Exclusive: Louis Petrozza talks about his 'Hell's Kitchen' experience
By Christopher Rocchio, 07/10/2008
Louis Petrozza had the executive chef position at Gordon Ramsay's recently opened The London West Hollywood in his sights.
However he had several problems during the final dinner service that caused the 47-year-old catering director from Charlotte, NC to finish as Hell's Kitchen's fourth-season runner-up to Christina Machamer during Tuesday night's finale broadcast.
On Wednesday, Petrozza talked to Reality TV World about what went wrong during the final dinner service; how having Jennifer Gavin on his team was a hinder instead of a help; how he almost called it quits earlier in the competition before realizing he had what it takes to hang; and how being a "messy pig" is just part of his personality.
Reality TV World: You seemed to be confident in your chances of winning after the final dinner service when you said you had a "good shot" and an "edge." Could you explain why that was? Do you think your kitchen outperformed that of Christina's?
Petrozza: I've got to say no. I know it was close, but I've got to say no. If that's what Ramsay based his decision on, I've got to say no. I wasn't able to see both teams until [Tuesday] night. I saw both teams work when you saw both teams work. When I was there, all I saw was my team work.
There were some pitfalls. We had some troubles. My ducks -- they didn't show it -- but my ducks were a little overcooked. My lobster strudel, I needed to revamp the recipe and do it over, which set us back a little bit. Other than that, there weren't too many things that I think that I actually wrong with the food as far as preparation goes.
Jen's attitude was very detrimental to the whole team and to the whole aura. One person actually brought it to my attention that Ramsay didn't like Jen so much that it almost put the hex on my whole team. You know, I could see that underlying, subconscious dislike for her horrible, horrible attitude and mean-spirited self. I could see how that could put a scowl on the whole team from the beginning without us doing a darn thing.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised by Chef Ramsay's decision to go with Christina's potential over your experience?
Petrozza: That's a good way to put it, he went with Christina's potential over my experience in the end.
Reality TV World: Did that surprise you?
Petrozza: No. I'm not surprised by that. I'm not surprised by that. It's interesting that this conversation comes at the end of the day, because I think that you put it a good way -- he went with Christina's potential over my experience.
I think that may be the closest thing to, "Why didn't you win?" I think that might be it. Don't get me wrong, I think if my service was perfect, I think I would have won. So it wasn't like it was already a decision made, because you can say Christina has potential and Petrozza has experience. You could say that before the last [dinner service].
So I think if I would have had the perfect service, yeah, it was definitely winnable for me. It was definitely winnable.
Reality TV World: You got off to a pretty rocky start...
Petrozza: Yeah, you could say that. (laughing)
Reality TV World: Were you surprised you made it as far as you did and ended up in the Final 2?
Petrozza: When I was ready to call it quits, I did think I was going to be going home. But once I got my legs underneath me, I knew I had enough confidence and I knew I had the ability. I knew I could hang. I knew I was tough enough. Doing this 30 years, you better be able to hang. I felt healthy, I felt strong. I thought that I was ready.
Reality TV World: Jen and Bobby Anderson both had a hard time with some aspects of your menu during the final dinner service because they thought it was too ambitious. In hindsight do you wish you would have gone with something more simple?
Petrozza: I think if I did it over, I would do the same menu over. It was my favorite things. If we would have put a title on that menu, it would have been "Petrozza's Favorite Stuff to Eat." That's how I made my menu. I made my menu by thinking, "What would I want? What's the best stuff I ever put in my mouth?" That's what my goal was. I felt if I tried to cut corners to make this simpler, I wouldn't say I'm going for it. I'm going for it all. I was going to go out with the big guns.
Reality TV World: You mentioned during the finale that you were "overwhelmed" by the amount of work that went into preparing for the final dinner service. What was it that made you feel that way? Do you fault your lack of prep work for also playing a role in Christina winning?
Petrozza: I don't believe... I'm trying to remember accurately and correctly to give you a good depiction, an insider's view -- because if you watched the show and you're interviewing me then you're interviewing me to dig a little deeper I think.
What happened was there was a couple things Ramsay had a problem with. The consistency of the interior of my lobster strudel, it was definitely, definitely justifiable. I understood what he said, he said it was kind of curd a little -- what I did was I made a quiche batter and I cooked it in there and I baked it. He said, "Lou, the consistency's bad." I said, "I'll work on that chef, I understand what you're saying." All of a sudden, all the prep work for my lobster strudel gets thrown right in the garbage and you start over. So now you've got zero prep work done after that and you just spent hours on the stuff -- man hours anyway.
Next thing, my duck was a little overcooked. I had set the timer, I didn't hear the timer -- whatever the case was, I didn't hear it, it didn't go off, whatever. Instead of having 12 minutes left on the timer, I looked at the timer and there was 12 minutes had PASSED -- it was 12 minutes passed my time that I timed it for. Now all of a sudden my duck's not going to work out exactly how it was on the menu, so now I've got to turn the duck thigh and leg into duck confit and mix it with the fried rice, revamp that thing. So now we've got something else we've got to do.
My sweetbread, I prepared the sweetbread in a classical manner -- poaching, weighting and peeling the sweetbreads instead of slicing and sauteing. Ramsay said, "No, no, no. We're not going to do it that way, we're going to do it my way. I don't care how everybody else does it, we're doing it my way." "Understood Chef." What am I going to do? I'm not going to argue with him; that's something Jen would have done. That would have been a Jen move, and you saw where that got her. [Ben Caylor] spent literally a couple of hours [fixing the sweetbread].
So you know what? It's like showing up for work two hours late. Guess what, you're not going to have a good day of work if you show up two hours late.
Reality TV World: Chef Ramsay called you as a "messy pig" on more than one occasion this season. Did you think untidy work stations would be a problem for you?
Petrozza: I know better than anybody else and anybody that's ever worked with me that I could use a small clean-up crew behind me no matter where I am. But when I'm frying food and stuff, I want to pump it out. Sure, I'd like to have someone cleaning up after me -- everybody would when they work in a kitchen. Are we all afforded that luxury? No, we're not all afforded that luxury -- especially in Hell's Kitchen.
Reality TV World: Since the show, have you cleaned up your cooking stations?
Petrozza: Maybe I did. I know people have seen the show and they're anticipating me being messy and they're going to be keeping an eye on that. But I think I'm appreciated for who I am and what I am and how I work. As Ramsay said, "You keep cooking the meat that way, I don't care how messy you are."
Reality TV World: That's right. I remember him telling you that.
Petrozza: Anyway, did I try to clean up? Yeah, I try to keep it a little neater. As far as myself goes -- as far as my dirty chef jacket and stuff like that -- I don't care if it gets dirty. You going to go in the dining room and feed somebody? You have another [jacket] that you sent to the dry cleaner, throw that one on. Who cares. It gets dirty, you wash it.
Reality TV World: You already talked about Jen, what led to your decision to take Jen over Matt for the final spot on your team?
Petrozza: I believe Jen had the ability, I just had to keep my fingers crossed that her attitude wasn't going to show. I was hoping that I could pump her up, I was hoping that Jen would see the forest through the trees and that she would realize that she would be portrayed in a good light if she hustled and did good because she had the ability to work one of those not very difficult stations.
She didn't. She failed miserably. Do I blame her for losing? I think I should have thrown her out of the kitchen. I think I should have ripped her a new one. That might right there might have been enough to pursue Ramsay, "At least Petrozza knows that Jen's no good."
Petrozza: Family and friends and coworkers were telling me there's interviews over at this place 20 minutes away from where I live in Charlotte. They said, "Lou you should try out, Lou you should try out, Lou you should go down there and apply. Lou I Mapquested it for you. Lou I scoped it out, just give me a call on my cell phone and I'll tell you where it is."
Everybody said that except my general manager at where I worked, who said, "I don't think it's necessary Lou."
Reality TV World: So what's next for you? Are you still working as a catering director?
Petrozza: I'm not working as a catering director anymore. I cater, I work for the University of South Carolina for a company called Aramark.
Reality TV World: Are you glad you took the opportunity to appear on Hell's Kitchen?
Petrozza: Yes. I'm very glad that I did it, that I had the experience. I'm also glad that it's over. Now I'm excited to open up a new chapter in my life.