Good for Spooning
Hell’s Kitchen 2012 Winner Christina Wilson
I never thought I would meet anyone who talks at my pace, but Christina Wilson does. In a rapid fire interview I learned that while Hell’s Kitchen gave her immense opportunity, she wants everyone to know that while it helped her get to where she is, it doesn’t define her.
Attending Temple University on a basketball scholarship, she worked her way through school as a bartender, cook and kitchen manager. She graduated with a teaching degree and taught for 6 months, but missed the kitchen. So, she left the education world and went back to her roots. Christina never attended culinary school. Instead, she learned everything on the job, either as an employee or staging with other chefs. She has done literally every job in the culinary world from dishwasher to her current position as Corporate Executive Chef for Gordon Ramsay US.
One night in Philadelphia, after her kitchen had closed and she was ready to head home, two starving, weary travelers showed up asking to be served. After sending her staff home, Christina fired up the ovens again and cooked and served them herself. It turns out they were the owners of Twins Talent in NYC, the casting agents for Throwdown with Bobby Flay and Hell’s Kitchen. For six years they tried to get Christina to toss her hat in the television culinary competition ring, but she wasn’t ready. She still felt she had a LOT to learn and though Twins kept her in mind for several TV opportunities and shows, Christina kept saying, “No, thank you.” When Twins came to “Philly” to cast for season 10 of Hell’s Kitchen they looked Christina up and marveled at how she had changed her culinary style. While enjoying some whiskey with the women from Twins, Christina made the statement on this visit that if her New York Giants won their 1 p.m. game on Sunday she would show up for the casting call. They won, and good to her word, she showed up and the rest, as they say, is history.
Her prize for winning season 10 was Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Hotel and Casino. To quote her, “You’d have to be crazy to think that once you win Gordon is just going to hand over a $20 million restaurant.” She was responsible for the tasting menu at Gordon Ramsay Steak for one year. Then Ramsay offered her the opportunity to move over to BurGR at Planet Hollywood for further seasoning. The menu wasn’t the type of food she wanted to be doing, but she knew if he asked her to do something there was a really good reason for it and took on the task. She learned how to run the entire restaurant. The Gordon Ramsay organization has a great training program and after “crushing it” at BurGR, Ramsay knew she was ready for more. Christina says one of his strengths is that Ramsay can spot talent in his people and knows how to nurture and showcase that talent.
In May of last year Christina was promoted yet again to Corporate Executive Chef for all Gordon Ramsay properties in the US, the three that are here in Vegas and Gordon Ramsay Pub in Atlantic City with more to come. Part of her training involved traveling to London to absorb what they are doing there and checking out several of the properties in the UK.
Season 15 of Hell’s Kitchen is airing now, and when one of the show’s regular sous chefs was unable to participate during filming this year, Christina was offered the slot for this season. Having been a competitor, changing roles was a new challenge and she welcomed the chance to do something new. She feels she is at her best when she is working on something just a bit over her head. She welcomes challenges and looks at them as growth opportunities. While she does admit, like many female chefs, that the culinary world is something of a “boys’ club,” Christina feels right at home having grown up with four brothers and it doesn’t faze her one bit.
Gordon Ramsay Steak is the first “Gordon Ramsay” branded restaurant in the US and it is looked upon as a favorite child. In the Vegas culture of steakhouses, Christina says what sets this property apart from the rest is not solely the experience. It is the attention to detail and the standard of excellence that Gordon Ramsay cultivates. Christina has big things going on all burners and I, for one, look forward to seeing what she does next.