learning from him that you have to do what you have to do. Don’t have any regrets, if you think there’s something you want to do, just do it.
RO: WOULD YOU HAVE CHEF RAMSEY OVER FOR DINNER?
BH: I would absolutely. There was one moment, where we had a personal conversation and I thought wow, this is a guy you find easy to talk to. Sure he’s intimidating, but you have no problems opening up. And off camera, he’s really funny. He’s hilarious. Waiting for the cameras to roll, he’d say something and crack you up. I wish they’d show that a little bit more on the show.
WL: I’d have him over for dinner in a heartbeat. For someone so hard on the exterior in the kitchen, he’s a human being, a man. He’s like you and me and everyone else in the world. He might be blunt. He might be brash. But he’s not doing it to make you feel bad about yourself. He’s doing it to make you better. Unless you realize what the problems are, you’re not going to fix them.
The 9th season of “Hell’s Kitchen” premieres Mon, July 18 at 8 pm on Fox TV.