“Hell’s Kitchen” is now entering its eleventh season on TV, and for this upcoming batch of new episodes beginning Tuesday, Chef Gordon Ramsay is bringing back someone who was a fan favorite during the show’s first seven seasons: Maitre’d Jean-Philippe Susilovic. The Belgian-born restaurateur has known Ramsay for over fifteen years and works with him well beyond what you see in each episode. Thanks to his unique position dealing with the contestants as well as the restaurant’s diners, he brings a different sort of perspective as to what the experience of attending this restaurant is really like. After all, haven’t you once imagined trying some of the food that you see cooked from the famous dining room?
In hopes of getting an idea as to what the real “Hell’s Kitchen” experience is like, we had a chance to chat with Susilovic via email recently about everything from the contestant experience, how Gordon uses the F-word like an illness, and why he decided to re-join the show after a few seasons away.
Cartermatt.com – You’ve been off ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ for a few seasons: what have you been up to since we last saw you?
Jean-Philippe: We relaunched Petrus on a new location In London with a brand new reopening, started a project in south Africa. I also left the Ramsay company to open my own restaurant in Ostend, Belguim, the ‘Bentley’s.’
Is there any specific reason why you decided to come back now?
The HELL’S KITCHEN team reached out, and they missed me!
You are able to have this amazing perspective on this show that few other people do: you have a chance to see the chefs’ progression from the start to the finish of the season, and you don’t have the pressure of being the one responsible for eliminating anyone. How big of a change do you traditionally see when working with a chef from the start of the season compared with the final few weeks?
I always feel sorry for the chefs with genuine talent who have a mental meltdown in the middle of the show, not realizing that have what it takes to win. The last weeks are crazy as some chefs are really tired and make some silly mistakes. Sometimes it feels like Formula One races with many crashes.
When you are in HK it’s not what you see, it’s what you get. It’s much more than a show, and that’s also the reason why we call it HK.
How many people do you feel arrive to Hell’s Kitchen for the mere entertainment of watching Chef Ramsay interact with the chefs? After all, there has to be a general expectation going in that you may not end up getting your food if service goes badly.
For myself, HELL’S KITCHEN is a restaurant and I treat it as a restaurant, much like Chef Ramsay. When guests are walking in HK, they forget that it’s a television show, and that’s also why HK is so special, it’s television at its best because of that.
You’ve known Ramsay for over a decade, and much of your time with him has come away from the show. Is there anything you can say about him that would surprise viewers?
JP: That the F-word is an illness, he’s never going to stop using it!
What is the typical dinner service like for you at HELL’S KITCHEN? Do you ever have a moment to take a breath, and does Ramsay ask for any input about the chefs when it comes to how they deal with the front of the house?
From my perspective, the viewers have the time of their life dining at HK because it’s all so unexpected and there is no manual. If you take a moment to breathe, you’re done!
What are the best moments for you when doing this show: is it seeing a successful service play out, or interacting with all of the chefs and the guests who stop by?
My goal is to accomplish an amazing dinner service every day. But if we did so on regular basis, let’s be honest, it would not be HK!
Finally, is there anything interesting or surprising that you can tease about the upcoming season?
Life is full of surprises and so is HK. Watch it, enjoy it, learn from it!
Thanks again to Jean-Philippe for taking the time to chat with us, and remember that next week’s premiere (beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time) is set to run for a full two hours.