Trenton Garvey Opens Up About Winning Hell's Kitchen Season 20 - Exclusive Interview

If you were on the edge of your seat, waiting to see which "Young Gun" chef prevailed in Season 20 of Hell's Kitchen – well, imagine how winner Trenton Garvey felt, as he watched his colleagues get cut from the show, episode by episode, wondering whether he'd be next. Then, add to that grueling anticipation the requirement that Garvey not tell anyone that he'd won ... for two whole years. That's right, the 25-year old, who was only 23 when the show was filmed in 2019, was not allowed to discuss the show's outcome until the episode aired this week; Hell's Kitchen was one of several Fox shows with schedules delayed because of the pandemic (per TVLine). Talk about holding your tongue!

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Garvey was finally able to open up about keeping this exciting secret. He also revealed what Gordon Ramsay is like in person, dished about the relationships among "Hell's Kitchen" contestants — and confessed what was most exciting (and most disgusting) about competing this season.

Winning Hell's Kitchen was a dream come true for Trenton Garvey

Congratulations on winning "Hell's Kitchen." What is it like to be the winner of Season 20?

It's insane to finally get to talk about it. It's insane to even wrap my brain around it! When it happened, it was amazing, of course. But having to wait two years to be able to share it with everybody — that's a whole other element of complication to it! But it's, it's unbelievable to finally get to relive it, watching the series.

At the time, were you surprised that you won?

So I knew I put everything out there. I was exhausted. I'd been up for days trying to [make] it to the finale ... I got up early every day. I mean, you can see it in the episodes: I'm up before everybody else. I mean, I wanted to be up earlier and go to bed later. I wanted to work harder! I wanted to put myself out there to know that I laid the groundwork for success, and put in the proper planning to prevent poor production.

So at the end of it, I wouldn't say I was necessarily surprised. I mean, of course, I was, like, super excited and surprised! But I do know I put everything out there — and I knew I was exhausted. So I was okay with whatever happened because [finalist] Megan [Gill] is an incredible chef, and I knew that [if] I got second place [it was] to an incredible chef. And I knew if I won, I put everything out there.

So it was what it was going to be! And that's, [what] was just ... awesome–being so at peace, [thinking], "Whatever happens, happens!"

What was it like to keep the secret that you'd won "Hell's Kitchen" for several years?

It was brutal, keeping it secret and not being able to talk about it, not let people know. I just wanted people [I worked with] to know. There were certain things like, "I only do this and I only have these ideas like this, because Gordon Ramsay taught me like this." And being able to coach and hone people, and let them grow from the golden nuggets of information that I have, and let them know exactly like, "We do this, because this is the best way to do this." Because you get a lot of flak, being a 23-year-old executive chef! People don't want to listen to you ... So you have to pick your battles. But if you've been taught by Gordon Ramsay on how to cook, especially risotto and a lot of very specific things, you have some type of accolades behind your name, to be able to say, "Yeah, this is how you do it." And I've been waiting just to be able to [ say to] my staff now, to just to be like, "Yeah, you guys get to learn this because I know this!"

And that was the best part about the show finally coming out and you're like, "Yeah, this is why we make scallops like this! This is why we do risotto like this!" Why I grill my broccoli, or I grill my asparagus, is just because he said to! [Or] never slice a ribeye, never slice a filet. All these little quips of information he'd give you that you're like, "Okay, sweet. I get it! I understand." Never cover up the ribeye, just sear it beautifully ... so many little sayings, just to showcase plates that are just incredibly useful, and elevating the food and showing it off.

So now you have the credibility to pass on these kernels of wisdom.

Yeah. I mean, this is just the beginning... People are like, "Oh, you've been humble about all this." I'm like, "Yeah, because this is just my door open to get to go learn!" This is over, and what's next is what matters. And trying to push myself forward is what matters! That was cool, and that was just a job interview. And now it's time to go and actually learn, and not do the competition side, but understand the actual business side, and understand how to be incredibly consistent ... and that's what I'm excited about.

Chef Gordon Ramsay was always Trenton Garvey's favorite chef

What is Chef Gordon Ramsay like in person?

So I went to culinary school. It was really weird, because we were asked, "What's your favorite chef?" And everybody had some type of understanding of who their favorite chef was. I went into culinary school very green ... I'd never worked a hotline.  I went to culinary school and I just wanted to learn how to cook. I was just like, I told them I'm gone and I want to learn everything I can. But one of the first days they asked me, you know, they have whole classes, like what are the trends? Everybody opens up as a team. "So who's your favorite chef?" And I told him like, "Oh, I love Gordon Ramsay. I love how upfront he is with people. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. And he makes ... perfection happen and he has the accolades to back it up." I just think that's amazing. And they tried to tell me, "Hey, that's not really how chefs work. Chefs don't work like that anymore. And that's an old generation of chefs." I really, I really admire that.

So, once I finally got to meet Chef Ramsay in person, he was just exactly like that! He didn't sugarcoat things. He lets you know. He gave you positive reinforcement when you did something right. And he would do the same when you did it wrong. And it would just increase and amplify, the more and more you did things wrong. Which is exactly as the chef should be!

You want your team to grow and you want to put out the best product. You're only as good as your last plate. So he just wanted to make sure everything was perfection. So, once I got to work in the kitchen and get his honest opinion, get an honest breakdown from him, on each plate, that impression of him was just [confirmed]. He is equal, he's fair. He understands every aspect and intricacy of how to treat each thing on a plate. He is just as I expected, and more, and that's what blew my mind.

Why being on Hell's Kitchen is very different from watching it on TV, according to Trenton Garvey

What is it like to watch yourself on television, especially after a couple of years have passed?

Well, I'm glad I didn't do the "reality TV thing" and make myself look like an idiot! But you know, I'm proud. I'm proud of where I started and liked getting to see how much I grew — because you're so much in the moment when you're there doing it. So getting to actually [see it] from the third-person, watch yourself grow throughout the season, and gain confidence within myself as I went into it ... [I was] not very confident [then] and was expecting to go home pretty soon. So to get as far as I did ... well, it's incredible! It's insane!

What's different about being on "Hell's Kitchen" compared to watching it on TV?

Well, I was exactly as stressful as at the beginning of I thought it would be, but yeah, ... you know what I expected going into it ...[was that] I was going to learn something that was just absolutely insane ...[But] It was just doing things very carefully. And there was nothing really super, super secretive about anything. It was all very straightforward and it was just the consistency of everything and ... making things perfect. ... That's what I took away from it. It wasn't like ... really like over complicated. Like we're doing like very intricate techniques, so everything was done very simply and wasn't very complicated, but it was just done with such attention to detail.

Did you watch "Hell's Kitchen" before you were on it?

So I remember watching it as a kid and thinking, "Man, I'd never want to work in a kitchen!" I remember watching it and being like, "That looks really stressful ..." And I've thought about that, numerous times since I was on it, like, "Man, I remember watching it and dreading it." [But] I haven't watched it a whole lot, over the years. I watch bits and pieces, watch parts of the season, but I had never dove into it super hard, throughout my short cooking career. But before [my season] I watched very little bits of it — I didn't want to watch a whole lot of it, because I didn't want to psych myself out.

Because I didn't want to just stress myself out with "what ifs" every day like, "Oh, what if we have to do that? What if we have to do that?" And I just took the time before, once I knew that I might make it on the show, just to focus on covering all the basics — really perfecting how Gordon Ramsay wants a lobster broken down. Going through and trying to find out exactly how he wanted things done, how do we break down squid ... And just going through with a bunch of stuff I was unfamiliar with. I live in the Midwest, I don't work with a whole lot of seafood and shellfish. So just going through with a lot of stuff like that. And was reteaching myself and going back to the basics. Being like, "Okay, I'll be prepared for this, when I do the show."

Looking back at your journey on "Hell's Kitchen," is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Looking back at it ... hindsight's 20/20. I can't tell myself, "Just be a little bit more confident in yourself, especially in the beginning. Try to have more of a voice." And that's really it. Just have a voice and try to keep things simple. Because at times, I felt like there were times I overcomplicated it ...tried to do too much ... Yeah, I just didn't have a voice. And that was something that I had to adapt to, throughout the season — just opening up, and having the confidence to say something.

These are the best and worst parts of being on Hell's Kitchen, according to Trenton Garvey

What was the hardest thing about being on "Hell's Kitchen"?

I love cooking, and I feel like when I'm in the kitchen I can get comfortable with just getting behind a couple of pans, and getting in the zone, and cooking in a line. But the hardest part was the downtime. Any downtime you have, [you get] to hang out with people you didn't know. I'm not the most sociable person! It took me at least a week to want to open up and talk to anybody.

So, you didn't have phones, you had no outlet to talk to anybody, let anybody know how your day went. [I] couldn't call my fiance — couldn't tell her like, "Hey, this is what's going on in my head." Couldn't watch TV, couldn't listen to radio. So you're just stuck! So I spent the time trying to read the recipes they gave us ... staying away from the drama.

What was it like to be put in the Red Kitchen?

We wore black jackets, but once we got switched over to the Red Kitchen and the black jacket, it was tough, because it was different. Chef Christina [Wilson] has different procedures; there are certain things that she did that we didn't do. She didn't like ice in the top of the hotel pans, she wanted it below them. They're very specific little things. Even from how we seasoned the tomatoes, to the way we did the flatbread pizzas, and how many we cooked ahead of time, or if we cooked any ahead of time! Where they stored the heavy cream. There's so many little things that made it just an entirely different kitchen.

And it was a learning curve, trying to understand exactly her procedures and how she expected things to be, and how it all played out. So that was a tough transition. And at that point in time, it was just all about fighting as hard as I could to stay above water. Because that was a tough transition.

What was the hardest challenge from this season?

I'd say the tasting one was the hardest for me ... just because we had music blaring in our heads, and it was like sensory overload, [not] having any picture, or ... being able to see anything; not being able to hear anything. So that one got me, which I was fortunate enough not to get the caramel popcorn and nacho cheese dumped on me! But that was tough.

I'd say a close second, which ended up being good for me, was ... throughout the competition, you're given all these challenges and they're like, "Here's your four ingredients. Figure it out." And that's like what being [an] executive chef is ... "Oh, I've got to utilize this before the next day, and make sure we use this up!" And try to schedule ahead on how we're going to utilize everything. So that was sweet.

But once he told us he wanted us to focus on plating, and told us the world was our oyster, you could use whatever you want. Immediately, I'm like, "Oh man ... what am I going to use? I can use whatever, but what do I want to use?" But just trying to hone in on a few ingredients, I feel like that was really challenging. But then I made the scallops, and it ended up working out for me!

The rewards and punishments are a favorite for "Hell's Kitchen" viewers. What was the worst punishment, and the best reward?

The worst punishment, by far, was going through the dumpsters, sorting out all the trash ... Here in Vegas, the trash has been baking in a dumpster. So it was all very ripe. We had everything from seafood to ... there were even some truffles in there! There was everything and anything, and we had to sort through every little bit of it.

I'd have to say, the best reward? That's a tough one. But they were all pretty awesome. But the best one would have to be when we got to go to Dre's nightclub, and then we had our own private bartender ... at the Cromwell. That was a really good time!

Trenton Garvey's life -- before and after winning Hell's Kitchen

How did you get cast on "Hell's Kitchen: Young Guns"?

So my brother got a call at his restaurant, down in Arkansas. I live up near St. Louis. And he was like, "Hey, some lady called, she works for 'Hell's Kitchen.'" I'm like, "Oh, well, I don't know if I really want to do that." All I could think of was the movie, 'Chef.' In the movie ... he loses his job, and it's like, "Ah, I'm a chef." And he goes and talks to, I think it's his publicist, and she's like, "Oh, I can get you on 'Hell's Kitchen' in six weeks." He's like, "I don't really want to do that. I'm a chef!" And he talked bad about it.

And I was like, "I could really ruin my career. I could look like a real dumbass! I don't know." Because I don't know how much I really know. I haven't worked for a whole lot of other chefs. I've worked for one chef. Everything else I know [is] from reading books and studying by myself. So I'm like, "I don't know if I'm really chef-caliber, going into it." So my brother's like, "Oh, well, do it because I'm applying!" And it was almost like a brotherly competition. [So I said], "Well, if you're going to do it, then I'm going to do it." And he was like, "Well, what if we both get on a season? That could be part of it, we're both on the season." Yeah, that'd be really cool. Because we have a five-year difference between us. And I was like, "Yeah, and we butt heads a lot." I couldn't imagine ... We've never worked in a kitchen together, so I know that's going to be really rough. But I was like, "I'm going to apply because I'll beat myself up if I don't." So I got in — he didn't!

[I] got the call, "Hey, fly out to LA." Never flown before, never left Arkansas or Missouri. So I flew out, had to figure out how airports work. So that was a fun learning experience that day. But it was so much growth in just a couple of months. Of trying to just even figure out how to travel, how to venture out of the small bubble I'd lived in.

Now that you've won "Hell's Kitchen," what's next for you? Are you moving to Las Vegas?

That's what we're trying to figure out right now. So yes, I'm moving to Vegas. Going to take up the job at Gordon Ramsay Steak, in Paris. And [I'm] super excited! Yesterday we did a little bit of driving around, figuring out where to live. Trying to move our little family out of here and figure out exactly the logistics right now. But I'm super pumped to get to join the team, and get to go back and learn quite a bit. That's what I'm excited for ... It's a new ballpark, and getting back in the learning shoes and taking up the protege, and doing what I can.

Are you still in touch with the other contestants from your season?

Yes. So we have an Instagram group and we all message each other. I think it's the last 14 of us. The ones who went home earlier, we haven't talked to as muc ... But the rest of us have stayed in touch quite a bit.

I'm in Vegas right now, and I haven't seen them yet, but they just flew out here: Kiya [Willhelm] and Megan, Antonio [Ruiz], Emily [Hersh], Victoria [Sonora], Kevin [Argueta]. So yeah, we're all going to have a good time tonight at the watch party. So that'll be fun! ... Last month, I flew out and stayed at Kevin's house, and went and worked in some restaurant in LA, just to go out and learn something. So that was fun. But the connections from the show are just priceless ... It's such a unique bonding experience, to get to share with people.

"Hell's Kitchen" airs Mondays on Fox, and you can keep up with Trenton Garvey's culinary adventures in Las Vegas by following him on Instagram