Chef Kristin Barone: A Fascinating Look Into Hell’s Kitchen & Beyond

by | Jul 6, 2016 | Interviews | 0 comments

Introducing Kristin Barone

With 3.5 million people watching your every move, could you cook at your very best? Furthermore, could you describe the entire experience as feeling “normal?”

Well, that’s exactly what happened for Kristin Barone as she plowed her way through Season 15 of Hell’s Kitchen. As you’ll read below, she treated her time on the show as her chosen job, gave everything she had, and felt a sense of normalcy in the process.

Our questions were targeted to find out what her reality cooking show experience was like and to hear her thoughts as she scratched the surfaced of becoming a celebrity chef.

What you’ll read in her interview is how she began her career, her initial thoughts of Hell’s Kitchen, how she got on the show, a day in the life while shooting, surprises along the way, and advice for anyone striving for success in the industry today.

Let’s get started!

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Kristin’s Best Advice

First Industry Experience

When I was a kid, I would go with my dad as he renovated old buildings into restaurants. One time, there was a sushi restaurant opening as a fine dining establishment. During that renovation, I learned how to make sushi. I was about ten years old that time.

It was funny because I would barely eat anything but chicken fingers and chocolate shakes, but here I was making and eating sushi.

With my dad being a single father and not having anyone to watch me, he would bring me to the jobs sites, and I was introduced to the industry first that way.

From there I grew into a pretty bad teenager. Around 18-19 years old I wasn’t doing great. With not even being old enough to drink, I was under house arrest for drunk driving.

At that time, I met a manager of a restaurant. After he heard me complaining about not having anything one day, he offered me a job. It was a waitress position at a breakfast restaurant.

Since it worked around the restrictions of my house arrest, I worked there for about eight months. And the entire time I was there, they could never keep me out of the kitchen. That’s kind of where my inspiration really began.

While on house arrest and working at the restaurant, I got into cooking shows and started diving into my dad’s cookbooks – he was a great gourmet cook for us. It was around that time when I spoke to my probation officer about going to culinary school. He agreed to the idea, so I applied to a school in Chicago, got accepted, and started my journey.

Lessons Early in Your Career

When I look back, I can say I was very, very determined. I was enthralled with what the kitchen had to offer – it always impressed me.

The cooks were always screaming, always angry, and as a rebellious teenager I thought it was great! It was something I wanted to be involved in at all times.

I always became really good friends with the chefs. They would look at me like a baby sister. They always explain things to me, took me under their wings and showed me things.

After I embraced the fact I needed to do something with my life, I embraced that culinary was something that always felt close to me – it all just made sense.

I feel like I learned that early on in my career.

“Go to culinary school, get your basics. Always strive to do better. Seek out to learn. Go in the world and get your feet wet as soon as possible.”

Kristin Barone

Importance of Mentorship

Mentorship is very important, especially in this industry. I’ve had many mentors in the past 10 years.

As I was finishing culinary school, I wanted to do something drastic and get out of Chicago. I decided on an internship in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The executive chef there, Chef Vishu, singled me out after about two weeks, took me off production prep and tossed me on the line. Immediately, I excelled. It was high volume, non-stop and I flourished.

At the time, I was so rebellious with no sort of maturity or refinement. My attitude was horrible, but I was a really good cook. So at the end of the season, he offered to send me to the Florida Keys to his mentor, Chef Jimmy.

Chef Jimmy ended up being like a dad to me. He was really great to me and taught me all sorts of things, even though I was arrogant back then. And I went through a lot of growing pains.

One of the best lessons for me was when Chef Vishu offered for me to return to Wyoming. However, instead of just giving me the job back, he made me fight for the position. That period was a turning point for me, because not long after I was the lead manager at a 300-seat fine dining establishment. It taught me to work hard for my position and not have a sense of entitlement.

Another thing that helped me is when my mentors would teach me all the parts of my position and question me every day, all the time. To the point I would even question myself. It was helpful because it taught me to look at things in different ways. I think this is why mentorship is so powerful.

Finding a Mentor

I believe it comes down to personality and communication. I think it’s something that naturally that comes. You cannot force it. You cannot seek out Gordon Ramsay and just say he’s going to be your mentor.

I consider Christina Wilson, from Hell’s Kitchen, my mentor. She has guided me, but let’s me make my own choices because she trusts me to do the right thing. She’s an inspiration because she works really hard and she’s sacrificed in order to do what she does.

I feel a sense of gratuity is owed to her for taking me under her wing.  She tells me when I’m wrong, or stupid, but she does it in a way that I learn; almost to a point where she can look at me and I know what she wants.

Mentors become companions because of the loyalty and the trust, you don’t choose one, but when you develop a bond with someone, it’s out of mutual respect.  I’m forever grateful for all of mine, all very specific at each point in my growth as a cook.

A “Recipe for Success” in the Culinary Industry

I would say, go to culinary school, get your basics. Always strive to do better. Seek out to learn. Go in the world and get your feet wet as soon as possible.

Personally, I regret not getting my feet wet right away. I bartended through culinary school to pay my fees. I didn’t get into kitchens until I was doing my internship. I think the best thing you can do is explore. And do so without being afraid.

Another important piece is to be humble. No matter what, have a great attitude and be humble. And if you have an ego, then get rid of it quickly. You can never have an ego; this is not Hell’s Kitchen. You cannot tell to someone to f*** off and think that’s okay.

Don’t fight with anyone. You can learn something from everyone. Whether it’s the person next to you who’s been there a day or the person who’s been there for five years. Also, you have to understand that someone always knows more than you.

Initial Thoughts of Hell's Kitchen

Starting from when I was in culinary school, there were open auditions for Hell’s Kitchen. As I mentioned before, I was rebellious and I wasn’t the blonde you see now, and especially not an “adult!”

My chefs were like, “Oh, you should totally try out!” And I was like, “Absolutely not!”

Initially, I thought it was totally selling out. So that was my initial thoughts about Hell’s Kitchen. It was a complete sellout to go on the show.

But of course, that changed…

Trying Out for Hell's Kitchen

There was a time period that was rough for me, specifically while I was going through a divorce. At that time, my sister-in-law would watch the show. I would always say, “I would never do that show.”

Then I started watching, and one day some friends urged me to try out for the show. So I literally said, “whatever, I have nothing to lose.”

At that point, I was trying to get my life back together and working to figure out my next move.

So I applied for the show and suddenly the next day they called! At first, I took it as a joke. I thought, “you’ve got to be kidding me, right?!?”

Then, after some interviews and flying back and forth to LA, they wanted me to come on the show. And that’s how it happened, just like that.

“Some people may consider you as being weak, but if you’re really good, you’ll shine through with your abilities. Clearly, I stayed quiet in the beginning, and I didn’t turn out weak.”

Kristin Barone

Beginning of the Show

At first, they take away your phone. You’re not able to talk to anybody. There’s no Wi-Fi. There’s no internet. There are no computers. It’s basically like you’re in lock down.

Honestly, at that point, I really didn’t care. All I wanted to do was win, so I didn’t think of anything else. 

It was a little strange in the beginning being around 17 other people in a house. It’s hard and very intimidating to be around that many people. Everyone has an ego, it doesn’t feel right, but at the same time within about a week you become accustomed to everyone.

The most important thing to me was to stay focused and to be quiet. Seriously, just stay focused and be quiet. That was the only thing that I could think of.

I remember drinking a lot of coffee and treating every day like it was a job. I kept focusing on doing my job as best I could. And whatever I did, I just tried not to piss Gordon off.

In the mornings, I would get up early, make coffee, and get ready for work. When I started thinking about it like that, it helped me.

A Day in the Life on the Show

We were basically living on a sound stage. If you drove past it, you wouldn’t know it was anything, maybe you’d think it was just a warehouse. When you entered it, you had the restaurant, kitchen and back hallways and rooms.

It was like a big giant flat, like a big awesome house decorated beautifully. They separated the boys and the girls by blue and red, but we all hung out together.

None of the walls connected to the ceiling and most of the mirrors were double mirrors. I was always very careful of this. All the bathrooms and showers were free of cameras of course. But when you’re doing your makeup in certain areas, it’s a double sided mirror. Again, I was always very, very careful of this.

There was “someone” who used to walk around the house naked (chuckling). And all of us were like, “are you serious?” There were literally cameras everywhere!

During the down time, everyone was just trying to hang and figure out personalities. So we played games amongst ourselves and began to click a little bit.

A day in the life was very boring when you weren’t in the kitchen.

What some people don’t realize is that dinner service could be at 11:00 in the morning, or could be at 6:00 at night. We never really knew, so for us to gauge what’s going on every day, it was difficult. The only certainty was the lights came on at 7:00 in the morning.

“In this industry, I don’t think anything is given. Everything is worked for. Nobody owes you anything. You earn it all.”

Kristin Barone

Handling the Stress & Pressure

Something weird happened with me; I just started to feel normal there.

Of course, it was stressful, especially as someone who deals with chronic anxiety. While I was there, I basically dealt with the stress by giving it everything I had and not caring about anything else. Oddly enough, my chronic anxiety went away. Honestly, to drink caffeine and not have an anxiety attack, it was strange.

I was able to go on the challenges and not panic. I just kind of honed in on what I wanted to do. I wanted to succeed and do a great job.

That’s definitely one of the only times in my life, in the past five years at least, that I can say it happened that way. I cannot explain it. What I realized is that when you’re under a whole lot of stress, you just have to learn to deal with it, and that’s what I did.

I just looked at it like it was game time every day.

Advice for Future Contestants

My best advice is to stay very, very quiet in the beginning. Everyone has an ego, so stay humble.

For me, I think all the way through episode five, I stayed very quiet. I wasn’t doing great in challenges, but I wasn’t doing horribly either. I was getting used to the environment and trying to figure out people.

Then, after you stay quiet and get a feel, just release yourself like a beast. If you’re really good, you’ll know when the time comes and you just let it all go.

Some people may consider you as being weak, but if you’re really good, you’ll shine through with your abilities. Clearly, I stayed quiet in the beginning, and I didn’t turn out weak.

Life After Hell's Kitchen

Obviously, I was there until the end, and I got accustomed to that routine. When it ended I was freaked out a little going home because I didn’t have all of that structure. I was like, “Oh s***, what do I do?” So I just went straight into work mode, got a job right away and started settling back into a routine.

Nothing really made a difference until the end of December when the show and cast were announced. And all the sudden, my social media started going crazy. It actually freaked me out a little bit, and my boyfriend too.

Basically, for a year and a half everything was quiet, and then to just get hit with all that attention, it was crazy. Most people don’t realize the time between taping the show, airing the show, and then progressing through it all.

As each episode aired, it was definitely weird to see how people became more and more in tune with me. Then to see what people say on social media after only seeing 42 minutes, when in reality there were thousands of minutes behind each episode.

That’s something you’re not really prepared for – to see the editing. Not that I’m holding anything against the editors, it’s just crazy to see.

Some people on the show were getting pissed about how things were being shown and some edited out. But me, I always would say “be nice, be really nice to the producers.” Don’t ever be an a**hole or diva, just be nice to them and they’re going to put you in a good light.

All in all, my life has been amazing. I think it’s great to be recognized, but the past year and a half I’ve just been continuing to work hard. The show doesn’t ultimately define me. Yes, it’s great being an inspiration to people, but you still have to balance having a normal life.

I kind of have to put it all aside and just appreciate the opportunities that I have since the show.

In all reality, being a “celebrity chef” is not everything. It’s fun for a minute, but it’s exhausting, and it’s really not realistic. I would never trade that for being in a kitchen; day to day and getting dirty.

I think a really big misconception is that you have a glamorous life after you’re on the show, or as a celebrity chef. Maybe Gordon Ramsay does, but it’s something he earned through time.

You don’t just get on the show, and then your life is just on automatic. It’s a lot of hard work.

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