By Jeff Bahr
Chef Justin Antiorio, 30, of Lyndhurst, has kept his hometown in the forefront ever since he entered Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen with 17 other hopefuls to compete for top cooking honors and a grand prize for which any chef would drool.
The sous chef has weathered countless challenges and surmounted numerous obstacles to make it into the top two. On this night he would learn if his quest would take him all the way to the coveted grand prize: a head chef position with a quartermillion dollar annual salary at Gordon Ramsey’s new restaurant in Las Vegas. Actually, that’s misleading. We viewers would learn the final outcome. Filming wrapped in June 2011 and the contestants have kept the results hush, hush – no small feat.
To use a food metaphor, Antiorio’s quest wouldn’t be a cake-walk. Co-finalist Christina Wilson, 32, of Philadelphia, has been hungering for the win as much as Antiorio. And her cooking prowess has proved to be at least on par with Antiorio’s.
For the finale, the duo would compete as head chefs during a dinner service. Each would lead a team of cooks comprised of former contestants eliminated from earlier episodes. Antiorio would lead the blue team and Wilson the red. Each would serve an appetizer and entrée course to assembled guests –a varied group featuring the dueling chefs– family members. After the meal, diners would record their opinions of the food and service on comment cards. Chef Ramsay would take these into consideration before rendering his final decision.
As the show progressed it became obvious that neither competitor was going to run away with the title. This would be a real fight – right down to the wire! The grand finale would also contrast the leadership styles of each chef. Antiorio, much like Ramsay, barked out orders to his team members, while Wilson took a more laissez-faire approach by telling her team that she wouldn’t answer to the title of chef during the dinner service – they were all in this thing together.
Both teams made their share of mistakes and suffered setbacks, but both managed to get things back on track. As the end neared and frustration set in, Wilson’s laid back persona suddenly changed. This was for all the marbles and she let her team know it in a spirited tone.
At the end of the dinner service, Chef Ramsay congratulated both contestants for their “amazing” job and set off for his office where he would make his final decision.
As he pondered who would win, he recalled Antonio’s unmatched palette – that he was in fact the only contestant ever to register a perfect score during blind taste tests. He also recalled that some of Wilson’s dishes were among the best that he’d tasted. Hmm…
Each contestant stood before separate doors during the moment of truth. One of these was locked and one wasn’t. The contestant fortunate enough to stand before the unlocked door would be this year’s champion. After Ramsay issued a short countdown he directed the contestants to turn their knobs. Three, two, one, twist… And the winner is: Christina Wilson! Justin Antiorio of Lyndhurst was the proud runner-up.
Although disappointed by the outcome, Antiorio was quite generous with his praise for Wilson and said that he had no regrets.
“When I turned the knob and the door didn’t open, my heart dropped,” said Antiorio of the big moment. “
Although I was upset, because like every other person in the world no one wants to lose, I remember Chef Ramsay telling me to hold my head high because I had nothing to be ashamed of and at that time it hit me; I had given everything I could during my time in Hell’s Kitchen …
As I got closer and closer to the final competition I was at peace with the fact that I have God-given talent as a chef and that I will always be focused on making food that people love to eat and I will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.”
As for Antiorio’s hopes for the future, you might say that he has concocted a very tasty plan.
“I truly feel I demonstrated that I am an accomplished and skilled chef and am ready to run my own kitchen and show my leadership skills on my own terms,” said Antiorio. “Chef Ramsay was a great influence for me and I learned a lot from him. But, to be honest, I am more than ready to move forward and to take everything I learned and use it in life and in the kitchen of my own restaurant someday soon. Thank you to all my family and friends who supported me throughout the entire Hell’s Kitchen experience – especially all of my New Jersey people! You haven’t heard the last from me.”