Hell's Kitchen Season 22 Finalists Tell Us What It's Really Like Working With Gordon Ramsay - Exclusive

Entering a cooking competition is hard enough as it is. Ask anyone who's entered a local chili contest or blueberry pie recipe bakeoff. Add a powerful personality like Gordon Ramsay to the mix, and the kitchen's heat can become an inferno. Over the years, we've watched "Hell's Kitchen" contestants endure some of Gordon Ramsay's worst insults ever, including the classic "panini head" and our personal favorite, "f***ing doughnut." But if you've ever wondered what it's really like working alongside reality TV's most outspoken chef, you might be surprised to learn it's not nearly as scary as it seems.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, the finalists of "Hell's Kitchen" Season 22 are quick to set the record straight about their time on set with Ramsay. According to chefs Johnathan Benvenuti, Ryan O'Sullivan, and Sammi Tarantino, the depiction of Ramsay as a fire-breathing bully couldn't be further from the truth. "By no means is he this mean, angry chef people think he is," says Benvenuti. Ahead, we'll hear from the stars of "Hell's Kitchen: American Dream" on all things related to chef Ramsay that we didn't see on screen.

Hell's Kitchen chefs can't praise Ramsay enough

For finalists like Ryan O'Sullivan, meeting Gordon Ramsay for the first time left them utterly awe-struck. However, after the initial nerves faded, the contestants realized the show's host wasn't the type of person to be feared. "A lot of people say never meet your idol, but for me, it was the best thing that I've ever done," O'Sullivan tells Mashed. "People say [after meeting them], your whole outlook of them is changed — but it just broadened everything for me." Ramsay's close mentorship proved invaluable for O'Sullivan, who ultimately walked away as the winner of Season 22.

Sammi Tarantino, one of Season 22's final three contestants, couldn't help but agree with O'Sullivan's assessment of Ramsay. "I would do anything to work with Gordon more. He's just a beast in the kitchen, and he's just such a presence," she says. "And he's a great mentor; He has so much knowledge to share." Tarantino admits she had some difficulty brushing things off throughout the show but working with Gordon Ramsay helped her to believe in herself more than ever. It's no wonder why many of the show's competitors refer to their time with the star as special.

The special connection between Ramsay and Hell's Kitchen chefs

Chef Johnathan Benvenuti, whose culinary prowess took him to the Season 22 finale of "Hell's Kitchen," enjoyed every moment of his experience on the show. "Working with Gordon Ramsay has changed my life," Benvenuti tells Mashed. "Even off-camera — the things he said, the way he treated us, and the person he was — was special." From his heartfelt pep talks to his cooking tips and tricks, each finalist says they took Ramsay's wisdom to heart. "He tells you to stand up straight and how to carry yourself in front of his judges," says Benvenuti. "And those are things that you can't put a price tag on."

Still, the Season 22 finalists weren't the only ones on the set charmed by Ramsay during filming. According to Ryan O'Sullivan, meeting Ramsay was just as special to another influential chef in his life — his father. "It was great for my dad to meet him. He was my dad's idol growing up, too," O'Sullivan tells us. "He's also a chef, and he's very engrossed in the whole thing. For me to be the reason to put them together was the icing on top." So the next time you hear one of Ramsay's infamous barbs as you binge-watch the series, remember there's a softer side to the host behind the scenes of "Hell's Kitchen."