Exclusive Interview: Colleen Cleek of 'Hell's Kitchen'
Exclusive Interview: Colleen Cleek of 'Hell's Kitchen'
Meghan Carlson
Meghan Carlson
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
From the very beginning of Hell's Kitchen 5, we knew Colleen Cleek, a41-year-old cooking instructor from Nebraska, would be a main target of Chef Gordon Ramsay's trademark fury. Who could forget when she offered to teach him some manners as he spit out her Signature Dish? Through five grueling dinner services, Colleen took verbal slashing after another for her mistakes, and was put up for elimination more than once. Just the site of her gave the Chef a headache, he quipped. While no one expected Cleek to survive for long in Hell's Kitchen under that wrath, the twist came last night when, after an all-around dismal dinner service, she managed to escape nomination for the chopping block thanks to J's and Andrea's botched Beef Wellingtons. And then, in a characteristic display of his powers as host, critic, judge and jury, Ramsay rejected the teams' choices and sent Colleen home instead for her blunder-filled track record on his show.

We had a chance to talk to Colleen about what it's like to watch yourself being yelled at on national television (with your kids in the room), how she kept such a positive attitude in Hell's Kitchen, and how her cooking business is doing now.

Read on for the full transcript and audio from the interview.

This is Meghan with BuddyTV and I’m on the phone with Colleen from Hell’s Kitchen. How are you doing this morning?

I’m doing well. I’m doing really well.

Okay! Well, I thought I’d start out by asking you why you decided to try out for Hell’s Kitchen.

I decided to try out for Hell’s Kitchen because at my culinary school, I teach a Boot Camp. It’s called the Culinary Boot Camp series. And when I read the fax that was sent to the culinary school, they said, “Come try out for Gordon Ramsay’s Boot Camp, and I thought, “Oh, how appropriate.” If I could go, and I could learn from Chef Gordon Ramsay, I could come back and I could teach at my Boot Camp much better, and be a more well rounded chef. So I thought it was kind of funny, and I was flashing it around, seeing if any of my students want to join, saying, “Does anybody wanna go? What about you, Chef? Do you wanna go?” They all laughed and said, “Are you kidding?” The more I thought about it, the more I almost took it as a challenge. And I went to a casting call in Chicago, and I took my show with me. It’s called the Classy Gourmet Show. And as soon as I got inside I plugged in my computer and I started playing the show, and I basically entertained the hundreds of applicants that were standing in line, and it just went from there. And I thought never in a million years would they take me. And… they did! I was shocked.

Once you got on the show, what did you think of the overall experience? Was it anything like you expected?

Oh yeah. It was a lot like I expected. I expected it to be hellish. I mean, it got its name for a reason. And I did a little research since I wasn’t a fan of the show. But what I could get at that point in time was little snippets, four-minute snippets. We’ve come a long way, online video-wise, and the ability to have larger videos online now, so now you can watch the whole show. But when I got on, and I started researching it, most of my research led me towards his books. And he’s a fabulous cookbook writer, and he has some great little videos out. But I wasn’t a fan of the show, so I didn’t watch the show. I was a little bit taken when I got there and saw the immensity and how fast-paced and how long and hard we were going to work, day after day after day. So that part of it was definitely a shock. You know, not being able to eat on a regular basis, working so hard, and being yelled at, especially myself with a target on my head. You know, non-stop, constant criticism just wears you down as a person. So that part I did not anticipate. I did not anticipate it being so hard on my family as well. You know, because I was gone for a long period of time. So it was… it was interesting!

So what’s it like being home and watching yourself, with your family, on TV, taking beatings like that?

Oh my gosh, it’s like, freak out, man! I can’t believe it! I watch, and I am so worried, because I have an 11-year-old, a 16-year-old, and a 17-year-old, and I’m like, “Ugh! Are they going to start yelling at me like him? Are they gonna not take me seriously anymore?” Because, you know, I’m a mom. And they’re more emotional than I am. They’re like, “Oh, don’t say that about my mom!” “Oh, I can’t believe he did that to you!” And I just have to tell them, “Honey, it’s for entertainment. The world watches it, you know. Don’t let anybody tell you who you are. You know who you are. You know, don’t get beat down by what others think. Be yourself, be true, be consistent, be honest, but don’t let him or anyone else tell you that you’re not good at what you do. Especially if you know you’re good at it. Practice hard, learn well, go for it.”

Well that’s a great attitude, and I know Ramsay respected you for having that positive attitude throughout the whole thing.

Well I hope so! Because he surely didn’t respect my food!

Do you think he singled you out more than you deserved?

Well I don’t know that I didn’t deserve it! As soon as he realized that I wasn’t going to cry, crack or even waver, I think that it became a game, you know, an additional game. Him just pounding on me, knowing that he’s going to get a little bit of a rile, I’m going to defend myself, but I’m not going to cross the line that he was crossing. So I think that he thought that was pretty cool. I don’t think that he’d had anybody who had told him how it is. I think the whole world was so happy when I told him that I could teach manners. I wasn’t going to back down. You know, it’s like what everybody wanted to say to him, you know, but didn’t have the courage. So I stood up, took the beating, and I’m proud of it.

Well I was shocked when he pulled you down for elimination last night. Do you think it’s fair for him to pull you down when the nominees had already been put up?

Well, nothing’s fair in Hell’s Kitchen… what was that word? Did you say “fair”? No, there’s no “fair” in Hell’s Kitchen. It was shocking to me, and I got to watch it last night, just like you guys. I mean, we don’t know what they’re going to put on. So I was just as shocked as you were. And it was my time to go, though. I really believe it was my time to go. I was getting tired, I was getting sick. I have allergies, and I have certain diary requirements that I need to stick to, and I was so far from them. I had given it my all, 100%, every day, every night. I wasn’t sleeping, so I think it was my time to go, and I think he knew it. So I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out, though, honestly. We won the day, you know, we won the challenge, and then we got to go play. I had a fairly good service. I made a few minor, stupid mistakes. I’d much rather go out with a few minor, stupid mistakes than to be hiding something or stealing something or sabotaging. So hey, I was happy to leave.

Definitely. I think you ended on a really, really good note.

Thank you. I hope so. I hope the world believs I ended on a good note. I felt like I ended on a good note.

Who do you think has the best chance to make it to the end?

Well, I believe… first off, let me tell you, that they all have their ups and downs, and they were all fabulous people. I just want to let you know that. And I thank them for all their support and all the time that we spent together. I found a personal connection to Danny because I come from a hunting background and a farm background. And he comes from that same background in the South. So we talked about alligators, and we had a lot of similar experiences in life. And I think he has a great head on his shoulders and he’s a great cook. So I think that he has an opportunity to go a long way. Loved Robert—I think that his personality, I couldn’t have made it through without him. He was fabulous. I loved Paula, Carol, and Andrea on the girls’ team, they just rocked it every night and were so supportive. But Paula has this palette and this strength that I think will get her a long way in this competition. Who will win, I don’t know. Who knows? Maybe Lacey will win!

The ultimate twist! Well, what’s in the future for you? Are you going to continue your Boot Camp?

Oh, my Boot Camp is full until May! I am back at the Classy Gourmet. We are going strong. We are working on a national campaign to go around the United States, so that I’m not just cooking in Omaha, I’m cooking all over. You will continue to see me everyday if you go to theclassygourmet.com, or FOX kptm.com. That’s our affiliate station in Omaha, where I cook every day. My videos are on YouTube, Facebook. I am no Chef Ramsay. I am a little peon compared to Chef Ramsay, but I’m proud of that. My statement that I tell everybody is, “Move over, Martha! I was on the wrong show!”

Want to see where Colleen went wrong? Read our Hell's Kitchen Episode 5.5 Recap.

-Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV Staff Writer
Image courtesy of FOX