'Hell's Kitchen' Insider: The Pressure Cooker
Meghan Carlson
Meghan Carlson
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
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 Gordon Ramsay 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

Since the finale of Hell’s Kitchen’s fourth season in July, I have done countless interviews.  It seems like in each one I mention that this is not a competition based solely on cooking skills.  It encompasses an ability to deal with stress, pressure, service, and Ramsay.  It is not about manipulating a single ingredient like Iron Chef, or about showing off years of formed skills and acquired dishes, as on Top ChefHell’s Kitchen, at least for me, was about breaking out.  It was about cooking outside of my repertoire, showing a mastery of basic skills, and exhibiting an ability to deal with the necessary elements of the prize.

Working for Gordon has not always been easy.  The competition itself was a vacation compared to the fruition of its results.  My job is hard.  I have to balance some semblance of a life, along with working a minimum of seventy hours a week, in an environment much similar to the one aired on the show.  The difference is that we never quit.  We never “shut it down.” We keep slogging through the trenches to achieve a product that exceeds expectations.  Though this in itself is challenging, especially in today’s economy, I have the added prize and penance of being “the winner.”  This means opportunities, the likes of which I couldn’t comprehend before, but it also means dealing with jealousy, anxiety, and a bar of expectation for my performance.

Hell’s Kitchen was a great boot camp for what I was to face as its victor.  My days are pretty much the same, almost eerily so.  That is, of course, without the shopping sprees and private jets.  The life of a chef is far less glamorous.  I think part of the reason I succeeded in Hell’s Kitchen, aside from an uncanny ability to whip up a great risotto, was remaining balanced, and unchanged in the tumultuous world of reality television.

Filming Hell’s Kitchen takes an enormous effort from the cast and crew.  You are plucked out of your oblivious life, thrown into the spotlight, and left to flail through challenges, dinner services, and competing contestants.  To say that it is stressful is to deny it the true depth it deserves.  Not only do you need to have a strong base, but you must be able to perform under little sleep, malnutrition, contestant drama, and bodily injuries.  Needless to say, this takes its toll. 

Besides the chefs, there is another contestant is Hell’s Kitchen: Pressure.  Our fine fifth season friends have been on set for awhile now, and it is beginning to show.  I saw this on our season with Ben and Matt.  They seemed “normal” in the beginning, but then the pressure hit.  We could see Ben breaking down under Chef Ramsay, so we pushed him further in the dorms.  We could see Matty starting to loose his grip, so we teased and tormented.  Then there was the opposite, the “dirty pig,” Petrozza, who fought back to become a valiant competitor and a great friend.  Pressure is strange in its effects, and remember, Chef loves a fighter.

So while the average viewer was watching the fourth episode, I was watching the  evolution. This is where contestants begin to distance themselves.  Most of us fans could give a pretty good guess as to who we’ll see in the finals, but what about those who aren’t so obvious?

Robert, for example, has had a lot of pressure on his shoulders.  He gave up his wedding to compete.  That to him must have meant everything, and you mustn't underestimate those who have nothing to lose.  He has also shown incredible strength, dealing with Ramsay’s disparaging comments, and completely upturned the stereotype of overweight cooks.  He has the moves to make it to the finals.

We all know how I have felt about Lacey.  In fact, it seems as if every blog has been an “I hate Lacey” rant.  Then there was a flicker in her eye, albeit small, this last episode that makes me feel she will turn things around.  I don’t think I’ll find her at The Borgata in the near future, but I’m not counting her out just yet.  And really, does she have anywhere else to go but up from her dismal performance?

Although I don’t think Colleen will be around long, I have to give her credit.  Every episode it seems she gets railed by Gordon, and she just stands there and takes it.  I am not sure if her business will survive after the slandering she has received, but this is one tough girl... if only we could get her to cook.

Ben, it seems, has brought with him another secret contestant to stand by Pressure.  We’ll call this cook “Angry Ben.”  The confrontation between Ben and Danny in the dorm after the challenge reminded me so much of our Season Four Ben.  Danny just stood there mocking Ben, and he kept feeding into it until he had to step outside.  If you can’t take the antagonism of a cocky 23-year-old, how are you ever going to stand up to a Michelin-starred chef?  “Angry Ben, you’ve peaked.”

Lastly we have this week’s “Biggest Loser,” Seth.  Seth was a lot of things, none of them good.  Seth remained unchanged by the pressure in Hell’s Kitchen. He sucked the entire time.  Finally, my boss has given me an elimination to be proud of.  (Thanks, G.)

So it is until next week, when the pressure cooker continues, that we will see how our  hopefuls fare.  Guaranteed, one will fall. But who will fight back?  Until then, I have my own pressures to face and mountains to climb.  Until next Thursday: 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: 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