Columbia’s Devonne Black knows that TV cooking contest host Gordon Ramsay is a polarizing figure.
“He has such a huge personality and people either really love him or hate him. They think he is aggressive or mean,” says the 31-year-old. “But I’ve never seen him that way before.”
Instead, Black sees Ramsay more like a “professor who knows what he’s doing”. Her appearance in Ramsey’s latest Fox series, “Next Level Chef” cemented her position as a mainstay of reality television.
Who wouldn’t want to learn from a professor who knows what he’s doing? she says. “He’s a great guide to the entire culinary world.”
Next Level Chef (5 p.m. Sunday before moving into the regular time period, 9 p.m. Wednesday, January 5) brings together professional chefs, amateur home chefs, and chefs making a name for themselves on social media. The Chiefs, who are vying for the $250,000 grand prize, land in one of three teams led by mentors/referees Ramsay, Nisha Arrington, and Richard Bliss. In each episode, teams work on one of three levels for a massive 49-foot-tall assembly built of 85,000 tons of steel outside of Las Vegas.
Upstairs features a state-of-the-art kitchen, the middle floor is a restaurant-friendly kitchen and downstairs is a simple kitchen with fewer supplies and resources.
At the start of each competition, a platform descends from the ceiling giving the contestants in each level a limited time to grab as many components as possible, starting at the top level and working their way down.
Ramsay says that the true test of a great chef is not what he can make in a illustrious kitchen, but what he can do when he works with less.
“All good food comes from the basement, and most importantly, it gets you seriously creative when you have to think fast on your feet,” Ramsay said at a recent virtual news conference for Fox.
Black doesn’t get to try out the basement at the “Next Level Chef” premiere, and instead prepares a plate of sea bass in the more modern kitchen.
At one point in the episode, Black yells, “My home chef appears!”
“When you think of a home chef, you think of someone who probably isn’t familiar with the use of the kitchen or certain utensils in the kitchen,” Black says. “Some things can seem a little adventurous when you’re familiar with a modest kitchen with simple knives, forks, and spoons.”
Born in Jamaica and raised in the Bronx, Black attended culinary arts high school in Manhattan, but then went on to study theater at State University of New York in Purchase. After graduating from college, she moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and moved to Seattle in 2016, working for several years at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Westfield Southcenter Mall. In 2019, Black began working for the Seattle Reap in patron services but was laid off due to the pandemic.
She saw the “Next Level Chef” app link on one of Ramsay’s social media channels and applied for the show in June, and within a month learned she had been selected for the series, which was filmed in September.
Black says she was surprised by Ramsay’s sense of humor.
“He had jokes!” she says. “Everything else I was familiar with
His personality and his cooking style
– But I didn’t know how tall he was or that he had jokes! “
Prior to Next Level Chef, Black tried to get jobs in restaurant kitchens but with no experience beyond waiting tables and bartenders, had a hard time getting her foot in the door.
Black, who currently works as a private channel chef for hire, says she books gigs through her website, devonniesbites.com. “Because these things never came to me before. I didn’t get the jobs I was applying for. And I understand it: I have no experience in calligraphy. You don’t want to put someone on the line if you think they’re not good at it. But I really want to.” Being in the industry, so I hope once the show airs, people see that’s my passion.”
Black credits her father with introducing her to cooking.
“The whole neighborhood would know when he was cooking because we had a lot of people coming in and eating and there would be stories,” Black says. “So I think that generated my love of storytelling and just being a performer.”
Black says her Jamaican roots are that her grandmother is part of Germany
It affects her cooking style.
“All of these cultures really blend together and you get these beautiful flavors, aromas, and spices,” she says. “This comes into play whenever I cook anything.”