Contributor Brooklynne Peters landed a one-on-one interview with NOSH line cook and Hell’s Kitchen, Season Nine contestant, Carrie Keep. The two sat down at Coal Vines Pizza and Wine Bar in Uptown last week, during which time Keep dished about the show’s behind-the-scenes drama and how she only has eyes for “cheffy.” Take it away, Brooklynne…
“I did not sleep with Brendan,” Dallas chef and Hell’s Kitchen, Season Nine contestant Carrie Keep clarified over calamari and bruschetta as she cleared the air about her (non) relationship with Brendan, girl drama on the show, and why she ultimately felt like she let chef Gordon Ramsay down.
Keep, who has a little over two years of cooking experience and a brand new degree from Le Cordon Bleu, beat out 20,000 applicants to become one of 18 final contestants on Hell’s Kitchen, the reality cooking show that banks on aspiring chefs’ ambition (and vulnerabilities) and chef Gordon Ramsay’s volatility. As of this week, she’s worked her way into to the final 10 and has a lot to say about how she got there.
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It hasn’t been a straight shot to the top for Keep, who is from Wichita Falls, Texas. The tall blonde spent much of her twenties working as a loan officer for Wells Fargo, and even, at one point, selling copy machines. But thanks to a lot of encouragement from her friends, Keep decided two years ago to drop everything and pursue her dream of becoming a chef.
“I always cooked for friends and stuff. I loved cooking,” Keep said. “They’d always be like, ‘Carrie, why don’t you become a chef?’”
So when she grew tired of life in sales, Keep enrolled in Dallas’ Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. In retrospect, she states that this might not have been the best decision, though it worked out in her favor.
“Knowing what I do now, I probably wouldn’t have gone to culinary school,” said Keep. “You learn so much just being in the kitchen.”
Which is just what she did. Within her first three months of school, she had secured an apprenticeship with Matt McCallister, executive chef at Stephan Pyles. Keep held down a full-time job while going to school and apprenticing at Stephan Pyles, making good her self-attributed title of “over-achiever.” “I had no life, but I didn’t care!” she said.
It was there that Keep really learned the ropes in the restaurant business, working the line and learning from her mistakes. “I feel that when you’re just thrown into it, that’s how you learn,” said Keep. “I don’t mind that I make mistakes. I’m not perfect. But I learn from those mistakes, and I get better.”
From that point on, Keep made it a point to learn from only the best, including Nick Badovinus (Neighborhood Services Tavern), Avner Samuel (NOSH), Jon Stevens (NOSH) and eventually, Gordon Ramsay.
Keep was a fan of Hell’s Kitchen long before she was a contestant, stretching back to her Wells Fargo days when a career in cooking wasn’t even on the horizon. She admired Ramsay for his incredible cooking talent as well as his ability to tear people to shreds with his words.
“When he’s calling everyone a donkey,” Keep said, “and dropping the F-bomb, I’m like, this guy’s amazing!”
A few years later, while still enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, she made the decision to send in an online application for the show. After myriad interviews and background checks, Keep found herself in a finalist position to become a contestant on season nine. Part of the approval process included extensive screening by psychiatrists, doctors and a private investigator (“Because that’s what I like to do on the weekends – go out and murder people with my knife kit!”) But she wasn’t concerned.
“They just fell in love with me,” Keep said with a confident smile.
Interestingly, though she’d been through so much medical and mental screening, she’d had to do no cooking to prove that she deserved to be on the show. Up until it was time to shoot, producers had chosen her purely off of her personality. However, she said that anyone banking on personality alone would’ve been in big trouble. “Anyone would be stupid to lie and actually go into that kitchen, because it is hell…for you to actually not know a thing about cooking and to go into that kitchen…I mean, yeah, you’d get yanked immediately.”
Once the show aired, it became apparent to many that there was a lot of drama, and Keep was at the center of much of it. She had an ongoing issue with fellow contestant Elise Wims. The two didn’t get along from the beginning, despite having no apparent legitimate conflict.
“She is evil,” Keep said of Wims. “And I really don’t think she has a mother. Seriously, I don’t know who raised her. A pack of freaking wolves or coyotes. I want to talk to her mother, if she does have a mother. [I’d] say ‘What did you do to this girl? God!’ I have never, ever met someone who was like, off the bat, ‘Eff you.’ Never! Everybody loves me!”
Keep had a lot to say about other contestants on the show, but her real beef was with the Fox network itself for framing her and fellow contestant, Brendan Heavey. The show aired a segment indicating that Keep and Heavey were intimate with one another, which Keep insists was a total fabrication. So what exactly happened?
“It’s called editing. Thank you, Fox,” said Keep. “Literally, yes, I was down there talking to him, but we were just talking. It wasn’t flirtatious…My lips weren’t even moving when, supposedly, I was talking. They totally set that up. I never touched him. We were just friends. And they set up the whole shout out…at the end too, when he got eliminated. He was like, ‘Yo Carrie, look me up!’ Really? Good job, guys. Way to go. You succeeded in making me look like a slut. Appreciate it.”
But in spite of the constant drama surrounding Keep, she insists that her time spent on the show was valuable and rewarding, mainly due to the opportunity she had to work with Chef Ramsay.
“If I’m gonna flirt with anybody, and get it on with anybody, it’s gonna be Chef Ramsay,” Keep said. “I know he’s married, so it would never happen. I only had eyes for Cheffy.”
Keep was overwhelmed by Ramsay’s accomplishments including his numerous Michelin star restaurants and reality shows. One of her most memorable moments on the show was when the cooking tyrant toned it down for a moment to give her some real guidance.
“He comes over and he’s like, ‘Hey, watch me.’ And all he did was teach me,” Keep said, remembering a time when she was preparing sea bass for dinner. “It wasn’t like he was belittling my intelligence or anything. He just wanted to show me how he does it. That alone, right there, is so cool. Cuz I’m just sitting there right next to Chef Ramsay and he’s showing me everything. He’s like a god.”
But when it comes to the red-faced, fist-pounding Ramsay we all know and love, Keep thinks some of it might be for show. “He’s passionate about what he does,” said Keep. “So I understand why he flies off the handle. It is reality TV, so we’ll just say that.”
Despite being the least-experienced chef in the competition, Keep took away some valuable lessons, and very few regrets. She felt like a winner just for beating out 20,000 other contestants, and proving to herself that she could persevere.
“Of course, you go in there wanting to win it all,” said Keep. “I’m not gonna beat myself up because I didn’t get this far or I didn’t make it this far. Because I did it, you know? I got on the show. I kicked butt. And I can’t be disappointed in myself if I gave it everything I could.”
However, when it came to personal goals, Keep admits that she feels as though she failed Chef Ramsay in the end.
“I wish I would’ve stepped up and shown them, ‘This is me.’ I wish he’d seen more,” said Keep. “I wish I’d had more time to show him. I just felt like I let Chef Ramsay down. And that was the last thing I wanted to do. Because he had confidence in me, and I feel like I let him down.”
Keep’s future is currently up for grabs. She courts the possibility of returning to TV, whether it would be for a cooking show or another season of Hell’s Kitchen. But for now, she is happy working as a line cook at NOSH Euro Bistro in Dallas, alongside Chef Avner Samuels and Chef Jon Stevens.
“She’s got great charisma,” said Stevens of Keep. “I think she’ll be really good at it. She’s young in the business, but I don’t think that matters as long as you have passion for it.”
So, will we see Carrie Keep, the tall, sweet blonde from Texas, on national television again soon? Who knows? However, you might see her NOSH counterpart on the small screen sooner than you think.
“If I was approached by a show that I’d like to be on,” said Stevens,” I would consider it.”
Catch new episodes of Hell’s Kitchen on Monday and Tuesday nights on FOX.