This season of Hell’s Kitchen is shaping up to be a season of firsts: last night, for the first time, the Blue and Red teams completed a full dinner service on their second try. Another first: Robert, a sous chef from New York, missed out on his team’s prize (a trip to Catalina island) because he weighed too much for the helicopter insurance policy. And perhaps the most shocking first: chef Ji Cha, 33, volunteered to leave Hell’s Kitchen after seriously injuring her ankle. She’s not the first chef ever to ask to leave, but she may have been the first that Chef Ramsay was truly sorry to see go.
We had a chance to talk to Ji today about why she decided to leave Hell’s Kitchen, who she’s rooting for this season, and what the future holds.
Ji, a private caterer from Palisades Park, NJ, started off as one of the strongest chefs on Hell’s Kitchen this season. She wowed Chef Ramsay with a perfectly cooked Signature Dish in the first episode, and was a solid team member on the line for the Red team. Which is why it shocked everyone last night when a freak injury cost her a chance at the grand prize.
Just before their second dinner service, Ji slipped on a wet spot in the Red team’s kitchen area and severely twisted her ankle. She powered through the entire service and never complained, helping her team finish all their orders. But the stress of being on the line all night irritated her ankle so much that she required a wheelchair to leave the kitchen.
When the time came for elimination, Ji nominated herself, afraid that her injury would make her a burden in future competitions.
“I really would have liked to stick around a lot longer,” Ji said. “But the thought of losing challenges, and feeling like I was the cause of it… I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
But the decision wasn’t an easy one for the chef, whom her teammates openly considered one of the best in the competition.
“I’m really pissed off that I had to do that,” Ji reflected, months out of filming the show. “After my decision, I felt I had made a mistake. It hurts me that I had to leave my teammates and my chance at the prize—that was the reason that I came to Hell’s Kitchen.”
“And my team saw me as a strong member of the team, I mean they said that Lacey and Colleen [the two Red team members up for elimination] together wouldn’t meet half of me.”
But perhaps no one was more disappointed in the turn of events than Chef Ramsay. Normally the head chef asks his eliminated contestants to return their chef jackets as they leave, but Ramsay asked Ji to keep hers as a symbol of her talent and courage during her time on the show.
“Just the fact that Chef Gordon Ramsay said those wonderful things to me and gave me a chef’s jacket, I melted inside,” said Ji. “I felt so honored that he let me be in his kitchen and work with him side by side. It was great.”
As far as where the contest will go from here, Ji has her favorites to take the grand prize of executive chef at the Borgata Resort in Atlantic City:
“I was able to see how the other contestants are on the Red team, and Andrea was the strongest, aside from me, to be able to go all the way. I wasn’t able to see how well the men perform, but Ben has the drive, the ambition, and the knowledge of a very good chef.”
Now that Ji has had time to heal, she’s back on her feet with exciting cooking projects, including a new website, ChefJi.com, which hosts several personal recipes from the chef’s arsenal. Ji is also keeping busy with her cheffing business, which ranges from cooking classes and private demonstrations to catering. And at-home cooks can expect even more tips from this master chef in the future.
“I’m trying to get my concept up for a new cookbook,” Ji said. She couldn’t reveal the concept just yet, but “it’s definitely my recipes,” she promised.
-Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV Staff Writer
Image courtesy of FOX