What started as a joke between friends turned into Natalie Blake’s big break when she was chosen to be one of 18 contestants on the upcoming season of the Fox reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“I saw a poster at my school for open auditions. I told my friends I would try out almost as a joke because I never thought I’d be chosen,” said Blake.
Cooking wasn’t exactly something Blake grew up doing. In fact, she didn’t really start cooking until she got her first apartment. “I wasn’t allowed to cook. My grandma had the kitchen on lockdown. The first dish I remember making was a boxed macaroni and cheese. It was terrible.”
That being said, a culinary career was not in her original plans. “I was in college pre-med. I started to realize it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wasn’t having fun,” she said. “I would watch a lot of cooking shows, and cooking became therapeutic, so I dropped out and enrolled into culinary school.”
Fast forward to Blake’s “Hell’s Kitchen” auditions. “After I tried out, they made me wait a long time to find out if I made the show — two months. After a while, I kind of got down, thinking I wasn’t going to get it. When I did get the call, it was surreal,” she said.
Blake was a fan of the show prior to filming. “I used to watch it all the time, until I got busier at work.”
Having watched the show, Blake had her share of excitements and concerns about being on it. She looked forward to the chance to work with host Chef Gordon Ramsay and learn from him as well as the other contestants. In fact, she had nothing but good things to say about Ramsay despite his mean portrayal on the show.
“He puts on a good show,” she said. “He is super talented, very realistic and honest. He would talk to us about the importance of making mistakes and learning from them. He’s also very family oriented.”
On the other hand, Blake was worried about co-existing with people she had never met. Having to deal with the conflicting personalities in a stressful environment, with no support system, was not something she was looking forward to.
At 23, her age also was something to consider. “I went in figuring I’d be one of the youngest. I knew I was going to have to work harder to prove myself. I competed like I was equally as good as all the other chefs, I never let my age affect me.”
According to Blake, the culinary profession is male dominated. Her advice to other young female chefs is to never act inferior. “You can’t go into your profession thinking you’re the underdog. You have to go in thinking you’re the best,” she said.
So is there a future for Blake in reality television? “I don’t regret doing the show. It was a stepping stone for my career, but I don’t think reality television is something I’m cut out for,” she said.
Blake says she learned a lot on the show. “I was always so critical of the chefs on it, but you don’t realize the kind of pressure they are under. I now understand that the mistakes made have nothing to do with talent,” she said. “Being 23 and being thrown into this situation made me stronger in the kitchen. My technique improved. I had to use my imagination a lot more because I had to think on my feet, use ingredients I’d never used before. It was a huge learning experience.”
As far as season nine of “Hell’s Kitchen” is concerned, Blake says it has a lot of twists. “There’s a lot of things you’ve never seen before,” she said.
She will be watching the premiere with her family and friends at Beaumont Inn. “It’s been hard not to share what I went through on the show with them, but I also want to let them and everyone else experience the show for themselves.”
Tune in at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox TV to watch Blake and the other contestants battle it out.