Christina Wilson is season 10 winner of 'Hell's Kitchen'

Christina Wilson survived brash chef Gordon Ramsay's rants to win the head-chef gig at his new restaurant in Las Vegas.
Christina Wilson survived brash chef Gordon Ramsay's rants to win the head-chef gig at his new restaurant in Las Vegas.
Posted: September 14, 2012

"HELL'S KITCHEN" Season 10 champ Christina Wilson knows the secret to winning a reality-TV competition. The secret is simple. And it's not in the sauce.

Last spring, Wilson, 32, temporarily left her job cooking at popular Center City BYOB Mercato to appear alongside brash chef Gordon Ramsay in "Hell's Kitchen," Fox TV's version of "Top Chef" meets "Survivor." For weeks, the South Philly resident sautéed, filleted, garnished and groaned among a cast of 18 chef-testants - until, at last, there were two.

Then, just one.

Her.

Monday night, the show's final episode aired. In it, Wilson, who never attended culinary school but instead learned on the job, led a team of previously eliminated peers to serve a dinner that out-delicious-ed that of fellow finalist Justin Antiorio. In the show's last moments, Wilson stepped through the set's glass door and into a burst of confetti, first hiding her face, then accepting a rare hug from Ramsay. She had won.

Her prize, aside from the admiration of the more than 6 million pairs of eyeballs watching the show, is the head-chef gig at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the swank Paris Las Vegas hotel and casino. Her salary will be $250,000 - more than four times what she earned back in Philly.

How'd she do it?

"I was patient. I stayed out of the drama," the former basketball player for Temple and West Chester said when she spoke with us the day after the finale from Los Angeles. The night before, as the finale aired on the East Coast, Wilson attended Fox's fall junket party, where she rubbed elbows with Melanie Griffith, Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling, "The X Factor's" Demi Lovato and L.A. Reid, and the cast of "Glee."

"It was my first red-carpet event. It was awkward and fun and crazy," she said, starstruck. "I grabbed a glass of wine and strolled around like a creeper. . . . They picked me up in a car service. I really felt - I'm used to taking the Broad Street Line."

It was her time in the spotlight, which, she realized, might be her 15 minutes. "It probably won't last forever, so I'm going to live in the moment and enjoy," she said.

The key, it seems, to succeeding at a reality competition is the right attitude. It's not much different from success in any other job. You gotta show up on time. Do your job. Improve at it. Remember where you came from. Turn negatives into positives. Keep your cool.

"Hell's Kitchen" thrives on conflict within the cast and with Ramsay, who has a penchant for blowing up mid-meal, tossing chefs from the kitchen at a moment's notice and generally getting red in the face while spewing words that Fox has to bleep out.

When Wilson drew Chef's ire, or when she butted heads with fellow cast members, she managed to wait until after dinner was done to have a breakdown, if she broke down at all.

A few punches on a wall, a few tears for the camera - that was it. She credited her years playing sports and experience cooking for a few hundred people on weekends at places she's worked in Philly for her ability to stay calm under pressure. Her glass-half-full attitude didn't hurt, either.

Wilson said she was "lucky" to have been placed on a team that frequently won challenges, earning them rewards like a trip in a G4 luxury jet and a yacht ride to Catalina Island.

Still, even when her Red Team lost and had to haul a truckload of ice into the restaurant, build a stage, stay up all night basting a pig, or butcher an entire steer, she kept her head up and sought to benefit from the experience.

"I tried to find the good in everything: The punishments had a lot of silver linings to them," she said.

For example, "We didn't get time to work out while we were taping, so I took advantage of moving around," she said. "I had butchered half a cow before, but never the whole thing, so I still learned something that day."

In hindsight, the biggest challenge came when she returned to Philly and had to keep her participation in "Hell's Kitchen" - and the show's final outcome - a secret from family, friends and, especially, co-workers. Filming wrapped in June 2011, and after Hollywood, she had to return to the grueling line at Mercato.

"It was forcibly humbling. I was sweating through my T-shirt, turning out 250 covers in four hours, getting my teeth kicked in. Meanwhile, I know in a year I'm gonna be in Vegas," she said. "There were times when I really had to bite my tongue."

Now that her news is out, she's been doing a whirlwind of press interviews, which she described as "draining in such a different way." And she's a bit scared to move to Sin City, to leave her family for the first time. "I never would have chosen to move to Vegas to forward my career. It's a whole different challenge for me now, a whole new project to tackle, a whole new city."

Still, she's determined to enjoy the ride while it lasts. Right now, that means signing a few autographs, looking for a new place, making a trip home later this month to pack up her things and her cat, Booty, whom she's afraid could be carried away by a California condor, since she's so "plump and delicious."

And as for what she'll do now that the show's off the air? "Thank God for football: I'll have something to do Monday nights."


Contact Lauren McCutcheon at mccutch@phillynews.com or 215-854-5991. Follow her on Twitter @LaMcCutch.

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