Another season of Hell's Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay's fantastically rude tirades have come and gone, and although this year we didn't have a contestant from the Los Angeles area to root for, we do get the winner: Recent culinary school graduate Christina Machamer, a St. Louis native who's been in New York for several years, will begin work at Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood hotel sometime soon. Is it the executive chef Ramsay promised the contestants every week? No. But it's enough to make this 25-year-old pretty damn excited. We were able to steal Christina from her New York press tour for a few moments to chat about her favorite Ramsay insults, how LA differs from the rest of the country, and whether she'll be carrot bitch at the WeHo restaurant or not.
What Culinary School did you attend? Do you have a specialty?
I started Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park in 2005. I graduated in February. You don't really have a specialty in culinary school, but I took eight years of Latin and spent some time in Italy, so I guess Italian is a specialty.
Why Hell's Kitchen? Was it what you expected?
It was just a whim. I was sitting at home watching season three like everyone else and screaming at my television that I could do that. And it just sounded like a fun experience. It was actually hard. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. You only see challenge, service, challenge, service. But we were cleaning fish, creating beef Wellingtons, and I thought, hey, there's actually some skill involved with this.
So do you think you were better equipped for the show because of CIA?
I've had a ton of experiences. My mentor trained in London, so I knew the metric system. I worked at a butcher shop in the Caribbean, so that helped. But being in school also helped. I guess someone older than me would laugh at me for saying this, but it was all of my life experiences.
What did you think you'd be doing after school? Not working for Gordon Ramsay, we presume.
I was interviewing with Daniel Boulud at the time, and Le Cirque. I thought I would be staying in New York working some place peeling carrots and never touching a pan. They called while I was still on the show, and I never called them back. That's rude!
What other contestants would you hire in your kitchen and why?
There are very few people I would hire from my whole culinary career, but I would hire Vanessa. She's a line pirate. Obviously Corey. We worked together really well. I don't have that sort of bond with a lot of people, but she is right there whenever you need her. Even though we didn't have the best of friendship at times, she's willing to be there because that's what you do in a restaurant.
Who wouldn't you hire?
Ben, which isn't fair to say because I never really worked with him. But he freaks out when he gets yelled at. I need someone who has a level head. And he leaves his spit cup everywhere. Petrozza might have kept his station not so clean, but leaving a spit cup in the kitchen is disgusting.
Well, I don't know how much of her personality was for TV, you know Jenorosa. But she's a solid cook, she has her strengths.
You won nine challenges. Which was your favorite? What was your favorite prize?
Favorite reward, I hate that question. All of the rewards were fabulous. Riding on a helicopter, hot rock massage, a shopping trip, working with top chefs in LA. But the 20 ingredient challenge was one of my favorite challenges. I was stuck with green bell pepper, anchovy, egg, crab meat and snapper. I didn't have onion, potato, the ingredients that sort of write themselves into a recipe. I was definitely thinking on my toes. For me, it was a cook's hardest challenge because you realize what you take for granted.
You worked with Ben Ford and Mark Peel in one of the episodes.
I was so intimated that we had to work with both of them and Gordon. In my head I'm thinking whoa, this is Mark Peel and I'm just a culinary student. In the finale, I ended up using Mark Peel's succotash as part of my dish, and that was wholly inspired by him. And I later got to Campanile for dinner which was amazing.
With all those wins you really got to get out of Hell's Kitchen. What did you think about LA driving around?
LA is crazy. I was there once when I was 8, we went to Universal, and that's all I really saw in LA. It was nice to see what else is there. It was nice to go surfing and drive to Malibu, and fly up to Santa Barbara.
What's Ramsay really like?
If anyone watches him on his other shows, he's given insight that he's not a total tyrant. He's very intense when it comes to cooking and upholding standards. When it's my business and my money on the line, I can be too. Downtime he's a totally different person. It's sort of night and day.
What's your favorite Ramsay insult, whether directed at you or not?
Most of them pertained to Louross, poor guy, and he took it so well. In the premiere episode Ramsay was screaming: "You've given up! You don't care! You're nothing but a four-foot tall toilet brush!"
What have you been doing since the show finished taping?
I came back to culinary school and graduated. And then I was in St Louis to help one of my mentors open Revival, which was great to go through all the kinks of opening a restaurant. I went to Dubai right after I graduated; it was my prize trip to Dubai. I was there for about 10 days, and I spent a couple days in Gordon Ramsay's restaurant there.
What from the show is most helpful to you in a real working kitchen?
There's a salmon dish on the menu, and those grills weren't seasoned. The first couple of episodes you couldn't cook the fish on the grill, and Gordon said put in a pan. "They don't know if it's grilled or sautéed," he said. The lesson was: Improvise as long as your not cutting quality. And the other thing I learned is cooks come in all shapes and sizes. Also, don't burn any bridges. For example, Corey and I weren't friends in the beginning and I needed her in the end. You don't have to like each other but you have to cook together.
What exactly is your title at GR?
What about the "executive chef" position title Ramsay said the winner would get?
Here's the thing. I'm in culinary school. Do I know what it takes to be an exec chef? Yes. Do I have it yet? No. For me, being where I am, I know it's not the right position for me. I know if he wants me to excel, he will put me where he wants to see that happen. The executive chef is Andy Cook. I don't really care what my title is, it's always going to be cook regardless if it's executive chef, sous, comis. It's kind of nice that I'm not going to get thrown to the wolves.
When do you start at GR?
I don't have a start date, but I signed my contract. I just don't know when I start.
Have you been to the restaurant?
No, not really. When we were there it was basically gutted. I've seen pictures and read the menu online but that's it.
What will you be doing at GR?
I have no idea. For me, coming out of culinary school this is going directly into the major leagues. And winning doesn't mean I’m not a rookie. I need to pay my dues.
Have you had any time to get to know or think about the LA dining scene?
I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. The way people eat in LA is a lot different than even NY or where I'm from. Things really matter to you out there, organics, where things come from. The availability of ingredients is what I'm most excited about.
What are you most looking forward to being here? Any restaurants you want to try?
I did a brief stint at Puck's place in St. Louis, so Cut. I want to look up Gloria who said she's opening a restaurant soon. [ed. note: Gloria Felix was the sous chef on the show; she's opening Reservoir in Silver Lake.] And I can't wait to get to Napa.