‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Winners: What Do They Win and Where Are They Now?
Gordon Ramsay is the “master chef” behind reality competition cooking shows MasterChef and MasterChef Junior — but that’s not all. A third competition series, Hell’s Kitchen, is now in its 18th season in the United States.
The premise of the show, as advertised on Fox, is that every season’s winner “receives a head chef position” at a restaurant of Ramsay’s choosing.
Is that really all the show’s winners get for beating at least a dozen other chefs? Maybe not always. Here’s what they’re promised, and why those promises aren’t always — technically — kept. Plus, find out what some of the show’s winners are doing now.
What do Hell’s Kitchen winners get?
When each season’s cast of contestants are introduced, it’s generally understood that they are all there for the chance to win:
- A chef position at a restaurant
The show’s premise is that contestants compete for a “head chef” position. It’s much more accurate to say they compete for the chance to work in a high-end restaurant — something many aspiring chefs never get the chance to do at all.
All contestants are offered the opportunity to work under chefs at some of the best restaurants around the world. But sometimes the promises the show’s marketing makes and what winners are actually offered don’t quite line up.
Hell’s Kitchen winners don’t win as much as you think
Not all winning contestants are offered executive chef positions. According to Eater, Controversy ignited when the Season 7 winner wasn’t given the head chef position she was promised, but it turned out she wasn’t awarded the job because she didn’t have a proper work visa.
Is Hell’s Kitchen offering fake prizes to its potential winners? Not necessarily. They’re still being given the opportunity to work with expert chefs even if their positions are “downgraded.”
Think of it like applying for a job and being told you’re not quite the right person for the original position, but the company is willing to give you a job at a slightly lower level in hopes you might work up to earning that original position. Better than no job at all, right?
As most of us are aware, reality shows aren’t always as “real” as they might seem. Competing on a show to prove you’re a better cook than a dozen other people doesn’t necessarily translate to the very real-world job of running a restaurant. Some winners simply can’t keep the jobs they are given or don’t have what it takes to run a real high-end kitchen — yet.
Whether they get the prizes they were promised or don’t, and whether they stay in those positions for extended periods of time or not, most end up maintaining sustainable careers. Some remain chefs. Others branch out into other areas that suit their talents and interests.
Where are the Hell’s Kitchen winners now?
Alumna Michelle Tribble ’16, season 17 winner of Hell's Kitchen, has made a name for herself in the culinary world. After reevaluating her goals during the pandemic, Michelle chose to resign as head chef of the Hell's Kitchen restaurant and return to #TXWomans for her Master's.
— TXWoman's Alumni (@txwomansalumni) October 8, 2020
By now, most early winners of the show have moved on from working day-to-day as chefs.
Many past winners have gone on to launch their own catering companies and other food-centric businesses, using their culinary training to serve a slightly different market. Here’s an update on a few past winners and where they are now, according to Gold Derby.
Michael Wray, who won the first season of the show in 2005, would eventually decline the opportunity to work under Ramsay in London. He worked as a culinary instructor for a while at Sur La Table, but according to the BBC also struggled with drug addiction following the loss of his infant daughter. After rehab and a short stint in prison for a pharmacy raid, he began to rebuild his life and continues to work in restaurants today. Though he’s reached out to Hell’s Kitchen a few times since his recovery, he hasn’t heard back from them.
“I think that because the way my life went right after Hell’s Kitchen, I think they’re more interested in having success stories,” he told the BBC.
Christina Machamer won Season 4 of Hell’s Kitchen, was awarded a senior chef position, and worked under chefs Gordon Ramsay and Thomas Keller, among others. Mashed reports that she is now a professional sommelier, and her professional website lists private events and dinners she hosts in Napa Valley, California.
Scott Commings won Season 12, and began life after winning as the head chef at the Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Los Vegas, Nevada. He’s remained in Las Vegas and works with many restaurants there through a culinary management company called ECM, according to his LinkedIn page.
Michelle Tribble won Season 17 of the show and was awarded the opportunity to become the executive chef at Ramsay’s Caesars Palace Hell’s Kitchen in Las Vegas. She worked there for more than two years, but decided to leave when the restaurant shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s since returned to Texas, where she’s from, and to her alma mater at Texas Woman’s University to pursue a post-baccalaureate degree in nutrition. Her goal, according to the university’s site, is to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.