BRADENTON -- Although not nearly as hellish as “Hell’s Kitchen,” the culinary arts facility at Manatee Technical Institute and the reality show have some striking similarities.
Young adults enter each with hopes of landing a choice chef position.
Both open kitchens feature a mentor/student dynamic where the pupils must create dishes for the public in full view.
Failure to produce while being observed by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay or a faculty member at the Manatee institute results in serious consequences.
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If an MTI campus customer complains that an item is not prepared correctly -- let’s say a burger was ordered medium rare and reached the table well done -- the student chef must enter the cafeteria, apologize and correct the slip-up.
More serious mistakes result in floor scrubbing, oven cleaning and other tough manual tasks.
But no student, most of whom are recent graduates from local high schools, is being forced to drink meat milk shakes like Jamie Gregorich had to do on “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“I hope there are no similarities in the punishment part,” she said with a laugh. “But cooking for others does make the students feel pressure from me and the customer.”
The Bradenton resident who grew up on Anna Maria Island has been a culinary instructor at MTI since graduating from the program about four years ago.
“She’s our little sprout,” said Mary Cantrell, director of Manatee Technical Institute. “I knew when she was here I wanted to hire her.”
Recently Gregorich showed second-week students of the single-year program the various ways to cut carrots, the fine art of preparing clarified butter and other cooking basics.
The more experienced students sent out dishes such as a delectably tangy and tender barbecue chicken breast served with delicious glazed carrots.
The cafeteria, open to the public from 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, easily ranks as one of the best deals in Bradenton, with fine cuisine being served for $4 to $6 a meal.
“I eat at the cafeteria every day,” Cantrell said. “There’s a competitiveness in Chef Jamie that sparks others to do great things. She is like a lightning rod for others to do better and exemplifies what we’re looking for at MTI.”
Chef Garry Colpitts, a certified executive chef with the American Culinary Federation, is the MTI instructor who trained the institute’s most famed chef, and now works with her.
“She really stood out from the beginning,” he said. “They either have it or they don’t, and she had this gift.
“Jamie has a genuine passion and love for cooking and always wanted a challenge,” Colpitts added. “Whatever we did she wanted to do it just as good and she excelled.”
In addition to landing a job as an MTI instructor upon graduation, the star student found employment at the famed Longboat Key eatery Euphemia Haye, where she works as sous chef. Between her training there and MTI, the 25-year-old successfully tried out for one of the most-watched competitive cooking shows on the planet.
Now known to millions of viewers by her first name, Jamie spent four weeks this summer on the popular Fox network show hosted by the hot-tempered Ramsay.
She did her hometown proud by avoiding petty drama and displaying her cooking skills, even earning on-camera praise from culinary hero Wolfgang Puck.
Her dismissal last month remains one of the biggest surprises of the “Hell’s Kitchen” season, which concludes with a two-hour episode at 8 p.m. Monday. The winner of the show receives a $250,000 salary as head chef of the prestigious BLT Steak in New York City.
At the end of the Aug. 15 episode, Ramsay decided that the two contestants up for elimination -- the big-mouthed, often-blundering and constantly bickering duo of Carrie and Elise -- should stay and called out Jamie, who had made no serious cooking errors and worked well with others.
The producer of the show told Jamie, “I’ve never seen you like this and I don’t like to see you like this.”
The same Fox staffer then gave her a hug right before filming.
“It’s not a good feeling. It hurts ... deep,” Jamie said in her teary, on-air confessional.
Back in Bradenton, Jamie watched the pre-taped show at her parents’ house surrounded by family. Dad remained calm. Her 20-year-old brother screamed at the TV. Mom cried.
“I think Chef Ramsay picked from the beginning who he wanted there,” Jamie said. “People who watched the show know Elise should have been gone for lying and not being a good cook and the many other reasons he already sent the rest of the contestants home before.”
Ever since appearing on the show, Jamie is constantly asked, “What’s Chef Ramsay really like?”
Minutes after her elimination episode ran, Jamie shared her feelings regarding the famed chef.
She emphatically said she could never work for Ramsay, that he doesn’t care about the contestants and that his anger and personal jabbing were not just for show.
“He’s really like that all the time,” she exclaimed.
A month later, Jamie still shudders at the thought of working for Ramsay, but her overall opinion of him has cooled.
“He’s a leader,” she said. “Not the type of leader I would choose to be, or be under, but obviously he’s done something right.”
For now, Jamie is happily teaching at MTI and working with her mentors Mark Keckstein, Euphemia Haye’s chef du cuisine and Raymond Arpke, Euphemia Haye’s owner and executive chef.
Someday she hopes to open an eatery of her own.
“My ultimate dream is to own a gourmet sandwich bistro here in Bradenton,” she said.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Visit his blog at heraldbuzzworthy.blogspot.com.