Thursday’s winner of “Hell’s Kitchen” will become head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s pub in Caesars Palace. Does that mean Ramsay has enough confidence in a reality-TV star to let her take over his kitchen?
“Yeah,” he told me late Thursday while standing next to her at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill.
“I’m not going to throw her into the deep end — there’s too much at risk. But we have a very talented stable” of chefs and cooks.
He says winner Ja’Nel Witt will shine there because she wields the necessary “level of ballsiness” to compete in this “dog eat dog” restaurant city.
Officially, Witt will answer to executive chef Jeremy Berlin when she moves here from Houston in mid-August.
Meanwhile, Ramsay (estimated to be worth more than $100 million) will be hard at work mostly elsewhere, managing dozens of restaurants around the world while starring in several TV shows.
If you think it’s crazy when Ramsay yells curse words at adults on TV, just wait for his next show.
“ ‘Junior MasterChef’ launches in two months’ time,” Ramsay told me. “And that’s 8 year olds.
“I have done something I had never done to an 8-year-old. I dropped them in it big time” by putting them behind the kitchen lines, he said.
“There will be parents out there who will think we have gone too harsh. But if the message is not getting through to the parents about how they are eating, then I’m going to target the kids because they can learn and then educate their parents.
“I’m going to be brutally honest and keep it real. That’s all I’ve managed to do.”
What advice does Ramsay have for his new head chef, whose last Vegas visit was nearly a decade ago for her 25th birthday?
“I don’t smoke, and I don’t gamble,” Ramsay said, then added: “Knuckle down. Learn the menu. And use this platform to make yourself look, sound and taste better.”
So who is Witt?
She was born on the Fort Hood military post and raised in nearby Copperas Cove, a Texas town of one high school and no mall. Her mom was a strength.
“She did a good job raising a strong, focused and determined daughter,” Witt told me.
Witt was a nerdy good student, but she had horrible vision as a child, so she became an optometry student. She watched Emeril Lagasse and Julia Child on TV, but she didn’t know “being a chef was attainable” until she moved to Houston, where she was exposed to a thriving restaurant scene.
She cooked in Thailand, and for NFL players as a personal chef, and she has been an executive chef.
Her boyfriend of three years, Waqas Syed, stood by her side at Thursday’s celebration. He will stay in Houston with his daughter and fly here monthly to see Witt, he told me.
Careerwise, Witt has a purpose in mind.
“My long-term goal is to turn this opportunity and this experience into a platform to launch me as a chef to compete with the chefs I look up to now,” she said. “I’ll be here as long as Vegas will keep me.”
One last thing. I asked Ramsay, who also stars in “Kitchen Nightmares,” to describe the biggest kitchen nightmare he’s experience at a Strip restaurant. He wouldn’t answer other than to say:
“If I had to tell you now about my kitchen nightmare experiences in Vegas, I’d probably get (expletive) shot.”
Doug Elfman’s column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.