When it comes to testing your skills against other opponents, taking things “to the next level” is a common proclamation for many competitors.
But a new cooking competition is really taking things to the next level, whether the competitors like it or not.
Star chef Gordon Ramsay is pitting home cooks, professional chefs, social media cooks and others in his new show “Next Level Chef,” where they compete on a set that is three-stories high with each floor containing a different kind of kitchen.
The top level is a chef’s dream kitchen, with the latest top-end equipment and best selection of ingredients. The middle level is akin to a true commercial kitchen where everything needed to create a restaurant quality meal is there for chefs to use.
The basement, well, that’s another story.
That’s where equipment may or may not work all that great, or where the ingredients may not be as plentiful and where no chef wants to end up for a challenge.
But for the winner, there isn’t just going to be the bragging rights of saying they are multi-level top chefs, because the top prize is $250,000.
And three local chefs are among the 15 competitors vying for the cash and the title of “Next Level Chef.”
The show debuts at 8 p.m. Jan. 2 on Fox, but before the series premiere, meet the locals competing on “Next Level Chef.”
The amateur chef will likely have one of the loudest and most enthusiastic cheering sections because during the day he makes a living as an AP science teacher at a middle school in San Bernardino, and his students are all ready to watch him on TV.
“They’re super excited, they’re all going to be watching. They know the exact date when it airs and I think they’re really excited about seeing it,” said Bethel, who was born in Brazil but has lived in Corona since the age of 6. And he credits his city with expanding his love for food.
“I was just always exposed to a lot of different types of foods since it’s a very diverse community so growing up I got to try a lot of different cuisines from all over the world,” he said.
While he never went to culinary school or held a job as a chef, Bethel was always into cooking and during the pandemic he began seriously cooking at home and eventually posting his skills on TikTok with how-to cooking videos, which got him noticed by show producers.
“I was totally nervous. I know I can make any dish happen but my competition were people who cook professionally,” he said. “So I knew I had to study and adapt and make things happen on the go but it was also exciting because I’m always down for competition.”
One of the toughest things about the show was having to be creative on the fly, he said.
“You just basically show up and they tell you what you’re going to be cooking. You can’t take any notes with you, it’s just basically what’s in your mind and your skills,” Bethel said.
Luckily for Bethel, his cooking style fit the show perfectly, since he had to quickly adapt to cook all sorts of dishes.
“The one thing I’m more interested in is trying new things all the time so I never really cook the same thing over and over again,” he said.
Despite not being a professional chef Bethel was proud to hold his own on the show thanks to his creativity and ability to adapt.
“Whatever I had in front of me I’m proud of what I was able to come up with,” he said.
Stephanie “Pyet” DeSpain
City: Santa Monica
Originally from Kansas City, DeSpain now lives in Santa Monica and after attending Le’Cole Culinaire in Kansas City she started a personal chef business called Pyet’s Plate in 2016. And during COVID-19 she began to post cooking videos online, which got the attention of the producers.
“My specialty is indigenous fusion foods, so I focus on my culture. I’m multicultural, Mexican American and Native American. So I’m super passionate about bringing both of my cultures into the food I create,” she said.
For DeSpain, one of the toughest things about the competition was having what she called “impostor syndrome.”
“I was thinking I shouldn’t be there. Everyone who was on the show is a phenomenal super talented chef and it was just about trying to figure out what your placement is there,” she said. “Most of the time I was there going into competition I had this impostor syndrome. So it was mainly getting that out of my own head and focusing on the task ahead was the most challenging part,” she said.
Trying to be creative on the fly was also pretty hard, she said, especially if you ended up in the bare-bones basement.
“That’s one thing I would have to say about the basement is that you have to be super creative because you’re not in a setting where everything is accessible to you. It really forces you to use your creative side because if you don’t have that you’re screwed.”
And as far as Ramsay in real life, what you see on TV is what you get in real life, she said.
“Yes, he is very intimidating in real life,” she said.
“He’s the real deal, he’s everything everyone thinks he is and more. He is kind and caring but he also means business.”
This O.C. native traded in the financial world for the kitchen when she decided to leave her career as an investment manager at Morgan Stanley two years ago to move to Japan and study French and Japanese cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu.
“I didn’t know if I would be excitedly happy doing that,” she said of her career in finance. “I truly believe that if we’re working 70 percent of our lives you should be doing something you truly are passionate about,” she said.
And it turned out to be a wise decision for the chef, who worked at places like Wolfgang Steakhouse before COVID-19 hit and she pivoted to becoming quite the popular star on Twitch, with close to 70,000 followers watching her cooking demos.
“A few of my followers sent me the link where Chef Ramsay was recruiting for the show and I ended up applying and got in,” she said.
But it wasn’t easy going from Twitch chef to competitive TV.
“I am a Twitch chef so when streaming you want to be as slow as possible so people can engage with you. The longer the streams are the more followers, the more engagement I get,” she said. “To be told I had to cook things quickly rather than as slowly as possible was a big change.”
Besides testing her skills and possibly winning a ton of money, Wang also had a particularly poignant reason for wanting to be on the show.
“I talk about this on my Twitch a lot but I have anxiety and ADHD and so I really struggle in high-pressure situations. So I really wanted to show that even if you do struggle with these mental disabilities you could still thrive,” she said.
“It was exceedingly nerve-wracking, it is kind of terrifying. Chef Ramsay is one of my heroes and the reason I wanted to become a chef, a lot of it was inspired by top chefs like him. So it was incredible to be in his presence,” she said.
“I’m just happy that I was able to work with Chef Ramsay and I didn’t just keel over and die,” she added with a chuckle.