Next Level Chef Winner Explains Why She Didn't Like Cooking On The Top Level Kitchen - Exclusive

If you've watched the first season of Gordon Ramsay's latest culinary competition, "Next Level Chef," then you already know that it's unlike any cook-off ever seen before. The show features 15 chefs competing for $250,000 and the mentorship of a lifetime with the show's judges, Gordon Ramsay, as well as Nyesha Arrington, and Richard Blais. In order to win, the participants have to not only cook amazing dishes, but also master the challenges of not one, not two, but three different kitchens along the way.

At the bottom, there's the basement kitchen, which is basically every chef's nightmare. Think warped pans, plastic cutlery only, and no fancy tools in sight. In the middle is your standard commercial-grade kitchen. It looks and feels like a restaurant or catering company kitchen with all the function and no frills. And then there's the top level kitchen. A state-of-the-art culinary mecca equipped with top-of-the-line cookware and every kind of gadget you can imagine gleaming off the shelves. On any given week, the chefs have no idea which kitchen they will be cooking in, but they must deliver a show-stopping dish regardless.

By the looks of it, the top kitchen seems like it would be every chef's dream. But, according to the recently crowned winner of the first season, Pyet DeSpain, that top level isn't quite what it's cracked up to be, especially when the stakes are high and the clock is ticking. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, DeSpain explained why she actually didn't like cooking in the top level kitchen, and revealed exactly where she felt most confident to show off her culinary skills.

There was too much pressure at the top, says DeSpain

We've all heard the saying that too much of a good thing is, well, not a good thing. According to Pyet DeSpain, the sentiment is also true for the "Next Level Chef" kitchens. The Season 1 champ told Mashed that she wasn't as excited when her team was chosen to cook in the top level kitchen. Even though it was clearly the nicest and most well-equipped of them all, DeSpain explained that's exactly what was so off-putting about it. 

"The top level was not my favorite mainly because I feel like it was so hyped up," she said, adding, "There was a lot of pressure being on the top floor and you have all of these things around you that you're not used to and you feel the pressure to use them." From smokers to sous vide machines, pressure cookers to ice cream makers, the chefs were handed a treasure trove of high-tech kitchen tools. But DeSpain said she quickly realized "nobody uses any of that stuff" especially when the stakes are so high. "I don't want to do that during a competition or a challenge, and then mess up," she explained. "When you're in that zone, you do what you're good at, and we don't get to work with those things that often," she clarified. "You go with your day-to-day ability to cook things."

The middle kitchen is the sweet spot on 'Next Level Chef'

Instead, Pyet DeSpain said she felt most comfortable cooking in the middle kitchen. She shared with Mashed that it was her favorite "because I feel the most at home there ... I've worked at kitchens like that, your standard culinary kitchen at a restaurant." Having that degree of comfort kind of makes sense when you've only got 30 minutes, limited ingredients, and fierce competitors to out cook. 

Because, at the end of the day, your instincts and your skill set are the only things you can rely on to get you through to the next round. "It was very nerve-wracking, and you do have to be so creative in those kitchens," she said. "If you don't have that creative skill set or that creative flow within you, you're not going to do well in that competition."

The first season of "Next Level Chef" is available to stream on FOX NOW and Hulu.