Thursday, May 28, 2009

Challenge from Hell: Profile of a Hell's Kitchen Winner

She doesn’t live by the rules of any one mantra.

“My mantra changes every day, like my favorite food,” says Christina Machamer, better known as Chef Christina, the winning culinary combatant from season four of Hell’s Kitchen.

Due to her grueling schedule at the London West Hollywood restaurant, where Michelin-starred chef Gordon Ramsay reigns, lately her mantra has been “eat well and be well.” Foods that give energy are a must, given her 14-hour work days. “Working the hours I do, it’s very difficult to balance my health and strength.”

Earning her one-year tenure at Ramsay’s restaurant required more than just good eats. To face up to the Hell’s Kitchen challenge and compete against 14 other chefs, many who had more experience than the 25-year-old, Machamer had to draw from hard-won lessons in the trenches of the restaurant business.

Machamer started in the industry at the age of 16 at a Red Lobster restaurant. “It wasn’t really because I wanted to be a chef. It paid above the minimum wage, and they had free biscuits.”

Right from the start, the gauntlet was thrown down. “I started on a Saturday night during Lent, when we had 400 people a night.” The experience left her exhausted. “I went into the bathroom and started vomiting.”

Despite the challenges of a working in a corporate restaurant, she kept at it, even as a full-time pre-law student in Massachusetts, far from her native St. Louis. And while she can’t remember the name of every restaurant she’s worked at, she recalls working for at least 30 restaurants, often two at a time. When she learned everything about one role, she’d change positions. When she learned everything about a restaurant, she’d move to another one. “If I liked a restaurant, I’d stay there about a year and a half. They teach you everything you need to know.”

She returned to Missouri, and eventually had a falling-out with her aspirations of becoming a lawyer, and found a home in culinary arts. “The more I pursued [law], the less interested I was. The chances that I would ever be able to pursue constitutional law were limited. I couldn’t just graduate law school and change the world.” Still, she does not regret the change, finding herself much happier working with food and treating the world to her creations. “Maybe it’s not as important as politics, but I can see it does make an impact.”

Reaching out for new experiences was a habit instilled in Machamer early on. “That’s one thing I’ve been encouraged to do since I was young.” It’s a habit that dates back to games she used to play with her brother, when the two would try to settle who was most adventurous. “We tried to gross each other out and see who would eat fish eyes, bones, tails. You have to experience all those different things.”

While watching the third season of Hell’s Kitchen with her peers at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, the Harvard of culinary schools, she decided to give the show a shot and showed up for casting calls.

Despite having left the college life far behind, the background she had as a “dorm mother” proved to be a useful asset. When she was accepted and the contest began, she found herself living in close quarters with other chefs and grappled with the constant politicking that came with it. “It made it a lot easier to deal with. I was used to dealing with a lot of stress and things changing, and those stresses can really get in the way.”

In the kitchen, her and other hopefuls had to invent and perfect a menu in a matter of hours, where in the field, it would normally take days. And that’s not mentioning operating under the insult-frothing, entrée-lobbing auspice of Gordon Ramsay. But the ordeal was a proper introduction into the executive sous chef position that Machamer won. “I was surprised how similar the experience was [to being executive sous chef]. It’s not quite to the same degree, but the hours are long and the demand is the same.”

That’s not to say that Gordon Ramsay is always on his worst behavior. On the contrary, Machamer says her professional relationship is nothing like the reality show would suggest. He’s “just Gordon” to her at the restaurant.

“I got over that intimidation working in Hell’s Kitchen. One of the things he told me after the show as was ‘I’m so proud of you.’ Once you get over the fact that he’s this Michelin stared chef, he’s a real person. In the restaurant, he’ll ask about my boyfriend and mother. It’s a different relationship, it’s much better now.”

With her tenure at the restaurant nearly half complete, she’s plotting future adventures. She recently launched, also known as “Brown Chicken Brown Cow.” The business, which she runs with her chef boyfriend Cory Lemieux, offers up micro-batched specialty spices and recipes that put them to use. There’s also a cookbook in the works, and Machamer is considering starting her own restaurant. She sees no limits that adventurism can’t conquer. “The opportunities are endless.”

Note: Season six of Hell's Kitchen will premier at 8 p.m. ET, Tuesday, July 21 on the Fox network.


Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the first season. Really i'm in love of this show.Hell's Kitchen TV Show is one show that keeps the viewer interested. This is one cooking show that has creativity and drama.

Edogo said...

I think it's a very good reality show.I thought all these contestants on Hell's Kitchen Episodes were not serious pros.this show deals with fantastic job.I also Watch Hell's Kitchen Episodes online on and also have all episodes in download Format. Cool show!!