Trial by Fire

Local chef Steve Glenn competes on “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns.”

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Gordon Ramsay possesses a kind of manic, brilliant energy that has landed him 75 hours of annual programming for Fox, a global network of 35 restaurants and a net worth of $70 million.

Some call him a bully, some simply call him a businessman. No matter what you think of the Michelin-starred, no-bullshit celebrity toque, you’ve likely watched him berate red-faced chefs on his hit reality show, “Hell’s Kitchen.”

The high-stakes competition is meant to emulate the real-life stress chefs face when churning out fine dining fare in a fast-paced environment. But is the action playing out on the staged kitchen set in front of lights, cameras and crew really as tense as it seems?

“Honestly, going into it the thing that surprised me is how legit ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is – it’s the real deal,” says Richmond chef Steve Glenn. “Nothing is scripted, you are working for Gordon Ramsay and if you're messing up his food, his reputation is on the line. If you don’t mess up his food, he won’t bother you.”

Season 20 of Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” subtitled “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns,” premieres this Memorial Day and features 18 chefs – all younger than 25 – from around the country.

The season was shot in 2019 in Las Vegas, where a Hell’s Kitchen Caesars Palace location opened in January 2018. Glenn, who was only 21 years old at the time of filming, says he discovered the small-screen opportunity “completely randomly.”

“I was scrolling on Twitter one day and I came across this post that said ‘If you just turned 21, we’re looking for you,’” Glenn says. When he followed the link for the 13-page “Hell’s Kitchen” application, he initially balked at the length and detail required. “But then I thought about it over the next couple of hours and decided to do it.”

Two hours later, “Hell’s Kitchen” reps gave him a call.

The Richmond native says he’s always been a fan of the show. “As soon as I got social media one of the first people I followed was Gordon Ramsay,” Glenn says. “I wanted to know what he was doing: He’s always been a role model.”

Glenn, who says his favorite thing to cook in his downtime is his special recipe shrimp and grits – “it’s therapeutic” – attended culinary school at the prestigious Johnson & Wales in Charlotte before working at Richmond Country Club. Today, he runs his own private chef business that he launched in 2020.

Now only 23, Glenn was well-prepared for the stress of running his own business, global pandemic and all. “When you sign on to ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ you live and breathe it,” he says. “The second you wake up you’re doing challenges, you’re prepping stuff. It’s 16- to 18-hour days, everyone is tired all the time, which obviously puts people on edge.”

Pitting 18 young, passionate, sleep-deprived chefs against each other in a hot, cramped kitchen sounds like a recipe for disaster – and burned bridges. But Glenn says he’s been in touch with all of the other competitors since their season ended, finding their camaraderie especially helpful during quarantine.

“We all went through the same thing with the show, and we couldn’t talk to anyone about it due to confidentiality so it was good to have them, we were all pretty much open about everything, we didn’t hold anything back,” he explains.

Glenn says the pressure during the competitions would sometimes get to him – it gets to everyone. But he appreciated the way Ramsay pushed the young chefs and understands why Ramsay is the way he is.

“You have to be able to adapt,” he says. “It’s one thing to be a good cook or even to be an amazing cook, but to be a good chef who can work in a restaurant, you have to be an amazing cook in half the amount of time. And what you produce has to be really good. “

“Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns,” debuts at 8 p.m. Monday, May 31, on Fox. Book an event with chef Steve at thechefsteve.com.