July 4, 2010

Recipe: Hell’s Kitchen’s Chef Holli Ugalde

Author: Chris Perrin
Watch Chef Holli Ugalde on Hell's Kitchen

Watch Chef Holli Ugalde on Hell's Kitchen

Chef Holli Ugalde from Hell’s Kitchen

For some, greatness comes after years of hard work.  For others, greatness is thrust upon them by fate.  And for one special Chef, it came after a whole bunch of coffee and Red Bull.

Or so the story goes of how Chef Holli Ugalde earned her spot on Fox’s cooking reality television show, Hell’s Kitchen.  “I had never watched the show,” she said, but people kept telling her to try out and she kept saying no. 

But on the day of the audition, “I had the day off and I was bored,” she said.  So, like any champ, she woke up at the crack of dawn, stood in line for hours with resume and professional headshots in hand and then delivered a lengthy dissertation on cooking and food chemistry… okay, that’s not true. 

“I got loaded on coffee and Red Bull and showed up at like 4pm.  People had been there since 7 with books of head shots and menus they’d written.  I just went in and talked.”

Then she got a callback.  So, she got loaded on coffee and Red Bull again and went in and just talked about her life and what was going on in her relationship.  Then she got a place on the show.

Of course, then she watched the show and started to wonder what, exactly, she gotten herself into.  Well, as of July 6th, she has gotten herself three eliminations away from a black jacket and few weeks away from culinary history.

Now, she shares her thoughts on Hell’s Kitchen.

Cooking For Chef Gordon Ramsay

Before starting the show, Chef Holli thought working with Chef Gordon Ramsay was going to be terrifying…and that pretty much turned out to be accurate.  She had never dealt with anyone that “in your face.”

His attitude was infectious.  When she got back from the show, she got a job at a resort hotel with 900 acres of organic lavender.  In this pastoral setting, she was a terror of a head chef, shouting out orders, cursing out anyone who forgot, and earning the nickname Ramsay…  (At her new place, she swears she’s nice, which doesn’t mean she’s not going to the Savoy eventually.  There is, after all, a year-and-a-half gap between the filming of the show and when it aired.)

Did the Show Get Edited to Make it More Dramatic?

Surprisingly enough, Chef Holli says no.  (I figured the answer to that would be an emphatic “Yes.”)  Still, as she says, she did, in fact, say all of the stuff they put on the air.  (Well, she does admit to a little prompting from the show…)

If anything, Chef Holli says they calmed her down and cut out some of her vulgarity.   However, she doesn’t think the show kept her from looking like a ditz, but as she says “Yeah, it’s me.  Yeah, I say strange stuff, but I’m a ditz and I can cook, so it’s okay.”

What’s It Like Seeing Yourself on TV?

Without hesitation, Chef Holli said “It’s weird.”

But she doesn’t get the chance to enjoy it much, at least not on Tuesday nights.  She watches each of her shows at a big viewing party with a bunch of her friends (you can check out her Facebook page to see the pics.  Everyone looks like they’re having a good time.)  However, she does DVR the show so she can watch it the next day and wonder “did I really say that?”

DVRing also allowed her to notice a minor wardrobe malfunction in the last episode.  (“What was that?” she asks.)  Strangely enough, they don’t teach anything about how to handle that in culinary school.

Do You Have Any Regrets?

“Everyone thinks I am going to say the porn thing, but I’m not, because it’s true,” she says.  (Editor’s note: I didn’t think she was going to say that.  Just sayin’.)

Instead, she remembers on the first show that she said she can cook as well as everyone else, but she’ll just look better doing it.  “That’s so not me,” she says.  “I’m not conceited.”

(Editor’s note: On the other hand, if it’s true, it’s true.  I’m looking at you on this one, enitre blue team except Autumn.  Just sayin’.  Second editor’s note: I cleared that comment with my wife.)

The Raw Chicken Incident

In one of the episodes of Hell’s Kitchen airing June 29th, Chef Holli served raw chicken to Chef Ramsay, who responded with a fairly succinct summary of his feelings about the chicken and Chef Holli in general.  (And it actually was fairly succinct.  On the show she was only told to get a grip.  Had it been Fran, the tirade could have lasted for hours.)  It was only fair to give Chef Holli a chance to defend herself.

“It wasn’t that bad,” she says.  She thinks it would have been fine in another few seconds, but she didn’t want to serve dry chicken to Chef Ramsay.  That, too, would have lead to one of Ramsay’s infamous tirades.

The Ever-Changing Team

Then there was the subject of the constant additions to the red team (which seemed to have a run of bad luck in elimination challenges.)  “New people threw us for a loop, but we needed it,” she says. 

The red team was Chef Holli’s first experience with an all-female brigade.  Most of the kitchens she has worked in have been 95% male.  She admits having a guy on the red team cut down on the team’s tendency to go after each other.

Of course, the team would not have been constantly in flux if they had done better in elimination challenges.  Frankly, Chef Holli would have liked to have won more, but she actually saw an advantage in not winning the challenges.  She says “We had an advantage.  We were always in the kitchen and we got to know the product.”

Where You’ll See Chef Holli Next?

Well, if I had to guess, I’d say the Savoy in London, England.  (She didn’t say that, by any means, but it’s not that bad of a guess.)

Right now, she’s the executive chef at a top secret hotel in Palm Springs, California and she’s doing viewing parties every week.  She’s also working on a cookbook and a line of gelatos.  (Sneak peek: she has a commercial kitchen and is working on gelatos that mix sweet and savory together.)  She’s also traveling and doing culinary shows.

She also wants to open her own restaurant with a concept she calls “shabby chic.”  It will be small, intimate, comfy, but high class.  Reservations for three, please?

Ultimately, she was fun to chat about food with.  She’s really passionate about ingredients (ask about fennel, I dare you), eating locally, and her time on the show.  My only regret was I didn’t get to ask one question.

Halibut wrapped in a banana leaf… Indian, huh?  What part of India was that, exactly?

If you can’t get enough of Chef Holli, you can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or watch her on  YouTube.

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5 Responses to “Hell’s Kitchen’s Chef Holli Ugalde”

  1. Blog Well Done » Blog Archive » Gluten Free Update #2 Says:

    [...] of living gluten free more often, but last week was hectic, especially with having to interview Chef Holli Ugalde, write the interview, make sure FOX was cool with it, [...]

  2. Jason Fonceca Says:

    Insightful and refreshing. Could feel the love in this interview, and Holli seems really open and passionate about what she’s doing in life.

    Rock on :)

  3. Brad Says:

    Did she say “I love him.”? I was about to hurl. The blue haired goon that thinks so much about himself? So much for this season.

  4. Chef Holli Fan Says:

    @Brad I think she must be talking about her son, and it was edited to pump up the romance angle. At least I hope so.

  5. Chris Perrin Says:

    You know, she could have done a lot worse. :)Plus, it seems like things go straight south next week, so I am guessing it doesn’t work out so well.

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