CHEF MICHAEL WRAY
Winner of Fox Televisions"
'HELL'S KITCHEN'

by Ginger Coyote

 

I was lucky enough to have the chance to catch up with Chef Michael Wray winner of Fox Television’s “Hell’s Kitchen”. Michael is a way cool guy who loves his wife Lola and is ecstatic over his victory. Since winning in October of 2004 he has not changed his attitude or lifestyle. No mansion in the Hollywood Hills or a Porsche. He lives in a modest apartment and drives a black pickup truck, good for getting to Burning Man.

He went into the competition with a goal to win. He wanted to be able to fulfill his dreams of starting a family and to be a respected Chef with his own Restaurant. He played the game with skill and integrity. We at Punk Globe applaud his ethics and talent. The Grand Finale show of “Hell’s Kitchen” rated #7 in the Nielson Ratings. Not to shabby. The show was a hit! The following interview took place in the courtyard of Michael and Lola’s Hollywood apartment.

Punk Globe: Congratulations on your victory Chef Michael on Hell’s Kitchen. You rawked! Can you give the Punk Globe readers some background on yourself?

Chef Michael: When I was young going to school, I swear to God, there were only two or three punks and skaters in the small town in Colorado where I came from. My hometown has about 100 people in it. We were always looked down upon. So as soon as I turned 16 I moved out of the house, dropped out of high school and got a job washing dishes in a restaurant. The Chef would come up, he would have some punk rock playing and he would put some knives in my hands, here’s a joint. We would be listening to Operation Ivy. I smoked cigarettes and worked really hard, worked late and I was hooked every since then about being in the kitchen.

Punk Globe: So you have been working in the kitchen since you were 16 years old? That is amazing! But when one finds their passion- there is no stopping you.

Chef Michael: Yeah I dropped out of school when I was 16, I had ADD….. a Mohawk and rode a Skateboard. People didn’t like that; I was so shunned upon in that small town. I knew I had to get the fuck out of there and live in the city. My advice to anyone who is young and in a similar situation as I was in. "NEVER GIVE UP YOUR DREAM.... YOU CAN AND WILL MAKE IT.. LOOK AT ME, I AM PROOF OF THAT!" 

Punk Globe: And this was in the 90’s right? Just shows how narrow-minded people in small towns still can be. I came from a tiny town in Iowa and felt the exact same way. I could not get out of there fast enough!

Chef Michael: Yeah it was 1992 or 93 I dropped out of high school. I didn’t have any support- no one cared. I was from some hick town. I was destine for a big city and cooking came naturally for me. I just followed my dream. I have been in LA for eight years. I met Lola after being here for 3 months we got engaged and we have been married for 4 years.

Punk Globe: You had a lot of Punks rooting for you!

Chef Michael: There is not a real good representation of punks in this business out there. Because I think a lot of the chefs who work in our industry are old fat stuffy men. We are not all like that. It is nice to see some representation and I was happy to represent my people!

Punk Globe: That is what makes “Hell’s Kitchen “ above all the other shows of its genre. They allowed you - a Punk Rocker covered in ink to compete and best of all win the competition. I really think you have a Guinness Book Record -THE FIRST PUNK ROCKER TO EVER WIN SUCH A HIGH PROFILE COMPETITION. You also will always be the first winner of "Hell's Kitchen" and that holds alot of prestige.

Chef Michael: To be on a show with Gordon Ramsay and to win. It was great! I have always had to work twice as hard as the others to get respect. As soon as they look at me they always have this pre- disposed idea of how I am going to be. I’ve always had to work extra hard but I do think it paid off in the long run.

Punk Globe: People who have had to fight and work hard to fight discrimination have so much character and soul than people who are “normal” and who are to judge who is normal?

Chef Michael: People are so fast to judge. My wife would get on the Internet and we would read the Fox Message Board with the comments that some people were writing about playing with integrity. This show was not only a reality show it was also a competition .We had one month and the winner wins his or her own restaurant. The winner takes all, what was I gonna do? This is my life, my career and my dreams. Sure, I wanted to win-but I didn’t cheat. I tried to have fun with every competition. Everyone who was on the show all had the same motive.

Punk Globe: The people I have spoken with about you and the show feel you played the game very well. Always fair and square!

You never lost your cool in any of the competitions. Which I find amazing considering how hard you all had to work and how hard Chef Ramsay rode you all.

Chef Michael: Thanks, I was never up for elimination nor did I ever get yelled at. I could not pay attention to the shit being said. I let it roll off my shoulders. I think that was my co-competitors biggest downfall. Why would they feel the need to argue with Chef Ramsay? He is a success he knows what he is doing. Just shut up and do your job and say "Yes Chef” that’s the bottom-line.

Punk Globe: You played the game good! You worked hard this was definitely a tough competition. It was not a fluff show like "The Bachelor” or "Bachelorette." Had you watched any of the shows like "The Apprentice” before you did this show?

Chef Michael: My wife watches them all. “America’s Top Model” is one of her favorites. She gave me the best advice. She said "75% of the contestants are gonna eliminate themselves. Don’t worry about them. Worry about the one or two of them who are going to be your closest competition”. Which I did! Thankyou Lola!

Punk Globe: You played the game alot like Kendra did on ”The Apprentice”. She never was up for elimination either. She knew when to show her stuff and when to sit back.

Chef Michael: You don’t blow your wad on the first show. You can’t give your everything right away. You will be expected to deliver that every day and you will always have to surpass yourself. You start off soft and slow in the background, build up some steam and then you kick some ass.

Punk Globe: You had been to London previously to study culinary. Is it true you had applied to study with Chef Ramsay?

Chef Michael: I lived in London for a year and a half to go to Chef School. While there, I had applied to work for free and apprentice under Chef Ramsay's at one of his restaurants. But there was a two-year waiting list at that time, so I was out of luck. I had heard all these rumors about him. I once heard a story about him grabbing one of the students from the school who was wearing a Cordon Bleu jacket. He pulled out a knife and cut out the embroidery on the jacket. I have a lot of respect for Chef Ramsay and was so happy to be put on a show with him.

Punk Globe: With Chef Ramsay being from London, I bet he did not blink an eye at your ink. There are people in banks with big hawks. He has seen it all unlike the narrow-minded people in the middle of America.

Chef Michael: That is really a good question! No way! He never blinked an eye about how I looked. In Europe they have seen it all, it is not a big deal. They have other priorities to worry about. They are not worried about some tattoos. I never felt he ever had any prejudgments about me. He was always very open and friendly.

Punk Globe: When you were on “Hell’s Kitchen” did you ever mention to Chef Ramsay about applying to work for his Restaurant when you were in London prior to the show?

Chef Michael: Yeah, on a lot the challenges I was on we would win and we would go outside with him and talk. That's when I got the chance to tell him about applying to apprentice under him.

Punk Globe: Chef Ramsay is often compared to Simon Cowell from “American Idol”

Chef Michael: There is a big difference! Chef Ramsay wants perfection in the kitchen. If he tells us we did a good job in the kitchen- we could be a little lax. But he had to instill his position as Chef with us also. He wanted perfection; you just had to listen to want he said. He is so successful at what he does. He makes 250 Million Pounds a year. He has been the top chef in Europe for 10 years in a row. He has earned the right to be the way he is .He knows what it takes to be top-notch chef.

Punk Globe: You made a very good point about the comparison. With Simon Cowell- he is often right on the mark with his critique while other times he is almost cruel. I never saw Chef Ramsay really be nasty without a good reason. Wow 250 Million Pounds! I would say Chef Ramsay has it down.

Chef Michael: That is the French way. That is the way they do things there. He had to be tough on you to get the results he wanted. However, when you did well he would give you the respect you deserved. When Jessica, Jimmy and Elsie left the show Chef Ramsay asked them to hold theirs heads high with pride when they left "Hell's Kitchen." They had worked hard and deserved that respect.

Punk Globe: How would you describe the cuisine Chef Ramsay specializes in?

Chef Michael: In Europe, you know there is a lot of simple fresh food. French influenced. None of this Fusion, Japanese and a lot of the food that we have here. Over there it is very traditional. Recipes that are simple have a lot of flavor and are true to themselves.

Punk Globe: Did you help prepare the menu at White Lotus (a very posh trendy Hollywood dinner club) with my pal Jeff Zimmerman? Tell me about your experience there.

Chef Michael: Jeff has the coolest little boy! I had a drum set I wanted to give him but I could never get a hold of Jeff.

At White Lotus, I helped with the menu but I worked on the daily operations and treated like shit. Up until that point I had worked in restaurants for only a limited time. I was learning I did not want commit to three years because I have always wanted to have my own restaurant. At White Lotus I learned about how the businesses in Hollywood are really run. . Liquor sales really count. The pay to employees is really low and charge a very high price that is how they make their money. With The White Lotus you could get into the club for free with dinner reservations, where if you were just going to the club you would have a 3-hour wait in line. So everyone makes reservations for dinner to insure getting into the club. You can have the crappiest food and always have reservations. The Chef there is a cool guy but they told me that it was a mistake to join “Hell’s Kitchen’ because I had to quit my job there to do it.

Punk Globe: How did you find out about “Hells Kitchen?”

Chef Michael: Through Damien and Andy my wife’s cousins. They both work in the industry and they sent me an email about an open casting call at The Palace on Vine. There was about 4 or 5 hundred people there applying to be on the show.

Punk Globe: Janet Charlton was telling me that she read that Hell’s Kitchen was renewed for next year.

Chef Michael: I have been speaking with the producers about my just desserts and I know that they and the network are very happy with the ratings and I do believe they will be back.

Punk Globe: You worked very hard for those just desserts.

Chef Michael: It had to be the most grueling 30 days I have ever spent. Getting up early to do all the prep work. With all the camera’s, hot bright lights it was exhausting. Since it was live TV there were alot of retakes. Then with preparing food at night, the kitchen got really hot. I really have never worked so hard in my entire life.

Punk Globe: Can you tell us about the episode where some of the contestants had been drinking and Chef Ramsay woke you up really early with no real rest to go to work.

Chef Michael: That was a really tough challenge. I personally do not drink myself, however I do have problems sleeping, so when they came for us I was still awake. Jessica and Ralph did not believe me when I told them we had to get up to go to work. Jessica had gotten drunk so Ralph and I covered for her because there was just the three of us and we were a team. There was no bitterness about covering for her.

Punk Globe: I liked on the finale show how you hugged Ralph before you opened the door. You could see the respect you held for each other. That was such a great scene!

Chef Michael: Ralph was the most gracious guy I have ever met. He was so cool about losing. One of the most fucked up things that happened was after I walked through the door and all the people were cheering. We got to celebrate for about ten minutes. They then had us re-shoot the scene of us opening the doors again and again. Getting all these different shots and angles. Finally Ralph said,” I lost the show... enough already.” I was nervous about calling him for a few months because I felt so guilty. We both worked so hard to get there. My hat is off to him; he is a great great man!

When I went on the show I knew right away that he and Chris were my main competitors. Chris had been very vocal about being the best and when he blew it on the challenge he really let the team down. That is when I knew personally it would be down to Ralph and myself.

There are two kinds of people who work in the Kitchen -

The ones who do it for the paycheck.....

And the one’s who work all those extra hours and do not bitch about it. It really sucks to be a cook because you never get paid what you are worth. My restaurant will be different. Because I have it figured out. I will treat people with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Punk Globe: On the final show I think you made some real good choices with whom you wanted on your team to work under you. I heard Ralph make a comment about you choosing Jessica and you knowing he was close to her.

Michael: That is how I won the challenge. Picking a really good staff. After I picked them, I then took them all outside and told them if I won the contest I would pay them each $1,000. I told them “To do it for the money and forget about me.” In the beginning they were all a bit slow but by the middle of the challenge they were kicking ass! One of my favorite comments I used was in the beginning of the challenge “YOU GUYS COOK LIKE OLD PEOPLE FUCK” that got me the results I wanted.

Punk Globe: How did it feel to see your wife and family when they appeared on the show? It was on an episode when there were just you, Ralph and Jessica competing.

Chef Michael: It was great to see her but I was afraid to run up and kiss her for fear of being eliminated. I was thinking, “Please let us have a chance to hug each other.” My wife had written me a letter prior to the show and that helped me make it through the show. I also went out and spoke alot to the billboard of Gordon Ramsay. I think they showed those scenes on the show a few times. It was very therapeutic for me; it helped me mentally so much. I remember that when I walked through the door on the final episode. My mind went blank; I was in such a “zone”. My whole life had been restructured to win this show and when I did, I just went blank... I was speechless.

Punk Globe: When you were given the chance to open your own restaurant on set of "Hell's Kitchen" I personally felt Chef Ramsay was swaying towards you. He had no real criticisms of your restaurant LolaPop. But he was a bit harsh on Ralph on alot of his choices for his restaurant. Especially the choice of uniforms he had his servers wear.

Chef Michael: We were given the freedom to do anything that we wanted. It seemed Ralph was in a blank for ideas. I am sure if he were to do it over he would make different choices. He has owned restaurants before. He has had some experience behind him. I personally wanted to have some fun with it. . I also think that Chef Ramsay and I have similar relationships with our partners. I would be lost without Lola. She is my anchor. I will have my head in the clouds but she is always right there. She is an amazing Woman and I am so happy to have gotten some security for us to raise a family. Being on “Hells Kitchen” was such a blessing I did in 30 days what may have taken 10 years to do in the real world. I had always told Lola I wanted to own my own restaurant and now it will happen. It puts me a bit more at ease and makes me feel so good about myself.

Punk Globe: Do you have any idea of how many applications the show got for contestants?

Chef Michael: I have heard between 8,000 and 12,000 people. The show did not specify that you had to have any formal training just the desire to own a restaurant. Elsie had no formal training. Chef Ramsay took this into consideration when he critiqued Elsie’s work. Him being fair is what got her on "Good Day LA".

Punk Globe: Where exactly was “Hells Kitchen” located at and how did the restaurant get its customers?

Chef Michael: They converted an old studio on the corner of Willoughby and LaBrea. They had looked for a restaurant but could not find any place that could handle all the power for all those cameras and lights. The two kitchens they constructed were better than any kitchen I had ever worked in. It was great!

The Customers were friends of the crew or off the streets. The customers were told a reality show was being filmed and all they had to do was fill out a forum critiquing the food and they would get free drinks & dinner. I felt so sorry for the customers because they would have to wait for hours for their food but the booze kept flowing. So I guess they were happy. They would come up all drunk complaining about where their food was- but it all worked out.

Punk Globe: When you were taping the final episode of the show. Did you have any inkling that you had won the competition?

Chef Michael: None what so ever! Although sub consciously I had won the show and was making plans of how I was going to run the Restaurant. . When I did know I won- we had to keep it a secret for 9 months... People would always ask me if I won. It was really hard keeping quiet. In fact I started dropping hints that I had lost. You know sharing that moment with Lola, my friends and family when I won on the show was something I will never trade for anything. There was so much love in that room. I will never forget it. To have all those people who had believed in you, be there with me was so amazing. I now feel good about starting a family, I am not gonna change that much no big fancy car or house.

Punk Globe: You did a good job keeping the secret. Even at your viewing party no one had a clue you won until you opened that door on screen and then at 'Big Wang" all the bottles of Champagne started popping.

Janet asked me to ask you about your grand prize. On the show the actual prize that you won was very vague. It seemed you had either a choice of having your own restaurant or going to London to study with Chef Ramsay. It really did not sound like you would get them both.

Chef Michael: When Gordon asked me that question you mentioned. I thought the same thing. I looked at Lola and said yes I am going with you to London. You know the saying “You give a hungry man a fish- he will be full for a day. But if you teach a hungry man how to fish- he will be full for a lifetime.” I had not signed anything and with him asking me to come to London it was my nature to go with him. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to be part of Gordon Ramsay's empire- he has, nine restaurants.

About a month after winning they flew us to London, we toured all his restaurants and Gordon sat me down and said we really, really like you and we want to have you come to London train and develop for your restaurant. Then you can go start your own restaurant anywhere you want and we will back you. So I will be a business partner with Gordon Ramsay for as long as I have the restaurant. I think Las Vegas is where it is. I have a name as the winner of “Hell’s Kitchen” so why not capitalize on that. Las Vegas is the perfect City with all the tourism. People will want to come to the restaurant just to check out the winner of "Hells Kitchen." I am negotiations with The Palms right now. But nothing is concrete yet.

Punk Globe: Did the other competitors get any compensation for being on the show?

Chef Michael: We each got paid $4,000 for the 30 days.

Punk Globe: On the finale show both you and Ralph were on the corner of Hollywood and Highland having people taste your food. Did you know one of the guys who tasted the food was a regular on the "Jimmy Kimball Show?" The guys who they have annoy everyone. They film the show across the street at The El-Capitan Theatre who knows maybe you were on Jimmy Kimball that night.

Chef Michael: I had no idea that was him. He liked my food better he was cool! I wonder if the show knew who he was? That is so funny!

Punk Globe: Now a little about you. Do you play any musical instruments yourself?

Chef Michael: I have no musical ability at all. However I do draw and designed alot of my tattoos.

Punk Globe: How about favorite movies? Have you seen Napoleon Dynamite? Jon Gries who played Uncle Rico lives just down the street.

Chef Michael: Really? Napoleon Dynamite was a very funny movie. Lola and I love John Waters. Lola has met him before so when we went to see him speak she introduced me to him. That was really a rush. I love "Pink Flamingo's", "Pecker," "Serial Mom," "Cry Baby' and "Female Trouble." Divine is the bomb! I used to wear my hair in a pompadour like Johnny Depp in "Cry Baby" minus the curl in the front.

Punk Globe: Do you have any favorite bands?

Chef Michael: I love Johnny Cash he was my absolute favorite of all time. I heard Joaquin Phoenix singing for the upcoming Johnny Cash movie and he had it. I love Reese Witherspoon she will be great June Carter Cash. . I love The White Stripes I am going to see them on Wednesday, a friend got me a ticket. The Distillers.... Brody is so hot. Her voice gets compared alot to Courtney Love. I like Green Day; Rancid the list is so long. I can't name them all.

Punk Globe: What is your ultimate dream?

Chef Michael: To have my own restaurant LolaPop in a reality show in Vegas! That would be so fucking cool!

Punk Globe: But what about going to Burning Man?

Chef Michael: We will have to just work our schedule around Burning Man!

Punk Globe would like to thank Chef Michael for taking the time out to do this very informative interview. We wish him much luck and success with his restaurant LolaPop. See you at Burning Man.

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