Excited to be at the Hell’s Kitchen finalist party, I immediately recognized the two final contestants, Russell Kook and Nona Sivley as they walked into the Mixing Room at LA Live. Sivley glowed. She looked thinner, blonder and more glamorous than she did on one of Fox’s most popular television shows, Hell’s Kitchen. Over 17,000 chefs auditioned to be one of the 16 contestants. Within one hour, one of these two lucky and talented chefs would receive a $250,000 salary working as Head chef for “rock and roll chef” Kerry Simon, at LA Market. The winner will also be the spokesperson for Rosemount Winery.
Bold as I am, I approached Kook sitting next to a pretty brunette and introduced myself. This 29-year-old sous chef from Madison, Wisconsin didn’t seem really enthused about being at this event. While talking with him about his culinary training in Chicago, he constantly looked down at his cell phone. I glanced up while he was texting someone and noticed Sivley walking towards me. I excused myself from Kook and greeted his contender.
Sivley smiled while sharing stories of enrolling in a four year college to become a lawyer and then half way through quitting to follow her passion, cooking. After attending a culinary school in Fort Worth, she dreamed of one day having her own restaurant.
Her husband, Curtis, joined us and shared how they were first friends. “Nona prepared a delicious Manicotti for me to take home to my girlfriend,” said Curtis. “Later I realized that Nona was the right girl for me.”
Now with a two-year-old son, Curtis quit his job in 2009 to stay home with him, allowing Sivley to focus and concentrate on the demands of Hell’s Kitchen. Filming wrapped up in late March 2010. For the last nine months, both contestants had to lay low until tonight.
Simon strolled through the event with his signature black chef jacket and waved to the two finalists. I welcomed Simon to sit down next to me for a quick chat. I congratulated him on his new restaurant and bar/lounge. “When I agreed to open a restaurant in the LA Live complex, I never imagined it would be such a center point in the city and desirable meeting place in Los Angeles,” enthused Simon. Home is now Las Vegas, where his restaurant Simon Restaurant and Lounge at the Palms Place and KGB, Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers, at the Harrah’s Las Vegas. He is one of the busiest chefs I have met. When not in Vegas, he flies to Los Angeles to check on SimonLA across from the Beverly Center and LA Market. Then he flies to the East coast to check on Simon Prime in Atlantic City and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to supervise his latest restaurant at the Hard Rock Resort and Casino. No wonder he enthusiastically agreed to hire the winner of Hell’s Kitchen, this celebrity chef has no down time.
Simon spoke to the crowd about Kook and Sivley. “Whoever wins tonight worked their tail off to get as far as they did on Ramsay’s show,” expressed Simon.
We watched the final episode of Hell’s Kitchen while sipping on raspberry mojitos and biting into Simon’s signature desserts: little shot glasses of airy chocolate mousse, adorable cheesecake lollipops and cotton candy.
Sivley and Kook were sitting side-by-side and holding hands while watching the final episode. In the end, Sivley was congratulated with cheers and applause. As a gracious winner, she smiled and announced to the crowd “Russell was an amazing competitor. He got a bad rap on the show, but is a good guy.”
I yelled out “When do you start your new job at LA Market?” With a giggle and smile she said, “In the beginning of January, 2011.”
Go visit Sivley at La Market and see why she beat out 17,000 other chefs to become Hell’s Kitchen’s Season 8 champion. 900 W. Olympic Blvd. (213)765-8630.