From ‘Hell’ to Huntsville

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First Posted: 6/27/2013

Since returning home from a trip to “Hell’s Kitchen,” Huntsville Golf Club Executive Chef Michael Langdon, 34, of Hanover, has worked to bring several chefs featured in Season 11 to restaurants in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Beginning this week, one fellow contestant begins a more permanent trip.

Langdon, a Plains native and Hanover resident, has selected Anthony Rodriguez to be the new sous chef at the private club in Dallas. The two met as contestants on the Fox culinary competition show that’s hosted by mercurial Michelin-rated chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay. The current season, which airs Thursday nights at 8 p.m., was filmed last August, and the contestants are sworn to secrecy about the final results.

“Fox makes it pretty easy to keep your mouth shut,” Langdon said with a smile.

Cool under fire

Langdon said the position became available last month when former sous chef Joseph Markovich accepted a position as executive chef at the Country Club of Scranton. Rodriguez was an ideal choice after he survived Ramsay’s temper with ease, Langdon said.

“He was always calm, always kept his head about him. It’s kind of hard to have a gung-ho attitude when Ramsay’s screaming in your face,” Langdon said. “That’s somebody I would want by my side – somebody that’s not going to crack, somebody that’s not going to throw a tantrum when things get hard.”

Rodriguez, 28, of Covington, La., said the new opportunity presented itself quickly.

“Honestly, it started off between Michael and myself as a joke,” the former Dakota Restaurant line chef said. “He said he was losing his sous chef and they were getting into their busy season. Jokingly, I said, ‘If you ever need a pair of hands, just let me know and I’ll come out and help you out.’”

Langdon’s next message got the ball rolling and resulted in what Rodriguez calls “a really great opportunity.”

“It’s a big step up in my career field,” he said. “It’s going from behind the line to essentially running the kitchen with him. It’s what I’ve been wanting to do. Since ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ I feel I can really step up in my field.”

The sous chef is the executive chef’s right-hand man who helps oversee staff and set standards for quality and administrative duties.

“At the end of the day, hopefully he’s going to leave here and become an executive chef. It’s my job to train him and be that,” Langdon said.

Rodriguez said he connected very well with Langdon during the show, and the experience breaks down a typical barrier between chefs working together for the first time.

“You could tell that he really cared not just about what was going on in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ but about the food. We were both like-minded there, and that’s why we really connected. We both knew that this wasn’t just about winning a competition. It was about showing that we’re legitimately talented chefs,” he said.

He hopes to bring a fresh pair of eyes and “a little bit of southern flavoring” to Huntsville. The Dakota is known for its fine dining and seafood fare with creole influences.

“I have so many ideas on food, on dishes, on things I’d like to see. I think me and Michael working on a menu in the same kitchen is going to really change things out there. I know he’s got a great start on it, and I’m going there to make sure we put it over the top,” Rodriguez said.

Langdon just unveiled a new summer menu, featuring light dishes including an Asian steak tartare, yellow tomato gazpacho, and striped bass with a ratatouille. The menu change was the third since his return from “Hell’s Kitchen.”

“We kind of stick with the seasons and reap the bounties of the harvest,” Langdon noted.

‘Brotherhood of Chefs’

Rodriguez’s move to northeastern Pennsylvania strengthens a connection between “Hell’s Kitchen” Season 11 contestants. Several of this season’s competitors, including Ray Alongi, Barret Beyer, Jon Scallion, and Jessica Lewis, have participated in special events at 279 Bar and Grille (279 S. River St., Plains). The events offer a chance for residents who aren’t members of the private golf club to appreciate the talents of the reality show stars.

“It’s like the Brotherhood of Chefs. A lot of other chefs wouldn’t want other people to come into their kitchen and have people come for their food. Our main goal is to help each other become successful and see each other have fun,” he said. “This thing at 279 is bringing people in, they get to see the area, and they get to do a fun tasting menu. A lot of them have said that they get treated so well when they come here.”

The notoriety of having talented chefs visit NEPA also helps remove the stigma that the area’s culinary tastes are years behind the times.

“There’s a lot of younger great chefs in the area,” Langdon said. “I’ve seen the area shave years off the perceptions of food and take leaps into the current things that we’re trying to do.”

The experience also lifted both chefs’ confidence in their own abilities.

“It really changed our outlook on the kitchen. It showed that we all love what we do, but this just showed there’s a lot that we can do,” Rodriguez said.

Given everything the pair has been through, rest assured that you won’t find the Huntsville Golf Club on Ramsay’s other reality show, “Kitchen Nightmares.”

“I think we’ll be good,” Langdon said with a laugh.