The Big First On Hell's Kitchen: Young Guns

After being on the airways for the better part of two decades, you might think that Hell's Kitchen would have already accomplished all the firsts imagineable. This season, however, they managed it twice. First, they chose a contestant pool of people in their early 20s. Second, they have their first vegan contestant.

According to VegNews, Josie Clemens (above), from Michigan, first came to the attention of Gordon Ramsay after tweeting at him "When are you going vegan, mate?" In a more effusive profession of faith, Clemens took to Instagram to write exactly why her appearance on Hell's Kitchen is so important: "The thing I'm most excited for about this show is the fact that 6 million people who normally watch a meat cooking show are about to be exposed to veganism ... whether it be their first or their hundredth, they're about to see veganism planted in mainstream media." 

While exciting, it should be noted that Clemens is not the first vegan contestant for a cooking competition judged by Gordon Ramsay. Nor, if she wins, would she be the first at that, either. Both honors go to Dino Angelo Luciano, the fan favorite and winner of Masterchef's Eighth Season. Obviously, one's veganism is not a competition. In that context, however, Clemens' placement in the Hell's Kitchen cast reads less as a singular trailblazing than a notable moment in a general shift.

Even Gordon Ramsay has to cave

Although he is not going full vegan, Gordon Ramsay himself has made overtures towards the recipes of the vegan community. Sort of, anyway.

The Vegan Review gave an unimpressed recap of Ramsay's announcement on TIkTok that he was going vegan. Really, the announcement was a way to drum up hype for the vegan recipes he will launch on TikTok. The issue that The Vegan Review piece takes with Ramsay's sudden not-quite-conversion is that four years ago, as reported by Eater, he was still cracking jokes about being allergic to vegans. 

Totally Vegan Buzz charts Ramsay's budding interest in veganism, starting in 2018. It is possible that after decades of being scornful of vegans and vegetarians Ramsay had a genuine conversion experience of some kind. After all, Anthony Bourdain, another chef who once compared vegetarians to Hezbollah, tempered his views later on into the more nuanced opinion he gave Mother Jones: Basically, he endorsed people who practiced vegetarianism at home but did not approve of those who imposed such diets onto their hosts.

Perhaps having to constantly try Dino Angelo Luciano's food convinced Ramsay to try as Josie Clemens hopes her presence on Hell's Kitchen will do for the millions of viewers. Certainly these changes are reflections of how society has embraced plant-based cooking in the last decade with a skyrocketing of its popularity during the pandemic.