African American Chef Crowned ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Winner
Carolyn Guniss, Special to the NNPA from The Miami Times | 1/4/2015, 11:49 p.m.
Chef La Tasha McCutchen performed well throughout Season 13 on Fox Network’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”
So when she was selected from four chefs to face emotional chef Bryant Gallaher in the final two, she knew she could win.
“Honestly, I was hoping the pressure would get to him,” McCutchen said. “I am cool, calm and collected and I was hoping he would shoot himself in the foot.”
In the end, McCutchen, who has been a part of the South Florida food scene for around seven years, took the title and executive chef job of Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City, a prize package worth $250,000.
“La Tasha, you were rock solid and it was no surprise that you were the only person not put up for elimination,” Chef Ramsay said moments before announcing the winner of the culinary reality competition. “You belong in the kitchen.”
On Saturday, McCutchen said she’s still pinching herself because of the victory but in the end, “Mommy and Daddy didn’t raise no fool,” a line she used in the season finale when she dug deep pulling out determination to win.
“My parents taught me to ignore negative comments and never to second-guess myself. Make a decision and stick to it,” she said. “Words can’t describe how I feel right now. I was true to myself,” McCutchen said of her performance.
Her winning menu – get ready for your mouth to water and your mind to race – consisted of prime filet mignon tartare with shallots, capers, whole grain mustard, cornichons, chives, lemon zest, sunny-side-up quail egg and waffle potato crisps; pan-seared Chilean sea bass with beet risotto, glazed thumbelina carrots and herb gremolata; and spiced bread pudding with pumpkin spice ice cream, praline crumble and spiced chocolate anglaise.
Her journey to know food began while watching Chef Emeril Lagasse on “Essence of Emeril” while attending South Carolina State University. She changed major a few times: Computer Science, Math, finally landing in Nutrition.
Her classmates noticed her commitment and interest, not in classes but in Lagasse’s show.
“You take more notes watching that show than you do in class,” she said they told her.
Coming from what she calls a modest food background, she started waiting tables to get more exposure to food.
Then the crossroads came: stay with food or choose another path.
She would go on to earn associate degrees from both Horry-Georgetown Technical College and Johnson & Wales University in Miami.
Her growth started under Chef Paula DaSilva, another “Hell’s Kicthen” alum, at 1500°, an eatery inside Miami Beach’s Eden Roc resort. While working as lead line cook, “Hell’s Kitchen” held auditions at the Eden Roc. DaSilva encouraged the staff to try out.
“I was the only person that went down for the audition,” McCutchen said. After auditioning, McCutchen joined the Citron American Brasserie at the JW Marriott Grand Lakes in Orlando, Florida. While there, she got the call that she was selected for the cast of “Hell’s Kitchen’s season 13, which finished airing Dec. 17. After filming the show in early 2014, McCutchen found her South Florida mentor DaSilva and joined her as lead line cook, this time at the award-winning 3030 Ocean restaurant at Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa.
McCutchen leaves for her executive chef job after the holidays. She will oversee the operations and opening of Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, set for February.
The highest moment of the show, other than hearing praise from Ramsay, was seeing her parents together.
“Growing up I lived with my mom and my dad lived on the same street, but I never saw them together as a couple,” said McCutchen, who is 34 years old. “When I saw that they both flew across the country together for me that just made me unbeatable.”