What Hell's Kitchen Was Like Off-Screen, According To Nona Johnson - Exclusive

Nona Johnson, née Sively, faced an uphill battle when she competed on Season 8 of "Hell's Kitchen." Despite getting thrown curveballs and incredibly difficult challenges, the chef managed to beat out the competition and reigned supreme. After taking home the title of winner of Season 8, Johnson moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as the head chef of L.A. Market for three years (via Twisted). According to Eater, the chef eventually went on to help her mentor, Kerry Simon, open his first restaurant, Pork and Beans, in Las Vegas. After a stint out West, Johnson returned to Georgia and opened her own catering company, Sizzling Peach.

An experience like competing on "Hell's Kitchen" helped prep Johnson for the career she would face, but one particular aspect of the show ended up proving to be the most stressful challenge anyone could ever imagine. The contestants on the show have to live surrounded by cameras, but not every bit of the action makes it onto the television screen. Johnson sat down with Mashed for an exclusive interview and ran through what life felt like off-screen on "Hell's Kitchen."

An experience Johnson didn't expect

Johnson never could have guessed how controlled the "Hell's Kitchen" environment would be. "As the cast members, we don't have any control over anything," Johnson explained in an exclusive interview with Mashed. "And we don't have pens, we don't have pencils, we don't have paper, we don't have anything. Nothing. No resources, nothing. And so, being in that situation where there aren't even light switches, okay? There's nothing, it's all a set, but it looks very, very real."

"I think probably the most disorienting thing was that there literally are cameras everywhere," Johnson continued. "And behind the walls, behind the mirrors, behind everything."

"And so if you're standing there and we were obviously told not to look at cameras, you don't look at them. But there were times when it was just something to do, just to mess with the production staff ... and then we would hear a phone call saying like ... 'Stop messing with the cameras,' because we would try to do little things just to entertain us and break up the stress level if that makes sense," Johnson explained.

Johnson called the experience of being in such a strict environment very disorienting. "I mean, even when we were getting mic'd up, it was like, 'all right, come here, turn around, lift your chef jacket.' And you had to have your hands out. And if you touched the mic, it was a problem. because we knew how much they were," she said.

How Nona Johnson coped on 'Hell's Kitchen'

The "Hell's Kitchen" contestants found ways to cope with the constant observation, but one off-screen detail nearly pushed Nona Johnson to her breaking point. "You don't have any outlet. You can't have a book. You can't have paper, there's literally nothing," Johnson said. "And so I think that hardest part was really getting yourself ready for isolation."

Johnson found a unique coping strategy. "You have to get your mind right and got to push out all the other outside influences or outside stuff that you brought with you, like family and things you have to take care of at your house, whatever. You have to take it all out and go, 'Okay, I'm now hyper-focused on the task at hand,' which is difficult," Johnson continued. "It is difficult because for us ... You're around people you've never met, you have no idea and you don't know what's going on, really. Because you're just told where to be at certain times. So you just have to go."

"When I say it was the single most stressful thing I've ever experienced, it legitimately was mind-boggling how stressful it was. You don't even know your name when people always ask. They're like, 'Well, how come you can't go scallops?' Or, 'How come you can't cook risotto.' It's like, 'Don't you guys know they're going to do that?' You can't even answer your name. Yeah, it's wild."

If you're looking for a catering service in the Atlanta area, be sure and give Nona Johnson a call at The Local Peach. To stay up to date on Johnson's culinary adventures, you can follow her on Twitter.