For "Hell's Kitchen" fans, nothing hits the spot quite like a good Gordon Ramsay insult — or a spicy season finale. And season 22 of the popular Fox network show, dubbed "The American Dream," certainly didn't disappoint in either regard. Since 2005, the high-spirited cooking competition has held the attention of countless watchers, and there were no signs of slowing down in its latest iteration. After earning their stripes through a series of grueling challenges, blind taste tests, and teachable moments, contestants Johnathan Benvenuti, Ryan O'Sullivan, and Sammi Tarantino emerged as the fabled final three. However, only one walked away as the show's winner.
If you tuned in to the star-studded, two-hour series finale, you're well aware that the victorious chef in question was none other than O'Sullivan, a Cork, Ireland, native whose cooking and composure in Hell's Kitchen nabbed him the coveted grand prize. Between his heartwarming bond with Benvenuti, his good-natured attitude, and his top-tier culinary skills, O'Sullivan quickly established himself as a fan favorite. In celebration of his big win, Tasting Table recently spoke with the chef to hear more about his experience behind the scenes on "Hell's Kitchen."
How Ryan O'Sullivan Crafted His Final Hell's Kitchen Menu
The pressure was on for Ryan O'Sullivan to create a show-stopping menu for the final challenge. "Gordon [Ramsay] pulled us aside, and he said, 'Look, guys, don't worry too much about using tweezers and making it look all fancy — just cook from the heart,'" O'Sullivan remembers. From there, the determined chef drew on his core culinary memories, particularly those involving his family. The elegant, French-inspired fare may have intimidated some on his team, but it was business as usual for O'Sullivan, whose father is a classically trained chef. "Chicken and mushroom vol-au-vent were the first things that I actually remember cooking with my dad," he tells Tasting Table. "Whenever he would ask me what I want for dinner, I'd say chicken and mushroom vol-au-vents — even though it pained him to make puff pastry — so I had to do it."
O'Sullivan's mother also played a role, serving as the inspiration behind his stunning lobster ravioli. "My mother is one of the most glamorous people I've ever met in my life, so the lobster was an ode to her because the lobster is a glamorous protein," he says. "Even Gordon said to me, ... 'In all my years of cooking and all the dishes I've eaten, I've never seen a dish like this.'" Such high praise from the chef at the helm of Hell's Kitchen is rare –- but there was more to come for O'Sullivan.
Hell's Kitchen Winner Opens Up About Working With Gordon Ramsay
It's a well-known fact that many contestants start out as fans of the cooking show. Ryan O'Sullivan grew up watching "Hell's Kitchen" — "and every other million series that Gordon Ramsay has on TV," he adds. Their initial meeting left O'Sullivan star-struck for the first few minutes, but it didn't take long for him to feel at ease around the iconic chef. "It was kind of like, 'Okay, you know what? This could be potentially my future boss. This now is a job interview. I need to put on my game face ... and I need to make sure that whatever I do, I do with purpose ... and just be a chef that he's looking for.'"
Early on, O'Sullivan realized his strategy was proving successful. When the cast dwindled to 10 participants, Ramsay called each one to his office for a private conversation. It was there that O'Sullivan received one of his greatest compliments from the head of Hell's Kitchen, a moment fans didn't see: "He said, 'I don't say this often, and I don't want it to go to your head. But I just have to let you know, when I see you work and talk and how you move around the kitchen, you remind me so much of myself when I was your age.'" As O'Sullivan recalls, he could have gone home happy right then — but fortunately for viewers, he continued to give the competition his best.
Winning Hell's Kitchen Was 'Pure Joy'
Meeting Gordon Ramsay was a dream come true for Ryan O'Sullivan, who couldn't wait to introduce his father to the celebrity chef. "My dad introduced me to Gordon Ramsay through his books and through his cooking and through his TV shows. And for me to be ... the reason that my dad gets to meet his idol was a very touching moment for me," the chef reveals to Tasting Table. According to O'Sullivan, his extensive knowledge of "Hell's Kitchen" gave him a unique edge, allowing him to anticipate some of its sharp twists and turns. Still, he couldn't have nabbed the top spot on the show's finale without a little help from his teammates, like chef Jason Hedin. "You have to be able to delegate and choose the people in the positions that work best for you, and I think I was technically sound with everybody that I put in position," O'Sullivan says.
Naturally, winning "Hell's Kitchen" was one of O'Sullivan's shining moments as a chef. Yet a bittersweet feeling -- sparked by the close friendship with his final competitor -- took over as he unlocked his door onto the Hell's Kitchen balcony, signaling victory. "I really felt a sense of relief. I felt a sense of just pure joy, euphoria," O'Sullivan tells Tasting Table. "But there was a part of me that wanted to turn back and grab Johnny [Benvenuti] by the hand, and Gordon was just ushering me to go downstairs."
What's Next For Chef Ryan O'Sullivan
Though the chef ultimately descended the "Hell's Kitchen" stairs alone, fans will be pleased to learn that Ryan O'Sullivan's friendship with Johnathan Benvenuti grew tenfold following the show. "He's now my best friend. I think he'll tell you himself," the chef reveals to Tasting Table. "Me and Johnny talk to each other more than we talk to our wives. ... He's one of the most, if not the most, technically sound chefs I've ever worked with in my entire life." During our interview, O'Sullivan explained he was actually en route to meet with BFF Benvenuti for a screening of the season finale at Hell's Kitchen in Miami, Florida.
Although he can't share more details about his post-show relationship with Hell's Kitchen just yet, O'Sullivan is excited about what the future holds. He remains close with several of his castmates — in fact, some, like Sammi Tarantino, will join him and Benvenuti at Hell's Kitchen Miami. And if you're wondering about the idea for T-shirts with the "Sexy and Edgy" mantra from the finale, well, you may just be in luck. "I think that's definitely something down the line. Hopefully, I might be able to do a chef line of clothing of Sexy and Edgy," he says. Above all, O'Sullivan is grateful to everyone from Hell's Kitchen for the experience of a lifetime. "Everybody was so nice, phenomenal," he says. "And thank you most of all to Gordon Ramsay."
Read the original article on Tasting Table.