The Vegetable Sandwich That Alex Belew Swears Is Better Than Steak - Exclusive

Alex Belew won't say quite yet whether or not he'll be accepting Gordon Ramsay's job offer, although we tried our best to get a straight answer out of him in an exclusive exit interview. He may or he may be relocating to Atlantic City, and when Mashed talked to him, he was West Coast. There is no question, however, that Belew is a Southern chef at heart. Nobody wins "Hell's Kitchen" by offering up prawn fritter hushpuppies and chicken done two ways (one of them fried), without being a true believer in the region's cuisine.

Belew was, after all, born into it. Shocking as it may be, his drawl on "Hell's Kitchen" wasn't a meditated attempt to catch the attention of the cameras. The chef is from rural Tennessee. "I had a very southern upbringing. My grandparents owned a general store. My grandmother wrung chickens' necks and killed them — raised on a farm, family raises Walking horses," he told Mashed in an early-season interview. And while Belew repped fried variants during the finale, he insisted to Mashed during his exit interview that he's a hardcore fan of the region's fresh produce. "A lot of times, people think the South means 'fat.' The South means 'all you can eat in my face,'" Belew said. "It's not — a lot of times, it's just cooking with the seasons and making things taste fresh." Don't believe him? He proffers a veggie sandwich as proof.

Alex Belew's favorite veggie sandwich couldn't be easier

Alex Belew is no stranger to vegetable-shy customers. "So many people that used to come to my restaurant would say, 'I hate vegetables.'" he told Mashed. "It turns out they hate the vegetable that they had when they were a kid because it was done so [poorly]." The key, according to the "Hell's Kitchen" Season 21 winner, is quality. "Treating the ingredients with respect and getting great ingredients [is] half the battle," Belew extrapolated. "And then it's preparing them in a way that respects them and highlights their flavors."

You won't have to outdo yourself in the kitchen to test the chef's theory. Belew's favorite sandwich is a four-ingredient affair, bread included. "It would rival the best steak, in my opinion," he insisted. To prepare it, you'll need olive oil and salt, but in-season tomatoes are the star of this show. "I've ... yet to find a tomato that rivals a good summertime Tennessee tomato, bursting with sugar right off the vine. The skin is splitting from the tomato wanting to be picked," the southern chef told Mashed. "You slice that thing and put a little bit of some crunchy sea salt and some great olive oil on there ... there's so much umami, and you've got the acidity, and the saltiness, and the richness."

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