This season on Hell’s Kitchen, I couldn’t help but laugh when Danny Veltri made his first impression on audiences by claiming to be a culinary prodigy. Well, guess who’s laughing now?
Last night the laid back chef from Edgewater, Florida became the youngest winner of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition show. Veltri was an accomplished 23-year-old before he even decided to apply for Hell’s Kitchen, having already started and run his own restaurant for a number of years. And now his resume is all the more impressive: he just earned an executive chef position at a brand new fine dining restaurant in the Borgata Resort in Atlantic City and $250,000.
I had the pleasure of talking with Danny this afternoon after his exhausting but thrilling first day as the Hell’s Kitchen winner. Among other things, we talked about that final stressful dinner service, what gave him the final edge over Paula, and when he’ll be starting his exciting new job. Read on for the full mp3 audio and transcript of the interview.
This is Meghan with BuddyTV and I’m on the line with Danny, winner of this year’s Hell’s Kitchen 5! Danny, how does it feel?
Amazing. I’m totally beside myself.
I hear you’re a little wiped, too, because you just filmed Regis and Kelly. How was that?
Yeah, I was up early, and made the trek from Atlantic City out to New York last night, so that was way cool. I was definitely excited to get that done. You know, I’ve seen some of the other contestants get on there, so I was definitely hoping that I was going to get on there, and I was! So it was very cool to meet Regis and Kelly, and able to cook with Regis. It was a lot of fun.
So you’re already up in Atlantic City? Are you already getting work done on the restaurant?
Yeah, I’m not here to stay. I came up here for the finale, and I have to go over some stuff with the executives, and I’ll be going back home Sunday to start packing.
Is it going to be hard to leave Florida and your restaurant there?
Yeah. Flip Flops I started from the ground up, and it’s my baby. It was me and one of my best friends that started this place, and we got scouted out by the investors, and they wanted us to run the place for them and write the menu. So we’ve really created something really great, and it’ll be hard to leave that behind and leave my buddy Eric behind, and leave him with the full responsibility of that restaurant. But that being said, I’m very excited to start a new job. I feel like I’m stepping up to the next level in my career, and really making some forward progress, and I’m feeling pretty good about it. The only thing I’m going to miss about Florida is the warm weather.
Let’s go back to last night. You seemed to really take charge of your brigade. Were you taking your leadership cues from Gordon?
Oh yeah, you know, I’ve been the executive chef of my place for a couple years now, so I’m used to running a kitchen and a dinner service like that. That’s very natural to me. But, you know, to take it up to Ramsay’s level I definitely took some pointers from him, and just kind of watched him throughout the season, and tried to pick up anything I could. As far as motivation goes for the guys in the kitchen, to keep them happy and wanting to produce.
So how did you keep so consistently cool and confident throughout the season, especially with Ramsay yelling in your face as times?
You know, I don’t know. It’s just part of my personality that I’m able to just stay calm in high pressure situations. You know, I never really let anything bother me. All the bad talk and the blogging and whatever, it’s really no big deal to me. I’m just the kind of person that can let anything roll off my back, and I think definitely my laidback attitude helped me get through some of the intense situations that I was put in.
Speaking of intense, how stressed were you going into that final dinner service?
My head was spinning going into that final dinner service. I had so much to do, and so much to finish, and such little time, and it was a hell of a challenge. I had a whole kitchen crew who didn’t know my menu that I had to train and teach them how I wanted things prepared, and so, it was very difficult.
How was that team of yours, with Giovanni, Carol and Ben? How did you guys work together?
Everybody ended up doing a good job for me. You know, I had my hurdles with Gio. He wasn’t too happy to be back. He didn’t look too happy to be on my team when I picked him, either. But he did pull it out for me, and so did Carol, you know. She did great for me. You know, I had a few things that she had to tweak. But you know, like I said, this is the first time that any of these guys had made any of this food, so it was basically trial by fire. And Ben did a great job for me.
What do you think gave you the final edge over Paula and the rest of the contestants?
You know, I’m not really sure. I think Ramsay just saw in me that I’m a little bit… that I’m just willing to accept any advice and any kind of constructive criticism. And I’m open to learning anything, and so maybe that had something to do with it.
When he spoke about you and Paula last week to the media, he mentioned that to take your cooking to the next level he recommended that you do some traveling around the world. Are you planning on taking that advice?
Absolutely. Like, that’s my total aspiration and dreams is to go to Europe and train. If I could just quit working and go back to training and culinary school… maybe not culinary school, per se, but train under some good chefs, I would totally do it in a second.
So when you get to the Borgata–do you know when you’re starting up there?
Yeah, I start at the end of the month.
Are you keeping the whole Velvet Hammer concept?
No, no… I’m working with Chef Stephen Kalt, and we’ll be doing a fine Italian dining there, and you know, he’s a very, very well decorated chef, and he was working at Wynn out in Vegas, and he just came back recently to help do the consulting to get Fornelletto open.
Is that the name? Where did that come from?
I’m not sure, I didn’t have much to do with that. They’re setting up the restaurant right now, so I’ll be working with Chef Kalt among other chefs, and I’ll be one of the supporting chefs for the restaurant.
What’s it been like since you won and you haven’t been able to tell anyone. Was it hard to keep it in the bag?
Yeah, at first it wasn’t. At first it was hard to keep that I was on the show a secret. And then as the show went on, I was fine up until maybe the final three or four, and then I was just chomping at the bit to get this thing out in the open.
Do you get recognized a lot?
Yeah, actually, I’ve been getting recognized a lot lately.
Probably a lot more now that you’re going to be on TV all over the place!
Oh yeah, I’m sure.
Well, congratulations again. Do you have any final words for your fans out there?
Just thanks for the support! Thanks for believing in me!
More Hell’s Kitchen 5:
Hell’s Kitchen Season 5 Finale Part One Recap
Hell’s Kitchen Season 5 Finale Part Two Live Thoughts: The Winner Is Announced!
Ramsay Sounds Off on Hell’s Kitchen Finalists: Paula vs. Danny
Hell’s Kitchen Insider: Paula Vs. Danny
-Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV Staff Writer
Image courtesy of FOX