One of my favorite food competition shows is back January 7th! Season 19 of Hell’s Kitchen returns to Fox TV and for the first time the setting will be in Las Vegas! 18 chefs from around the country will be competing for a chance to win head chef position at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen in Lake Tahoe.
One of the 18 competing chefs is Chicago’s own Chef Amber Lancaster. Amber was a chef in Chicago for many years before recently wrapping up her job at Sable Kitchen and Bar and relocating to Montclair, New Jersey. I had a chance to talk to Amber about the hardships facing the restaurant industry, mental health, and of course about season 19 of Hell’s Kitchen. Either read on below or Piss Off! (Those who watch Hell’s Kitchen get that last sentence 🙂 ).
Tavi J. One on One Interview with Chef Amber Lancaster
Congrats for being a contestant on Season 19 of Hell’s Kitchen! This was the first time the show was filmed in Vegas. What was your experience like?
It was very exciting being on Hell’s Kitchen! It was a big surprise and a shock to all of us that it was going to be in Vegas. We really didn’t have any idea till the first episode. It was a very intense and exciting environment to be in. Vegas has all these great talented high profile chefs and restaurants. Hell’s Kitchen is already very fast pace and filming in Vegas took it to another level.
Were you guys filming during Covid?
No we filmed a year and a half ago.
I’m sure a lot of Hell’s Kitchen fans want to know if Hell’s Kitchen is a real depiction of what it’s like in the kitchen? And is Chef Gordon Ramsay personality the same in real life?
We’re chefs and that atmosphere is pretty normal in the heat of the moment. It’s a business and we’re not there to party. We’re there to produce results and to cook great food. In regards to Chef Ramsay…he is… you know he’s a Chef on camera and off camera. I would say he’s very similar but he’s very very sweet and very kind. What you see in the kitchen is viewed differently in the eyes of people at home that don’t experience kitchen life on a daily basis. For those of us that are on the line with him it’s a very normal atmosphere and whether or not the cameras are rolling he’s just Chef Ramsay and he’s wonderful.
Previously you were at Sable Kitchen and Bar in Chicago. What do you think you brought to this season of Hell’s Kitchen being a Chicagoan?
Having been in Chicago for the last ten years I was able to have a little bit of everything from that great town in my background. I would say it help me be a stronger competitor on the show. Some of the best Chefs in the world are from the big city of Chicago. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of competition already on a daily basis with all of the great restaurants and great hotels. So, for me it almost made me feel more comfortable going into that type of environment in Vegas because I spent the majority of the last decade in Chicago preparing myself for whatever was next.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background before working at Sable Kitchen and Bar?
Originally I went to school at Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Then I decided that I wanted to work for anybody in France if I could. I couldn’t get a work visa in France, but I was able to petition the French government in order to get a student visa and I went to school at Le Cordon Bleu. I went to the original old campus in Paris where Julia Child went. It was very invigorating being there. After that I was able to get a work visa and I stayed there for two years. I then ended up coming to Chicago because I wanted to work for what was one of my favorite American Chefs at one of the greatest restaurants in the world Alinea.
This year we’ve been dealing with a lot in society with diversity, gender, mental health, and quarantine related to Covid. How do you feel all those issues have directly affected the restaurant industry?
I think in regards to the restaurant industry obviously the impact on the business is intense. I feel like there’s this light that’s cast on the restaurant industry in regards to restrictions that aren’t cast on other industries. For example with outdoor dining we were told you can’t do it, but movie/film production industries have outdoor dining set up for movie productions. I feel like there’s a lot of double standards. There was a lot of blame placed on the restaurant industry, but the reality of the situation is if you’re following the guidelines and the protocols (which we do to a tee here where I’m at in Montclair, New Jersey) we should be allowed to operate.
In regards to mental health that’s something that has been very very hard to experience. A lot of my chef friends are out of work and are moving in with their parents. It’s this very… I don’t even know the appropriate word to put on it… but you know it’s just sad. Some of the best Chefs in Chicago at great restaurants have left Chicago because the restaurants are shut down and they can’t hang you know. Mental health takes a toll on everyone. Even here in MontClair some of my cooks are living with their parents and they want to move out but can’t due to uncertainty. We might have limited hours and operations are just on a different level due to capacity. I don’t want our industry to lose cooks and people that are passionate about this field. You really have to fight if you’re going to be in this industry right now and to not lose your passion.
Hopefully the restaurant industry will be able to bounce back once the pandemic is over. With that can you tell us about any future plans you have? I know you’re in New Jersey currently working at the MC Hotel. What does the future hold for you?
I’m looking forward to building a community in MontClair like I had in Chicago. In Chicago I was used to being very involved in the community and with local chefs in town doing offsites and events. I really miss that because that’s how all of us chefs really got to know each other. We’re all typically tied to our restaurants and never really get out and about as much as we would like. Being alive in the community and having a presence is very big for me as a Chef. I’m also looking forward to seeing who keeps their passion alive. A lot of people are taking pay cuts. I feel like it will show the people who were really in it to be in it versus the people who were just doing it as a job. Those of us where this is our passion are in it whatever happens. In the end it will be nice to see who’s left. It’s heartbreaking for the independent restaurants right now and that’s the part that’s definitely been the hardest to watch because they just don’t have any support and they can’t sustain their business.
Last question. What should we be looking forward to for Season 19 of Hell’s Kitchen? What sets this season apart from the rest?
I can’t give out any spoilers but having watched every season of Hell’s Kitchen this season brings a very interesting dynamic with the casting. We’re all very close with each other, all very competitive, and very supportive of one another. Obviously with it being in Vegas it’s been different from what you’ve seen in previous seasons because the challenges, rewards, and punishments are on an entirely different level.
Tune in to the New Season of Hell’s Kitchen on Fox TV
Thursday nights at 7pm Central Time!
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