The untold truth of Hell's Kitchen

If there's anything in life Gordon Ramsay doesn't suffer, it's fools and undercooked scallops. And please, don't even get him started on beef Wellington. 

The fiery Scottish chef has basically created a screaming chef monopoly, but the gold standard for his obscenity-laced, colorful tirades remains the cooking competition show Hell's Kitchen

If you've never seen the show, here's how it works: a group of not-quite-camera-ready chefs from all walks of life (line cooks, sous chefs, and everything in between) are herded into a dorm and put through hell in hopes of landing a job as the executive chef of one of Ramsay's restaurants. It's kind of like The Apprentice only less horrifying in retrospect. And you'll never believe this, but it turns out that not everything on Hell's Kitchen is exactly what it's ... cooked up to be. (Not sorry.)

This is the untold truth of Hell's Kitchen.

No one gets physical with Gordon Ramsay on Hell's Kitchen

There have been times throughout the run of Hell's Kitchen where it appears that Gordon Ramsay and some hotheaded young chef — and it is often a young meathead dude from Long Island or New Jersey or Philadelphia — are on the verge of coming to blows. But as you might expect, that's basically entirely fabricated for the sake of drama. 

In reality, if the contestants thought about throwing a punch in Ramsay's direction, they'd be tackled to the ground before they could cock their arms back. That's because what you don't see on camera is that Ramsay's got bodyguards all over the place to prevent any actual physical altercations. Which makes sense, honestly. 

As much fun as it'd be to watch Gordon Ramsay tussle with some young punk line cook named Rocko, Fox doesn't really want anything more than the threat of violence. Ramsay's too valuable an asset, and there are also those pesky potential litigations that could stem from a millionaire chef trading punches with some poor schmuck looking for his 15 minutes of fame.

Hell's Kitchen is remarkably unhealthy

No, we're not just talking about the high fat content of half the foods being prepared and served to diners. We're talking about how ridiculously unhealthy the entire Hell's Kitchen is on the chefs competing for one of Gordon Ramsay's coveted executive chef positions. And not just because the chefs are pushed to their physical limitations, either. 

The stress of being in this particular competition — which involves sleepless nights, being constantly screamed at for the slightest mistakes, and having your every movement scrutinized by the ever-present cameras and microphones — drives the competing chefs to cigarettes and booze. 

During Season 2 of the series, one producer noted that the competition began with only four smokers in the cast. By the end of the season, that number had more than doubled to 10. Yes, that's right: this is a job interview so stressful that it drove six non-smokers to become chimneys just to try to deal with the pressure.

You're not guaranteed to win anything on Hell's Kitchen

Holli Ugalde, is the chef who won Season 7 of the American version of Hell's Kitchen. Her prize for suffering through the vast and various indignities was supposed to be the top job at the Savoy Grill in London. It's an iconic restaurant, and a gig that many, many chefs would absolutely kill for — which is why it was such a crushing blow to Ugalde when she didn't get the job she was promised because of work visa issues. Instead, she was named "Celebrity Signature Chef" of a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

Obviously, Gordon Ramsay and the producers of Hell's Kitchen can't just force a government to grant someone a work visa, but Ugalde wasn't the only one to miss out on the gig she was promised upon winning her season. 

Each season, the show advertises a promised job title, often including the term "executive chef." But even when the winning contestant does get a prize, it's often something like "senior chef" or "head chef," not the coveted title of "executive chef." Those positions seem to go to those with more experience in the industry. Shocking? Not really, but still a big disappointment to those who win.

There's a reason so many chefs struggle on Hell's Kitchen

If you watch Hell's Kitchen, one of the first things you start irrationally screaming at the screen during every single episode is how bizarre and crazy it is that no one can seem to figure out how to cook basic staples of the show. There are a few items that are on the menu every season, including risotto, beef Wellington, and scallops. Yet somehow, these dishes are repeatedly undercooked or overcooked by the hapless chefs, whose cooking credentials we immediately start to question. And while some of the chefs on the show are working at higher levels than others, it's always baffling to see how frequently these dishes are screwed up. So what's the real story? 

According to a former contestant named Tek Moore, the producers would often sneakily swap out ingredients to create drama and giving Gordon Ramsay something to blow up about. This would sometimes include juvenile pranks, such as swapping out salt for sugar.

The cameras never stop rolling on Hell's Kitchen

Obviously when you sign up for a reality show, you basically agree to wave goodbye to your privacy. But you probably expect that you might get a brief respite at some point, right? Maybe to get a little shuteye, or hopefully when you want to drop a deuce in peace. But guess what? You're out of luck. The cameras are always on, and they are everywhere. And so are the microphones. 

According to former Hell's Kitchen contestants, you wear your microphone at all times — even to bed. And that means that the lights are always on, too. If you're hoping to get some sleep at around four in the morning, you may be completely out of luck, because if even one of the other contestants is awake, those lights are going to stay on in hopes of the cameras catching something good. 

Some people use that to their advantage, too. One former contestant, Justin Antiorio, said that he rarely sleeps anyway, so he'd stay up as late as he could as a sort of psychological warfare. If he wasn't sleeping, he knew his competition wouldn't be sleeping, so maybe he could throw them off their game.

There's one sure way to get some privacy on Hell's Kitchen

If you want a little bit of time alone and need those cameras off you, there's only one way to do it. It's not taking a nap, and it's not heading to the restroom. No, if you want a couple of minutes for the cameras and microphones to finally leave you alone, you need to belt out a tune, according to a few former contestants. 

Music rights are expensive, you see. Fox has a lot of money to play with, but it doesn't want to shell out the cash it would take to acquire the rights to, say, a Taylor Swift song. The contestants often figure this out, which means there's a lot of singing on Hell's Kitchen that we never see. And the chefs would also use code words to communicate without the producers and crew catching on to what they were really saying.

Sorry, but you probably can't go to the Hell's Kitchen restaurant

When you watch Hell's Kitchen, you invariably start thinking about how much fun it'd be to attend a taping of one of the dinner services. You get an incredible meal and get to witness Gordon Ramsay screaming obscenities at cowering wannabe chefs. It's fun for the whole family! 

But unless your family includes someone connected to Fox, you'll probably never set foot inside the Hell's Kitchen restaurant. 

According to a Reddit AMA with former contestant Kevin Cottle, pretty much the only people who get to eat there are friends and family members of the crew. Obviously, special guests get invited — which typically consist of a few C-list celebrities the cameras will occasionally show enjoying a glass of wine. ("Hey, it's that guy from that CW show I don't watch!") But unless you're well-connected, the odds of you getting in the doors are very slim.

Of course, Hell's Kitchen isn't an actual restaurant

Not only are the diners not "real" (at least in the sense that they're not everyday, ordinary people but are somehow connected to the show), but neither is the restaurant itself. It makes sense, when you think about it. Hell's Kitchen is a television show, after all. Television shows are shot on soundstages. And Hell's Kitchen is no different. 

According to a TV Guide writer who attended one particular finale taping, the whole place genuinely looks like the set of a TV show when you see it in person. It's incredibly bright due to the TV lights, and everything is oversized and "more exaggerated than on TV." 

And because it's not an actual restaurant, despite the appearance of a fine dining establishment, it doesn't have the facilities you'd expect in such a place. Specifically, there are no actual bathrooms. Considering the place has an open bar and the drinks flow freely and frequently throughout taping, you can see how that might be a problem. Fortunately, there are plenty of trailers outside the set — meaning that, basically, you have to leave the restaurant and go take a leak in a pimped-out camper when your bladder gets too full.

There's a backup plan for a poor service at Hell's Kitchen

Have you ever wondered what happens when Gordon Ramsay kicks both teams out of their kitchens when a service is going horrendously, yet there are still dozens of diners waiting for their meals? What happens to them? Do they go home hungry? Does Gordon run to a McDonald's and buy everyone some nuggets to tide them over? 

Well, according to former contestant Kevin Cottle, there is a backup plan in the event of these types of situations (which happen with remarkable frequency over the course of each and every Hell's Kitchen season). Cottle says that there are people you can sometimes see bustling around looking like a cleanup crew, but that isn't really their jobs. They're basically culinary ninjas, hiding in plain sight. These are backup chefs, ready to swoop in and complete a service whenever called upon.

So while there's plenty of raw food served, dishes get sent back, and you may have to go outside and poop in a trailer, at least you're probably not going to go home hungry.

Hell's Kitchen contestants have no idea what's next

If it seems like Hell's Kitchen contestants are getting more and more flustered as the show goes on, there's a good reason for that. According to what contestant Ariel Malone told Delish, "There is zero prep. None whatsoever. All you can do is just brace yourself for whatever's going to come."

Contestants aren't told what they're going to be doing at any given time, and sometimes, that can throw a serious wrench in what seem to be the best-laid plans. Malone points to the time when they were heading to BLT Steakhouse, and everyone thought they were being treated to a nice meal out. Nope — they were cooking, even though they'd all gotten dressed up for it. She had to trade her 6-inch heels for something kitchen-safe, but otherwise, they just had to deal with what was thrown at them.

She also says that producers would go out of their way to keep contestants guessing. If it seemed they were getting too accustomed to getting up at a certain time, the wake-up call might come a few hours early, or with a deafening burst of music. No clues, no hints, no schedule, and pressure of knowing the call to get in the kitchen and cook could come at any moment? It's no wonder they're stressed!

You can totally experience Hell's Kitchen... in Las Vegas

While you might not be able to score a meal at the "real" Hell's Kitchen, there's a next best thing. In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ramsay was going to be opening his fifth restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. This one was going to be in Caesars Palace, and it was an interactive experience designed to make diners feel like they were actually in Hell's Kitchen.

"The experience will be like actually eating on the set in Hell's Kitchen," Ramsay told them. "Entering into the dining room, you'll see a kitchen made up of the red team and the blue team, two separate kitchens opening into one... exactly the same as it is on set."

Is there anything that's more Las Vegas than that? Customers would even get to use the confessional booths popularly visited by contestants, and also have the chance to judge the teams and vote for their favorite. And yes, Ramsay says that it was built with the idea that it would be featured in the show at some point. 

It hasn't all been smooth sailing there, though. In 2018, Hell's Kitchen dropped a menu item from the lineup after it sent a few guests to the hospital. It was the Rum Donkey, a tiki-style drink served on fire, and predictably, people got hurt. According to Fox News, they "removed the flame component of the drink at issue."

Here's the first thing he says to every Hell's Kitchen contestant

Gordon Ramsay might be super intimidating when it's all-hands-on-deck, go-time in the kitchen, but Hell's Kitchen contestant Ariel Malone told Delish that off-camera, he's anything but.

"Honestly, he's a really nice guy. I like the mentorship he gives. It's a no bulls***, 'I expect the best from you' style, and he's actually really genuine and nurturing."

So, what's it like to meet him for the first time?

When Ramsay talked to Variety about which show is his favorite to make ("It's whatever's in production."), he said there's one thing that he tells each and every contestant on Hell's Kitchen:

"The first thing I say to all contestants is, 'Fox runs a network, I run a f*****g restaurants, and no disrespect to the cameras and interviews taking place, but you're going to run a restaurant, and I need your best, and if you can't give me your best don't expect me to hand you a cash check for a quarter of a million dollars."

Say what you will about Ramsay, you can't say that he doesn't make it very, very clear what he expects from those working for him.

Getting on Hell's Kitchen is more difficult than you might expect

Think you've got what it takes to be a contestant on Hell's Kitchen? You might! But, be warned — the audition process is a very long, very intense one.

Ariel Malone told Delish that she spent somewhere between two and three months doing interview after interview before she even had an inkling that she was going to make it on the show. Interviews started on the phone, then were on camera, and then, they were in person. And they would ask the same questions over and over again, and she says that there were some specific goals in mind. They wanted to know how each person learned, how readily they adapted to new and stressful situations, and how likely they were to be all right with change.

She added: "During the on-camera interview, the questions were more situational, like, 'if you're in the kitchen and somebody burns you, how do you respond?' They want a sense of your personality — or if you're a dead fish with no personality at all." 

Season 9 contestant Carrie Keep talked about the interview process with D Magazine, and said there weren't just interviews, there were background checks, a deep dive by a private investigator, and screenings by doctors and mental health professionals. But most surprising of all was that there was one thing that she didn't have to do. What's that? Cook.

Here's what Ramsay hates most from Hell's Kitchen contestants

It's no secret that there's a few dishes that Ramsay will get inevitably mad about on Hell's Kitchen — risotto, anyone? He starts yelling about that one pretty regularly, but when he talked to Entertainment Weekly, he revealed that there was a little more to the anger we see on the show than just frustration at the fact chefs just can't seem to get this one right.

"When they lie it's the worst insult that any chef can hear. When somebody lies to you it's worse than working with somebody who can't cook. Because when you trust someone with your reputation and they cross that line, they want [the food] out of their sight and they tell you they finished it, and you know they're lying, that's the worst."

Of course, that's not the only thing about contestants that sets Ramsay on edge. "The biggest problem from a chef point of view is everybody thinks they can cook because they hosted a dinner party," he explains. "They think they can transfer that skill from running a six-top or 10-top to running a restaurant."

Why was there no social distancing during Hell's Kitchen: Las Vegas?

There was a lot that changed in 2020, starting with all the new restrictions and regulations put in place to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. Masks and social distancing became a way of life, but when Season 19 of Hell's Kitchen aired in January 2021, there was something amiss: there were no masks, no social distancing, and no precautions being taken whatsoever.

That, says the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is for one simple reason: it had been filmed more than a year before it finally aired. Season 19 finally made it to TV sets across the country on January 7, 2021, but it had been filmed in the spring of 2019 — and that's a long time for contestants to keep their secrets. By the time the show was broadcast, the troupe of performers who ushered in the Vegas season had been on hiatus for about nine months. Masks had been a requirement for going out for so long, not seeing them seemed odd.

So, what gives? Why did it take so long to air? According to executive producer Arthur Smith, the Hell's Kitchen delay was just another consequence of COVID and the shifting of television and movie schedules alike. Smith, however, was optimistic, saying, "Another way of looking at it is, we're going to be back to this. We're going to be back to Vegas on fire and restaurants jam-packed with action and all the good stuff."

The Hell's Kitchen contestants are sorely sleep-deprived

Anyone who's watched Hell's Kitchen has done it: From the quiet and comfort of our home sofas, it's easy to sit and yell at contestants for making seemingly obvious mistakes ... often, repeatedly. But when Delish talked to executive producers Kent Weed and Arthur Smith, they learned why we should all cut contestants a little slack.

A season is filmed over the course of five weeks, and it's insanely stressful. In addition to being completely secluded from the outside world — including friends and family — contestants are also kept to a rigid schedule. Their days start at 7 a.m., and they don't end until after dinner service and a complete cleaning of the kitchen. Most days, that doesn't happen until around 2 a.m. the following morning, giving them just five hours before they have to be up and ready to do it all over again.

That's not all for sleeping, either. Contestants have access to their own kitchens and need to cook their own meals. Most opt for the quick-and-easy junk food route, so not only are they getting somewhere around just a few hours of sleep a night for weeks on end, but they're also running on whatever food they're not too tired to make.

Gordon Ramsay's new sous chef might look familiar

Each season of Hell's Kitchen brings a slew of new faces and personalities to root for (or against). Usually the main players — Gordon Ramsay and his sous chefs — remain constant, but Season 19 brought someone new to the game: the sous chef of the blue team, who — appropriately — was hard to miss with his bright blue hair.

His name, according to Boston, is Jason Santos. Longtime fans might think he looks kind of familiar, and there's a very good reason for that: Santos was the runner-up on Season 7 of Hell's Kitchen. That was filmed an almost unthinkable 11 years before he got the call to head to Las Vegas!

Did he have any reservations about returning to the fires and brimstone of Hell's Kitchen? Santos explained: "One day I was sitting in my restaurant and I got an email from the executive producer asking if I wanted to be the sous chef for Gordon in season 19 and season 20. And of course, that was a no-brainer. I packed my stuff and filmed in Vegas for three months."

Jason Santos has done pretty well since his appearance on the show, and his website says that he's since opened a few restaurants, including Blue Inc., Abby Lane, and Back Bay Harry's.

There have been some heartbreaking contestant deaths

It's only occasionally that we hear about our favorite contestants after they leave the show, and sadly, not everyone who has been on Hell's Kitchen is still with us. As of 2020, six Hell's Kitchen chefs have died (via Gold Derby).

Two Season 2 contestants have died: In 2007, Rachel Brown died by suicide, and in 2012, Keith Greene drowned while taking a morning swim.

In Season 3, Aaron Song, who had ranked in 10th place, was forced to withdraw from the competition due to health issues. He died in 2010, with the official cause of death listed as "diabetes complications."

Season 4 favorite and runner-up Louis Petrozza died in 2019 after a diagnosis of lung cancer. Jessica Vogel appeared on Season 12 of Hell's Kitchen and was later diagnosed with a bowel disease called ulcerative colitis. She died of complications in 2018.

And, in 2017, Season 16 contestant Paul Giganti (pictured) — better known as "Paulie G" — was found in his Philadelphia home. The cause of death was ruled to be an accidental drug overdose.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.