It’s hard to keep track of all the cooking competition shows out there, but Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen” is one that even non-foodies know. Earlier this year, Season 8 winner Nona Sivley took her grand prize post as Chef de Cuisine of LA Market at the JW Marriott. I finally made it over to this expansive space to get a taste of the food (hint: order the chicken, the mushrooms, the cheesecake) and talk to Chef Sivley about the show, how she’s fitting in to the LA landscape and why she has a pig on her arm.
First things first. Is Chef Ramsay for real or is his behavior just for show?
He’s legit. In the kitchen he’s exactly as he is on TV. He’s very, very intense. But outside of the kitchen, it’s a very different atmosphere and he’s very chill, very funny and really charming.
Where did you grow up?
I’m from the South. I was raised in Virginia and Texas, where I went to culinary school, and then I just recently moved here from Atlanta.
What was the experience like being on the show? Was it nerve-wracking?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. It was un-be-lieve-ably intense. It was probably the most intense thing I’ve done in my life. I mean, they were filming 24/7 for 16 weeks and then they condensed all that footage down for the show. It was crazy.
Did you have any inkling that you were going to win?
No, no, not at all. There was definitely a time when I thought for sure I was going home! When I got kicked out of the kitchen for arguing I thought I was gone, I thought that was it.
And then you won.
I was hugely overwhelmed. Totally surreal. I had no idea.
And now you’re living in Los Angeles.
Yep, I live downtown. It’s kinda crazy ’cause filming was the first time I was ever down here.
You’re a chef, which means one thing: You’ve got ink. Tell me about your tats.
I’ve got a sparrow and it’s red because my grandmother’s favorite bird is a cardinal. She passed away in June 09 and she was my favorite thing in the world, so that’s for her. The octopus represents me — in the tattoo world it represents loyalty and integrity. And the octopus is playing with jacks because my son’s name is Jack. And, of course, there’s the pig for obvious reasons. The tattoo artist is Hannah and she’s at Royal 1 Tattoos in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s ridiculous, right?! I love ‘em.
Speaking of ridiculous … the brick chicken. So juicy and citrusy. That’s the most popular item on the menu, isn’t it?
Oh yeah. It’s crazy popular. And the funny thing is that whether you’re a chef or not, nobody ever orders chicken because it’s so universal and it’s usually just so boring. But here it is my absolute favorite thing on the menu. Everything in that dish [organic farro, beet greens, citrus jus] goes together perfectly. The whole six-hour brining process keeps all the moisture in and it basically injects it with all that flavor.
What would you say your cooking style is?
Where do we see the Southern influence on the menu?
Well, this menu was written before I even got here, so I do prix-fixe menus where you basically choose a tasting menu and it’s all me. But we recently changed up the menu and will continue to do that seasonally.
How are you settling in the kitchen? Do you feel more at home now?
Oh yeah, definitely. I really do enjoy it.
Where do you go out to eat?
I don’t eat out hardly ever because I’m here all the time! But I do have a few places that I like. I live downtown and I love Nickel Diner – I loooove it! It’s ridiculous. Gorbals is really good. I also like Animal. I’m all about eating from the rooters to the tooters.
Do you feel like your dreams have come true?
Oh yeah. This is a huge opportunity. Even when I’m working 17, 18 hours a day, I just think that it’s pretty amazing that I actually get to do this.
Nona Sivley on Facebook