Cooking Show Competition Tips From Hell's Kitchen Finalist Johnathan Benvenuti - Exclusive

For many of us, cooking for others is a daunting exercise. Whether we're trying to impress an instructor or a first date, even the most seasoned cooks can fumble due to nerves, leading to burnt marry me chicken, flattened soufflés, or sunken cakes. Still, some chefs seem to thrive under pressure. Take Johnathan Benvenuti, for example. The "Hell's Kitchen: The American Dream" contestant made it to the Season 22 finale, using the cut-throat atmosphere of the show to his advantage. Along the way, his culinary skills impressed countless influential chefs, from Giada De Laurentiis to Gordon Ramsay himself.

If you're a chef who lives for competition, you've likely dreamed about being on a show like "Hell's Kitchen." Few know the ropes as well as Benvenuti, so we at Mashed sat down with the Season 22 finalist to discuss his best tips for cooking show hopefuls. According to the Orange County, California native, it all begins with a bit of preparation. This is one time when those binge-watching skills can shine. "I watched a lot of 'Hell's Kitchen' beforehand. I really did my research," Benvenuti tells Mashed. "I found myself reading cookbooks and just studying and watching videos and just trying to stay sharp." Of course, there's more to his success on "Hell's Kitchen" Season 22 than research alone. It doesn't matter if you struggle with stage fright or finding your niche in the kitchen — whatever your reservations are, Benvenuti's here to help.

Practice makes perfect

If you're going to enter a cooking competition show, there's no better way to prepare yourself than by remembering what it's all about: the food. It goes without saying that there are many distractions on set — from feuding castmates to critique-filled challenges — but you have to remember to keep your eyes on the prize. "Really, for me, it was all about the cooking," says Johnathan Benvenuti. "When I got [on the show] I just couldn't wait for Gordon and all those chefs to taste my food." Staying true to his roots, Benvenuti impressed the show's judges with nostalgic comfort foods like chicken and dumplings, pork chops and applesauce, and more. Among the biggest lessons he took away from the experience was an emphasis on professionalism. His careful attention to detail and precise plating techniques helped him stand out from the crowd.

Nailing down your style of cooking is another way to get ahead on a show like "Hell's Kitchen," says Benvenuti. Though feedback from the judges may lead you to doubt yourself on occasion, it's crucial to stay consistent and cook what you love. "For young chefs that get discouraged: Just keep cooking. I think if you cook good food, your moment will come," Benvenuti tells Mashed. "Take the chance — apply, go be on the show, [and] spend some time with Gordon. I don't think anybody would regret it." It's normal to have reservations, but putting yourself out there is the first step to success.

Benvenuti's advice to aspiring contestants: Take the chance

The thought of appearing on national television can be intimidating, to say the least. Stage fright isn't an uncommon experience for cooking show competitors — in fact, even many professional chefs deal with pre-show butterflies. Johnathan Benvenuti's the first to admit he encountered some trepidation about the filming process. "I think going into it, I was really nervous about the emotional toll and just everything that would come with it," says Benvenuti. He persevered through his fears, however, and the results speak for themselves. "To be honest, my life has changed completely the day I walked in that door, and I'm so happy about where it's taken me."

If that weren't enough to convince you, Benvenuti has another piece of advice for camera-shy chefs: "Take the chance. Whether it's Hell's Kitchen or whatever platform it is, do it. Don't be afraid," the Season 22 finalist tells Mashed. For Benvenuti, taking the plunge and entering "Hell's Kitchen" paid off in spades. "It's surreal as a superfan, just watching myself," he tells Mashed. As an added benefit, he's even acquired his own fan club since appearing on the series. "All the support from the fans has been super special. I just feel overwhelmed with gratitude." From working with Gordon Ramsay to building lifelong connections with your fellow chefs, there are endless possibilities in store for those who heed Benvenuti's advice and follow their dreams.