Beef cheeks. That's what helped deliver Ja'Nel Witt to a Season 11 "Hell's Kitchen" victory.
It was a risky dish, both because, well, not everyone wants to eat beef cheeks, and not everyone knows how to prepare the unusual dish. And as the final cruel twist in "Hell's Kitchen" traditionally has it, it would be Ja'Nel's former competitors doing much of the cooking on this last-chance dinner service.
But she stuck to her beef cheeks. And that little edge of creativity and confidence helped propel her to a new job as one of chef Gordon Ramsay's top chefs at his new pub and grill in Las Vegas (and also a ratings win for Fox.)
Ja'Nel, an executive chef from Houston, had been a calm, steady force in the kitchen from the beginning. While she had her slip-ups -- this is "Hell's Kitchen," after all -- she outlasted most of her competitors because of her steady demeanor.
She was pitted against Mary Poehnelt, a butcher from Massachusetts, who has had one of the most impressive runs in "Hell's Kitchen" history. She was solidly a middle of the pack player when the season began, and in fact was nominated again and again for elimination by her teammates.
But she fought back each time. While she didn't win, she herself said the race transformed her from Mary the Butcher to Mary the Chef.
Ja'Nel's steady thinking also served her well. The final competition sees some of the recent eliminated players come back to serve as the cooks in the kitchen. And part of winning the finale means choosing your teammates wisely, and then guiding them with a strong hand.
Ja'Nel outwitted Mary, who ended up with Dan on her team. And well, Dan was a disaster who ultimately had to be tossed from the kitchen.
This is one of the enduring mysteries of "Hell's Kitchen." Players get a chance to come back and redeem themselves... and yet, fail to do so. Not sure that the finale will help Dan land a job. But I have no doubt last night's performance will get Cyndi, Susan or Michael on someone's radar.
The finale was stunning -- to borrow the chef's favorite word -- because it was a whirlwind of activity and surprises that kept the finalists, seemingly, from ever taking a moment to collect themselves and mentally prepare for the final dinner service ahead. A trip to Vegas, another trip, surprise visits from family, a last minute competition to cook for some of Los Angeles' hottest chefs, a gladiator showing up at the front door... Hell's Kitchen, indeed.
Chef said it was difficult to choose between Mary and Ja'Nel, but in the end it was Ja'Nel's composed, creative and ambitious spirit that moved him. In other words, beef cheeks.
What did you think about the finale? Did you agree with the final two, or did Jon deserve one of those spots? And did the best chef win?
Final random thought: Not sure I am ordering steak anytime soon. All that pawing and poking at the meat... sometimes, I'm not sure I want to know what goes on inside a restaurant kitchen.
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