Exclusive: Christina Machamer talks about her 'Hell's Kitchen' win
By Christopher Rocchio, 07/11/2008
Christina Machamer was never concerned about her lack of experience compared to her fellow Hell's Kitchen fourth-season contestants.
The confidence paid-off, as the 25-year-old former culinary student from St. Louis, MO was revealed to be Hell's Kitchen's fourth-season champ during Tuesday night's finale broadcast on Fox -- defeating Louis Petrozza to claim the position of executive chef at Gordon's recently opened The London West Hollywood -- a job that comes with a $250,000 salary.
On Thursday, Christina talked to Reality TV World about why she doesn't think experience is as important for Hell's Kitchen as it might be for other culinary competitions; the few hiccups she had during the final dinner service; why she's glad she had the team she did, especially having Matt Sigel instead of Jennifer Gavin; and how having to keep her win a secret forced her to tell the world she was unemployed even though she really had "the best job ever."
Reality TV World: Were you surprised by Chef Ramsay's decision to pick your potential over Petrozza's experience?
Christina: I don't think I was too surprised. I was pretty confident there towards the end. I really thought my restaurant design was better. I loved Petrozza's ideas and they were completely opposite from mine.
Reality TV World: What about your team? Were you confident they had outperformed his team in the kitchen?
Christina: I haven't really watched the finale episode very closely. We had a big party, so my attention was sort of drawn away. But I think my team did an excellent job. There were definitely a couple of hiccups. But at this point, it's definitely not how my team can cook but how I can lead the team.
Reality TV World: You just mentioned some "hiccups," and when we talked to Petrozza on Wednesday he said there were several problems his kitchen had during the final service that weren't shown during the finale. Did you encounter any problems that didn't make it on air? Was there anything you thought might be insurmountable?
Christina: Definitely not insurmountable, but it's just really, really frustrating when -- for example -- we had all had trouble on the fish station. Overcooking fish, undercooking fish, the halibut was always dry. So I put monk fish on the menu because it's easy. You can't overcook monk fish very easily, you just put it in the oven and you cook the shit out if it and it's great.
So when the monk fish kept coming out raw, I was like, "Come on Matt!" His argument was, "Well it was in the oven for six minutes." It's like, "Okay, then put it in the oven for 10! Don't argue with me about the time that it was in the oven. Put it in the oven, let's cook it, let's go!" Especially something like that, I'm like, "Why didn't you fire two Matt?"
Reality TV World: Prior to the final dinner service you said it was your strategy to be "reasonably simple." Is that an approach you took throughout the entire competition and if so, why did you think it would work?
Christina: I don't think it was necessarily a throughout-the-competition approach, but definitely as far as the restaurant went, it wasn't necessarily my time to show what Chef Christina could do. It was my time to come up with a restaurant and a menu that would work.
So I sort of shot down the middle with foods that could be prepared that everyone on my team knew how to cook. Restaurant design -- I know I trashed the whole thing and redid it -- but I didn't want a wall of fire. I wanted something that could be put together and could be executed well. I think sometimes that means taking the flamboyance out of things. It's not like you're necessarily shooting for simple, you're shooting for perfect.
Reality TV World: The show is supposed to be a cooking competition not a design competition, yet you still got really upset about the design for your half of the restaurant when it didn't meet your expectations. Do you think Chef Ramsay really puts much weight on the finalists' dinning room re-designs?
Christina: (laughing) I was angry. I was a little Type A that day. I can only say that his taste in a restaurant would have to affect the ultimate decision. In the end, you want someone sort of like-minded.
For example, the restaurant was simple -- it wasn't really about the restaurant for me, it was about the food. The only thing I didn't touch were the chairs, which were lovely. All the tables were round and I didn't know but when we went to New York to Gordon Ramsay's The London NYC he's like, "Yeah, all my tables are round." I'm like, "Seriously?" So you try to do the best you could.
You're shooting for a restaurant in L.A., so it has to be a little sleek, a little modern, a little sexy -- with satin tablecloths and satin napkins. It was awesome.
Reality TV World: It seemed like Chef Ramsay's biggest criticism of you during the final service was how you were communicating with your team. Was communication something you were concerned about and do you think the show has helped you communicate better?
Christina: I don't think it was something I was concerned about but it's sort of, "How does this work for me?"
I'm not Chef Ramsay, and I can't execute his verbiage quite like he can. If I stand there and call you a donkey, it doesn't sound right coming from me. So it's sort of developing a style where I can drive my team, but do so in a way that sounds realistic and within my means.
Reality TV World: Based on that comment, do you think you would have worked just as well with Petrozza's team members -- Bobby Anderson, Ben Caylor and Jen -- instead of your team of Corey Earling, Louross Edralin and Matt?
Christina: I don't know and I don't think so. The thing about my team, Corey for example, I didn't work a single dinner service without Corey. So just having that experience of working with somebody like that for so long. I never cooked with Ben. I cooked with Bobby for maybe one or two services. I did cook with Jen quite a bit, but I still don't know how to motivate her. Not only that, but Bobby and Petrozza had formed a bond much like Corey and I had. So to break that bond up, I think he'd fight harder for Petrozza than he would for me, obviously.
I don't think I could have done it with a different team.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Petrozza yesterday he used words like "detrimental" to describe Jen. Despite Matt's shortcomings, are you glad he was on your team for the final service instead of Jen? Which would you have picked?
Christina: I'm definitely glad I got Matt instead of Jen. I think she's probably a stronger cook than Matt is, but with Matt you know what you got. Sometimes he can be a little off, but you know when he's starting to break down and how to react to that. With Jen, you never know. (laughing) I don't want an unknown in the restaurant.
Reality TV World: You broke theHell's Kitchen record for the amount of challenges you won during the fourth season. Why do you think you were so successful? Do you think winning all those challenges played a role in Chef Ramsay's decision to name you the winner?
Christina: Well there were only three challenges that I won outright on my own, and those all required different skills.
There was one about teaching other people, and I was in culinary school and sometimes I break things down a little too simply and that pisses people off. They think I'm talking down to them, but I'm trying to be thorough. I think that was a great strength in that competition.
Another one was the lunch challenge. Again, universal appeal. It's a turkey sandwich dressed up. It's a turkey sandwich in Jimmy Choo heels. It's still a turkey sandwich. (laughing) It's not like it's scary or unapproachable to anybody.
I don't know, maybe it was just a specific skill set that I had.
Reality TV World: Since you were the contestant with the least amount of experience, were you surprised that you made it all the way to the finale and eventually won? Was there ever any point where you thought you'd be going home?
Christina: The first week was tough. Definitely after Episode 2 I thought I was going to be eliminated. But after I cleared that hurdle, no -- I was in control.
Even though I had the least amount of experience, that's not what this is about. It's not one of those other cooking shows where it's like, "Cook from the 3,000 recipes you have in your head!" It's more about coming up with new things and thinking on your feet. It's just the basic stuff, that's all it is.
Christina: I went to an open audition in Manhattan and that was just a great experience. People that audition for Hell's Kitchen are different from regular people. They're fun and outgoing and like food. So we just had a blast.
Then I came back and I did a screen test. I left and I was like, "Ugh, I should have said this. Oh, I should have said this." I think I even called my parents and said, "So I did this and it wasn't great." But the casting director was like, "You were hilarious!" I almost thought she was just trying to be nice, but apparently it worked out.
Reality TV World: What was the reaction like by friends and family members when they saw you had won?
Christina: Of course they were excited for me.
Before I went on the show I called my mom and I was like, "Mom I'm going to be on Hell's Kitchen." She's like, "Oh honey, don't do that." I was like, "Mom, it's cool." She's like, "No! Think about your career and what could happen!" I'm like, "Oh mom, it'll be fine." Luckily I didn't listen to her.
Reality TV World: I know your parents were at the finale so they knew, but how hard was it to keep it secret from everyone else for all this time?
Christina: It's definitely hard. It's not necessarily hard not to say, "Hey, I won Hell's Kitchen!" But it's hard because you know you're moving to L.A. and for that not to come up.
I graduated in February, and I had to fill-out this questionnaire. "Do you have a job? What is your job? What is your salary? What is your title?" I had to put, "I don't know." (laughing) So those kind of situations are hard because I had to put down unemployed, even though the Hell's Kitchen winner has the best job ever. (laughing) But it's hard to keep a secret.
Reality TV World: So have you started working at The London West Hollywood yet?
Christina: No. I haven't started. I'm actually on the other coast in New York doing publicity.
Reality TV World: Do you know when you're starting?
Christina: I don't know the specific date. Hopefully it will be soon. My stuff's already packed. (laughing)
Reality TV World: You must be excited to get out there and get going.
Christina: Kind of knowing the results for so long, I've just sort of been treading water and waiting for the finale. Now that it's aired, I'm ready to just shoot out of the gate.