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In the "Kitchen" with Petrozza

petrozza.jpgLouis Petrozza has literally been to "Hell" and back. The chef, who recently earned a spot in the finals of the Fox reality show "Hell's Kitchen," withstood wacky competitors, high-octane challenges and the withering insults of TV chef Gordon Ramsay to try and earn a spot at Ramsay's new restaurant, the "London West Hollywood." Soon we'll find out whether his efforts were enough to win over his competitor, 25-year-old Christina Machamer of St. Louis. It's definitely been an interesting ride for Petrozza, 47, who currently works as a catering chef for Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. Last year, while working for a Charlotte, NC catering company, his coworkers heard about the "Hell's Kitchen" auditions and urged him to try out for the show. He asked his manager for permission, but was told no because it wouldn't "drive sales." Petrozza, still in disbelief over his boss's decision, says he went anyway, eventually ending his career with that company. Good thing, then, that Fox snatched him up for the show.

"I had only seen snippets of the show, you know, fifteen minutes here and there, but I eventually went for an audition. I guess it's more of an interview than an audition, I mean, I wasn't pretending to be a pickle or anything," Petrozza says. "The first audition went all right, so then I went for a second interview in front of a camera. That's when they said they liked me and said they were going to fight for me to be on the show."

Two weeks after his second interview he flew out to L.A. for a whirlwind of increasingly detailed conversations with people from the show. The more he interviewed, the more Fox seemed to like him. Eventually, he moved past the interview stage to participate in a full spectrum of psychological tests, a rite of passage for most reality television competitors. He jokes that the most interesting test was the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory which asked him such questions as "Do you have a soft spot on your head?" and "Is someone trying to poison you?" Soon after, he met with a psychiatrist who evaluated his answers and approved him for the show. All that was left was a physical, where they performed a wide variety of tests.

"I had everything but an eye test, which is actually something I could have used. I need a new prescription for my glasses!," Petrozza jokes.

The clincher that got him on the show, Petrozza says, was probably his signature dish, Hen in a Pumpkin. Most viewers will recall the season premiere when Chef Ramsay asked each contestant to prepare their signature dishes. Petrozza served, to Ramsay's dismay, a cornish hen cooked inside of a pumpkin. Needless to say, the prickly British chef did not enjoy it.

"When Fox asked for some of my signature recipes, one I sent in was Hen in Pumpkin. What can I say, I was drinking a little," laughs Petrozza. "But you know what, even though Ramsay didn't like it, I still like it and I'd put in on a menu someday as a fall dish. I think it got me on the show though, because they were probably thinking ‘we gotta get this guy on here just so we can see Ramsay break [him]!"

Criticized by Ramsay during several of the challenges for being too messy, Petrozza excels at multitasking. Today, he is busy chopping carrots, constructing bowls of salad, taking phone calls from the press and listening for a previously taped interview of himself on the radio. Of course, he'd have to be a multitasker to withstand those abrasive comments lobbed at him by Ramsay while trying to prepare Monte Cristo sandwiches to a group of hungry, pregnant women. In that challenge, Petrozza edged out another competitor, Corey, but eventually lost by a measly two votes to his fiercest competitor, Christina.

"The real reason I lost is because I was too busy helping Corey with her potato chips," Petrozza says. "And you know I helped her out because it was Corey and she was kind of cute. Had it been Matt, I would've said hell no."

He says he ultimately respects fellow finalist Christina as a person, and says "she's also very talented, strong, and smart and she's relatively kind, which was a nice bonus." But despite Christina's penchant for winning challenges, she's actually been nominated for elimination more times than Petrozza. And surprisingly, the only time Petrozza was nominated, was when he took one for his team and nominated himself, an act that impressed Ramsay. Although he doesn't like to brag, Petrozza sees that as quite an accomplishment, especially since other contestants had been gunning for him.

As for those crazy competitors, Petrozza says he was impressed by their cooking techniques and determination to win. Except for one he affectionately calls "a knucklehead."

"Among those people there was no lack of confidence, no lack of people wanting to be a leader," Petrozza says. "I said hopefully I'll be here long enough that I'll shine through."

When it comes to Ramsay, though, he admits the experience didn't start out too well. During the second episode, Ramsay exploded at Petrozza for forgetting the items on the menu. After attempting to speed-memorize the dishes, Petrozza almost quit, but was encouraged to stay by one of his competitors, Bobby. He hung in there and eventually, over the course of the season, impressed the British chef with his near-flawless cooking techniques.

"When Ramsay gets a hold of you, he doesn't let up for awhile," Petrozza says. "So it can be a little intimidating."

Now looking back on it, he admits journeying to "Hell's Kitchen" was a good experience.

"The way I look at it, they interviewed 22,000 people and they could've had hundreds of really good executive chefs, but that's not what they were looking for," Petrozza says. "Through it all, I don't know, I'm pretty much the same. It wasn't a conscious decision or strategy for me to go in and be the decent guy. I just made sure to keep it real." --Chris Sardelli


Posted by Chris on July 1, 2008 6:49 PM
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Got something to say? Post a comment:

What an interview...nice work!

-- Posted by: nc at July 5, 2008 12:13 PM

:(

I really had my money on Petrozza. Is he planning on opening a place now that it's over??? I would love to go to it.

-- Posted by: Laura at July 8, 2008 10:05 PM

Petrozza had my vote..am disappointed to find out that he did not win..but he will go far in his career. Hey Petrozza..I'll work for ya!

-- Posted by: Sallie at July 9, 2008 1:23 PM

Petrozza, GREAT JOB!
You should have slap the taste out of Jens mouth.

Jerry

-- Posted by: jerry at July 11, 2008 4:44 AM

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