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