Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 6 p.m.
They’ve come from as far as Baltimore and as near as the Las Vegas Strip. Some are in suits, others are in shorts; many sport spotless white chef’s coats. A few engage in polite, excited chatter, while others stand stoically, arms folded.
It is a Monday morning, but the crowd of 100 or so gathered outside Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris are sharp and alert. And it’s with good reason: They’re competing for a spot in hell — “Hell’s Kitchen,” that is.
“Who’s here to win?” shouts Sheila Conlin, casting director for Gordon Ramsay’s hit culinary competition Fox show, which held its final casting call for the upcoming 11th season at the fiery chef’s new restaurant.
The crowd responds with Spartan gusto.
While competitors were not asked to cook at the casting call, they were required to prove that they have the character to keep up with Ramsay’s world-class standards and notoriously volatile personality.
“I’m looking for passion — about food, about cooking. This really needs to be the top priority in their life. I’m looking for someone super-competitive, really intense and a little bit off-the-hook crazy,” Conlin says. The winner of the 10th season will serve as head cook at GRS under executive chef Kevin Hee.
Conlin says the day’s crowd yielded a variety of characters, ranging from sous chefs to photographers to musicians. And while a timid disposition won’t get you far, a big personality isn’t all it takes to make the cut.
“A lot of these people can really cook. But some of them,” Conlin says, lowering her voice, “have no clue what they’re doing. They treat it like a hobby.”
Nonetheless, she says, the Las Vegas casting call produced some of the most impressive candidates yet, so much so that her team needed additional room for secondary interviews.
One of those candidates is 25-year-old Las Vegan Tim Foley, who all but bounced out of an interview after making the cut for Wednesday’s callbacks.
“I love the pressure; it’s exciting to me. I’m ready for whatever they throw my way — I can stand the heat!” says Foley, who has cooked and worked as a kitchen manager for Hooters for eight years. Decked out in an orange Hooters polo shirt, cap, cargo shorts and Vibram FiveFingers toe shoes, he, indeed, looks ready for anything.
Though Foley admits that his background might not be as prestigious as some of his competitors’, he says his experience in the fast-paced, high-volume environment of a Las Vegas eatery gives him a leg up.
“I can handle criticism. I know what it means to take care of your customers and have good presentation. Some people’s signature dishes on the show look like crap, but I know better,” he says.
With the casting calls complete, Conlin’s team and Fox will spend the rest of the summer narrowing candidates down to the final 32 who make it onto the show (“There’s a background process to make sure they can handle it, both psychologically and medically,” she says). But this isn’t the last Las Vegas will see of the show. Conlin says to expect next season’s cast to return to GRS for challenges and other surprises.