On July 18, local and national viewers tuned in to the Fox network to watch one of Pittsburgh’s own compete on the reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.” 27-year-old chef, Elise Wims will go head to head with other chefs from around the country in the show that began its ninth season this week.
“I was more determined than ever. To be the only African-American woman on Season 9 and the only one from Pittsburgh, I felt like I had a lot to prove,” said Wims who is one of two African-Americans on the show. Monterray Keys, from Darby, Pa., is the African-American male on the show.
“You have to get outside of your own head and you have to continuously rise to the level of achievement. You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off,” Wims said.
“Hell’s Kitchen” is a culinary reality show that pits a team of nine men and nine women chefs against each other for a series of competitions that test their culinary skills and sanity. The ultimate prize from the competition is a head chef position at BLT Steak in New York City.
“My friends scouted out the competition on Facebook and I wasn’t going to go because I’ve seen all the seasons and I know the hell and the torment the chefs go through,” she said. “But then, one night I woke up at 3 a.m. and just decided I’d go.”
Since filming of the show ended, Wims, who is a Forest Hills native, was hired as the executive chef at Andora Restaurant in Mt. Lebanon. Prior to the show Wims, who is a graduate of Woodland Hills High School, completed her training at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and was enrolled in the Foodservice, Lodging and Recreation Management program at the Community College of Allegheny County.
While the show focuses on cooking and restaurant management, it follows traditional reality show form by highlighting the fiery battles and dramatic conflicts between contestants.
“In the industry period you deal with a whole bunch of different people, people who are whack jobs, people with bad attitudes,” Wims said. “It was rough dealing with a lot of strong personalities. I’m a strong personality myself.”
Usually the title for strongest personality on the show is reserved for the show’s star, Chef Gordon Ramsey. Over past seasons, Ramsey’s wrath has been legendary as he coaches the chefs and challenges them to be their best, sometimes bringing them to tears.
“I can’t tell you how much I respect Chef Gordon Ramsey. He has a unique way of getting people to be the best they can be,” Wims said. “Chef Ramsey has a heart of gold. He’s just an extremely passionate person.”
Wims said she initially joined the competition because of her love of the culinary arts and the opportunity cooking gives her to express her artistic creativity. However, in hindsight she said the show taught her life lessons that can apply to every aspect of her life.
“The one thing I took from the competition is discipline and respect. I also want to give a shot out to Chef Andi,” she said in reference to one of the shows other judges. “She taught me a lot about respect. She wouldn’t let me get away with anything not even rolling my eyes subconsciously.”
As the teams compete from week to week the winning teams will be rewarded with a variety of prizes ranging from Indy car racing to a four-story yacht excursion. In the end, after the contestants are voted off one by one, two final competitors will be left standing to battle for the grand prize.