Why Hell's Kitchen Contestant Kenneth McDuffie Says The Show Saved His Life

By one obvious measure, Kenneth McDuffie stood out on season 19 of Hell's Kitchen, which debuted on FOX earlier this month. The Philadelphia caterer was the first chef eliminated from the original cast of 18 who were competing for the head chef job at a new Hell's Kitchen restaurant in Lake Tahoe (via Gold Derby).

McDuffie started with two major blunders. First, he finished his chicken dish with 20 minutes to spare, but the meat was scorched (via YouTube). Then Gordon Ramsay, the show's host, found a mystery potato cube in McDuffie's shrimp plate. In what Ramsay dubbed "potato-gate," the stray ingredient turned out to be a chunk of parmesan McDuffie didn't grate properly (via YouTube). The clips circulating online of these early episodes clearly show a chef who was too nervous to handle the high stakes and the national TV spotlight. Even so, McDuffie presents himself as a much happier man than he was when he applied to get on the show in 2019. In fact, McDuffie says Hell's Kitchen saved his life.

Gordon Ramsay gave Kenneth McDuffie some good advice

McDuffie was at a low point in 2019, when someone started a false rumor that he was HIV-positive and dying of AIDS-related complications (via Philadelphia Gay News). He worried his catering business would fail. "I was dealing with depression, suicidal tendencies," McDuffie told Philadelphia Gay News. That's when a friend suggested he audition for Hell's Kitchen. "I didn't think I was going to be cast. But I told my story, and the rest is history," McDuffie said.

Despite having the dubious distinction of being the first chef eliminated from Hell's Kitchen season 19, McDuffie said he calls the show "heaven's kitchen" (via WACH). "I can honestly say that Hell's Kitchen saved my life," McDuffie told the South Carolina FOX affiliate. "If it wasn't for me being casted on this show, I believe I would not be here to tell my story at all."

Ramsay gave his last-place contestant some friendly advice. "The best advice that Chef Ramsay gave me, it was actually when I got booted off the show, he said, 'Let me tell you, win or lose this competition, you take this opportunity and you run with it,'" McDuffie said.

In a "Life After Hell" segment on Ramsay's reality show, posted on YouTube, McDuffie let fans know he is doing great these days. He lost 30 pounds on a keto diet, he's staying busy with his Young and Hungry Catering business, and he's even writing a cookbook.

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