'Hell' Kitchen' Insider: Paula Versus Danny
If you watch Hell's Kitchen, you already know that Christina Machamer overcame exceptional odds to win of the fourth season of the notorious show, becoming the executive sous chef at at the London West Hollywood Hotel. Check in each week as Christina "dishes up" her insights on Hell's Kitchen's fifth season, her notorious new boss, and life after reality TV stardom.

By Christina Machamer

Is anyone else shocked that we are so near the finale of season 5 of Hell's Kitchen? During the recap of all those who tried and failed (Seth, LA, Colleen, etc.), I sat back and thought about how fast it has all gone. In less than a week, I will be in Atlantic City, NJ, handing off my "crown" to either Paula or Danny. The big question is: who will it be?

Both competitors seem equally matched when compared to their competition. But what sets the two apart? Danny is an executive chef, and Paula is an executive sous chef. I always hate going by these titles because they really don't mean much. Danny, 23, is the youngest competitor, I think ever, on Hell's Kitchen. The restaurant he runs in New Smyrna Beach is upscale casual. Paula, 28, has far more experience in the industry, and has been working at 3030 Ocean in Pompano, FL for quite some time. Having been to Danny's Flip Flops Grill and Chill, I am of the opinion that the integrity of the food is stronger in Paula's restaurant. Therefore, to me, their titles are equal. Paula, however, wins this category solely based on the breadth of experience she has gained.

As for the food they produce, both have had a fairly equal showing in the challenges. I think that Paula has shown more versatility in products and preparations, which was highlighted in the chef's lunch challenge. Danny made a blackened halibut with fruit salsa and basmati rice. This is a classic pairing, although I do not know how I feel about putting an Alaskan cold water fish with a Caribbean cooking method. Perhaps snapper or mahi mahi would have been a better choice. Paula prepared an olive oil poached sturgeon with caviar and a small salad. It was an elegant fish, prepared well, and a dish which matched the guests she was serving. Paula wins again.

In this last episode, we saw how the competitors were preparing themselves for the final service, or not, as the champagne was flowing heavily. Did anyone else think Paula was trying to sabotage Danny? She said something about how she felt she could handle herself better, as she had more experience with late drinking nights. Although this might be true, it was still irresponsible. This could possibly be the most important service of their lives, and to blow it because of a hangover just seems moronic. So, for preparation, I say they both lose.

The next morning Danny and Paula both finished their menus with the aid of their sous chefs. Paula said she had her team in mind, and therefore went with simple items. This was my strategy in the previous season, and it worked for me, although I did get quite a bit of hell from Gordon. He commended Petrozza for using sweetbreads and other items that required a bit of finesse to prepare, although it was the execution which brought Petrozza down. Danny's menu, on the other hand, was more daring using his own style. Later on, the chefs flew to Atlantic City to put their menus to the test. In the end, Danny was victorious. I personally have to enter a dissenting opinion. There is no way that a salad, steak, and twice-baked potato beat out the more elegant dishes that Paula created. Having lived and cooked in the Caribbean, it is my biggest grievance when people bastardize this cuisine. Jerk spices and marinades were originally used to mask the flavor of rotten meat. This is much the same as the use of heavy sauce in French cuisine. You should NEVER make jerked lobster like Danny did. What is the point? Why would you take something as delicate, and sweet, and expensive and cover up the flavor entirely? It's the equivalent of taking a beautiful Kobe beef tenderloin (which costs $50-60 per pound) grinding it up, and using it to make sloppy Joes. Then again, maybe that is the style that the Borgata is looking for. So grudgingly, on the menu, I afford Danny the win.

On to the dining room. This can be the most frustrating part of the finale. You have a clear vision in your head about what you want. Then you have to explain it to someone else, who guides carpenters, upholsterers, and painters to do your bidding. It can end up like a game of Operator where the end product doesn't even resemble the original idea. Added to that is the fact that we are in Hell's Kitchen, where nothing comes easy. The designer will come to you in the middle of dinner prep saying that the booths are taking too long and you may not have them for service. To which you reply, "With all due respect, it is two in the afternoon. The restaurant is open in five hours, and this is Hollywood. Surely someone out there can make this happen, and if not, I'll find a hammer and do it myself." This, of course, always goes over well. Or you are shown a 10" x 10" chocolate-colored wallpaper sample only to find out, once it is put up of course, that it is in fact striped, which is what happened to me. Danny carried his rustic Floridian "redneck" (his words) style into the dining room by requesting to put stuffed fish on the wall. Paula again went more simple and understated. In fairness, I cannot pass judgment until I see the final product, but I am leaning towards Paula in this challenge.

In the final part of the episode, Paula and Danny chose their teams. Danny, having won the menu challenge in Atlantic City was able to choose first. This, perhaps, was not as important as the fact that Paula was forced to take the last person standing, Lacey. Based on this alone, I give Danny the win for having a stronger team.

So with a score of 3-2 Paula should be the victor next week, although, with Lacey, anything can happen. Will Paula be able to motivate her to perform when $250,000 could not? Will Danny's dining room and jerked menu impress the brass from the Borgata? I guess we will have to wait till next week to find out. So till then, with champagne in hand, eat well and be well.

After graduating at the top of her class from The Culinary Institute of America and putting in decades of work in some of the country's top kitchens, Christina Machamer's hard work has been rewarded with a Hell's Kitchen triumph. Now settled into her new West Hollywood digs, she and her partner Cory Lemieux venture into the artisan spice trade with their online company bcbcblends.com. Look for Christina, as she travels the country, seeking out food shows, farmer's markets, and a possible location for her next culinary adventure.

Read more by Christina:
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Hanging with the Blues Brothers
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Consistency
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Teamwork and Leadership the Keys to Winning
Hell's Kitchen Insider: The King of All Challenges
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Good Riddance to the Anti-Cooks
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Final Four Predictions
Hell's Kitchen Insider: A Bar Mitzvah To Remember
Hell's Kitchen Insider: V-C-I-T-O-R-Y?
Hell's Kitchen Insider: The Pressure Cooker
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Another One Gigabytes the Dust!
Hell's Kitchen Insider: Chef Ramsay Loves a Fighter
Hell's Kitchen Insider: First Impression