Former Contestant Reveals What It's Really Like To Be On Hell's Kitchen - Exclusive

Have you ever wondered what it's really like to be on Hell's Kitchen? Maybe you've questioned if the show's producers exaggerate the drama of the competition, or whether clever editing makes Gordon Ramsay seem hotter-under-the-collar than he actually is. As it turns out, competing on one of the longest running televised cooking competitions — which just premiered its 19th season on FOX – is actually even more intense than viewers might guess.

We know this because Mashed got an exclusive interview with Chef Christina Wilson, judge of this season's "Red Kitchen," and winner of Hell's Kitchen season 10. From the surprising audition process to what happens behind the scenes, this long-time contestant, judge, and head chef at Gordon Ramsay Steak in The Paris Las Vegas offered quite the dish. "The best parts were being challenged every day and not ever knowing where the wind was going to take you, because that's the point of the show," Wilson said. The worst parts? You can't exercise, listen to music, or even write in your diary! "The worst, for me, was there's no release," she explained. "I know that's the point and they want it to be this kind of pressure cooker that continues to build up, steam, steam, steam until eventually somebody's going to blow." Clearly, the producers get their intended result with this ban on all physical and emotional stress outlets — blowing up on set is par for the course at Hell's Kitchen, as any fan can attest!

What it's like to audition for 'Hell's Kitchen'

If you haven't personally auditioned to be on Hell's Kitchen, maybe you have envisioned a set-up similar to American Idol, where there's a cattle call of chef wannabes cooking for judges. This isn't at all how it happens, Wilson said, explaining that she was simply interviewed when she applied to be a contestant. "Funny enough, we don't have to cook for the Hell's Kitchen audition."

The producers instead base their selections on other criteria, like personality, with the thought process being, "Okay, fine. We'll see it for the first time in front of Gordon. We'll all see it for the first time," Wilson said. In fact, as a judge on the show, she did not get to see any of the auditions, and learned who the contestants were after the selection process had taken place. "They do that on purpose," she said. "They don't want the sous-chefs to have a predisposition of people before we actually meet them and see them in the kitchen. There's a great surprise factor for us, too."

So why did Wilson get selected to be on Hell's Kitchen in the first place, if no judge had tasted her cooking, to verify she was the highly qualified culinary expert she claimed to be? "I like to think that they had all the crazy spots, filled and they were looking for a couple normal [people]," she proposed. The producers saw her and thought, "You look clean. Keep your fingers out of your mouth. Okay, come on," Wilson joked. "I think that if I was ever granted a wish, I would love for people to see the audition process."

What really happens behind the scenes at 'Hell's Kitchen'

Gather together contestants who were chosen to fill, as Wilson calls it, the "crazy spots," deprive them of music, exercise, and journaling, give them access to fire and sharp objects, and you're bound to get some explosive footage. Very little of what is filmed ends up seeing the light of day, according to Wilson. "What I was told was there's about 150 hours worth of tape that needs to be cut down to a 43 minute episode for every episode," she said. "So, you have hours, and hours, and hours of tape. High five to the post-edit team that has to go through all of that!"

While this team does a great job choosing the spiciest moments, Wilson said that the humanity of Ramsay and the other culinary experts usually doesn't make the cut. "I think that if people knew, I think that they would like to see how much Gordon and the sous-chefs actually help coach the teams when they're behind for punishments, or ahead at dinner service when we're prepping," she added. "There's a lot of good value as a chef that you get [from] all the senior support that's there. But I think people would be surprised what a mentor role Gordon actually takes — but that doesn't make the best TV."

You can catch Chef Christina Wilson on season 19 of Hell's Kitchen, on Fox now.