HK8, ep. 15, Finale
An overview of this season started this episode:
1. The competing chefs were the most aggressive, relentless, combative ever.
2. The worst performer was Raj, bodily threatening other chefs
3. Ramsay found new ways to test chefs, such as mobile kitchens
4. The worst performer was Raj, bodily threatening other chefs
5. The red team won most challenges and dinner services. The blue team was continually blaming each other for mistakes and the worst performing blue team ever.
6. Sabrina was not expected to last long, but she made it a long way, but she claimed to be and was an over-manipulative bitch
7. Russell started quietly but then was continuously talking, trashing and fighting; in spite of those faults he was the most consistent in the kitchen
8. Nona started slow, then had several good dinner services, won the Taste test, the Taste It- Then Make It challenge, showing one of the finest palates in Hell’s Kitchen history.
That evening Hell’s Kitchen was transformed by contractors into two separate dining rooms. Nona and Russell had all day to plan menus and check quantities of needed ingredients with Amy and Scott, respectively. Nona’s contemporary southern menu featured roasted Baby Beet Salad, Halibut w/ Red Pepper sauce and Rib-eye + reduced red wine sauce. Russell’s European-inspired menu featured scallops w/ cauliflower puree, Goat Cheese Ravioli and pan seared Filet Mignon.
Ramsay invited Nona and Russell for a surprise, a helicopter trip around Los Angeles ending up at the LA Market restaurant (not very much of a surprise). Ramsay stated they would don parachutes that open automatically and jumping off the Helicopter pad on top of the J.W. Marriott Hotel building to the crowd waiting below, but he was just joking.
This is the prelude to the final cookoff between Russell and Nona for “all the marbles,” the L.A.Market head chef position, the Rosemount Estates Winery spokesperson role and the $250,000 salary (or really bonus). Ramsay started it off by announcing the challenge to construct a stunning five-course meal to be judged by 5 of the most distinguished figures in culinary Los Angeles: Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of AEG for the soup course; Joachim Splichal, Executive Chef of Patina Group for the salad course; David Myers, Executive Chef and Owner of Sona for the pasta course; David Lefevre, Executive Chef of Water Grill for the fish course; Kerry Simon, owner of LA Market for the meat course. Anyone who has watched a Hell’s Kitchen finale knows that the score will be tied 2 to 2 for Kerry Simon to make the final decision on who the winner of this challenge would be.
Nona and Russell had 1 hour to cook their finest 5 course meal. Here was the judging:
Soup (Tim Leiweke judging)
Nona – potato soup w/ bacon, cheddar, chives
Russell – roasted cauliflower soup w/ crab salad, curry oil and on cream
Result – Nona 1
Salad (Joachim Splichal)
Nona - beet, frisee, arugula, watercress w/ grapefruit/champagne vinaigrette
Russell – burrata cheese w/ prosciutto, arugula, white balsamic vinegar
Result – Russell 1
Pasta (David Myers)
Nona – chicken breast over orecchiette pasta
Russell – garganelli egg-based pasta w/ scallops, orange, mint
Result – Nona 1
Fish (David Lefevre)
Nona – pan seared salmon w/ sautéed vegetables
Russell – pan seared Arctic char
Result – Russell 1
Meat (Kerry Simon to break the inevitable tie)
Nona – pan seared rib-eye w/ cauliflower, wild mushrooms
Russell – grilled veal tender w/ red pepper pesto
Rusell – the clinching point
Russell won, which traditionally gives the picks 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the pool of 8 previously eliminated chefs to serve as sous chefs. This is absolutely critical. What is always the case is that particularly the final picks for each finalist are going to be problems, difficult to manage. In this case, Russell picked Jillian, Nona picked Gail, Russell made the controversial pick of Vinny, Nona picked Melissa ( a bit earlier than Melissa deserved), Russell picked Sabrina (I think a good pick), Nona picked Trev ( a good but obvious pick) and Rob and Boris were left. The best choice for both Russell and Nona at this point would have been “None of the above” but Ramsay never allows that as he wanted the chefs to be tested by incompetent sous chefs under great pressure. Russell took Rob and Nona Boris. A crew worked all night to divide the dining room into two parts.
Prep took place the next day until 5pm, then dinner service began as James opened Hell’s Kitchen. Vinny’s fist scallops were not hot enough but his second try was perfect. Trev’s first 2 beet salads were overdressed but he made the adjustment quickly. Appetizers were finished rapidly, then entrees started. Sabrina was keeping a beef filet “wet” when it should be served dry roasted; Ramsay was upset at this. Russell decided to switch Vinny to Meat and Sabrina to Fish to solve his problem, but now he was dependent on Vinny for a more critical station and Vinny hated his guts. Russell told him to just adjust his attitude and get it done. Boris was on Fish for Nona, but he undercooked halibut 3 times despite her telling him exactly how long to cook it. Trev came over to take over to get it done. Key customers were Kerry Simon (whose comment card would be weighted much higher than any other), Russell’s girlfriend and father and Nona’s husband and child. Vinny was resisting Russell’s demands to do everything “immediately.” Rob had the same problem and he forced Russell to publicly rebuke him. Rob told Russell to relax! Russell had let plates go out that shouldn’t have. One was returned for “raw beef.” Melissa appeared to be sinking on Meat after she sent raw beef to the pass, but that did not recur.
Russell need to control led to major over-control of his staff. They naturally rebelled against his “control freak” mentality. I think this was obvious to Ramsay, who silently disapproved of the way Russell was handling his staff. You can bet that if the sous chefs were asked to vote for the better chef, several on Russell’s team, particularly Vinny and rob, would vote against him. Nona occasionally cracked the whip on her staff just to demonstrate to Ramsay she could do it, but her style was not oppressive as Russell’s was. The on-camera comment of Francesca Shuler of Rosemount Wines was that Nona, whose food she presumably ate, had done a great job. Nona felt that her kitchen had pulled together to help her win. Russell was pissed off about his kitchen staff. However, they both thanked their sous chefs for their efforts, the nice thing to do even if it was not genuine from Russell. Ramsay analyzed the comment cards from the diners and I’m sure gave particular attention to that of Kerry Simon. Ramsay made his decision and called Nona and Russell to his office while the fans of both waited in the appropriate space in Hell’s Kitchen. Ramsay told them that the comment cards revealed performance was about even between the two. That meant that Ramsay’s own observations were going to determine the outcome. Who would he pick? I was almost certain at this point that Nona was going to win, as her management style was so much more appropriate than Russell’s. Ramsay sent them to the doors and counted to 3, with Nona’s door opening, revealing her as winner of HK8. She deserved it based on what Ramsay stated was her improvement over time, her phenomenal palate and her passion for cooking. Russell was congratulated by Ramsay for having done a good job. Russell stayed true to form by stating that he would blackball any of his sous chefs if they ever wanted to work where he was chef.