Deck the halls with bells of garlic. Well, not exactly.
While ice skaters were shivering outside the J.W. Marriott in downtown Los Angeles, a group descended inside at The Mixing Room for the eighth season finale of Hell’s Kitchen. Chef Kerry Simon, known as the “rock ‘n’ roll chef” hosted a viewing party for 200 foodies. Two finalists, Russell Kook and Nona Sivley, battled it out for the $250,000 gig as head chef at Kerry’s eatery, L.A. Market, the in-house J.W. Marriott restaurant.
In February, Simon debuted this restaurant as part of the culinary renaissance and redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles. He also runs Simon L.A. in the Sofitel Hotel, as well as chic eateries in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
Instant celebrity, 30-year old Sivley, started to feel the side-effects of instant TV fame just as a contestant.
“I get stopped in the supermarket all the time.”
She had to keep the secret that she was “the chosen one” from loved ones.
Now life changes quickly and her family plans a move to L.A. on the 1st of the year. We nabbed the first interview after the show.
“I’ve been living my normal life, working the line at Chops Lobster Bar in Atlanta”, said the sweet Southern belle. “They have been letting me become familiar with all the stations so I could become a sous there.”
So much for plans!
The chef does not seem affected by her win, even though she had nine months to get used to it.
“It’s kind of exciting,” she says.
After the final show aired, she was able to go back to Georgia to say goodbyes to loved ones. But instead of unwrapping Christmas gifts, she was packing possessions for her L.A. move.
“We’re looking at apartments now,” she said. “I’ve cooked all my life and would have to cook dinner for my sister, who was 10 years younger, because my Mom worked. I’d experiment in the kitchen and would dibble and dabble. Professionally, I’ve just been doing it for several years.”
The young chef excels in Southern, Southwestern and Italian cuisines. She probably won’t have a problem whipping up upscale meals at L.A. Market.
Nona and husband Curtis have been married for five years and have an infant son. Because he wanted her to follow her dream in the culinary profession, Curtis became a stay-at-home dad, when the baby, who turns two in February, was a few months. The duo met in college when she was studying pre-law.
“I got half way through and decided it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I literally woke up one day and said, cooking is what I want to do professionally.”
We couldn’t imagine this sweet young gal working with Hell’s Kitchen’s Gordon Ramsay (not present at the party), who has a difficult reputation.
“He’s just like he is on TV,” she said. “That’s really how a lot of the chefs are. In the kitchen, it’s a battle. Outside of the kitchen, he is amazing. Let’s just say, a lion in the kitchen, but a lamb outside.
“The show was more stressful than I could ever imagine. It was so intense. But I was doing this for my family and to make a better life for my child. I made a conscious effort not to think about the stress because I knew I would dwell and it would destroy me. I stayed focused.”
Sue Facter writes about all things A-list for publications worldwide. Follow her on Twitter @TheFacter.