AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - Fernando Cruz, Executive Chef for the Hotel at Auburn University, prepares his signature dish, pan seared squab with a sweet potato puree.
He serves it to a group of supporters Wednesday, September 10, at a watch party for the new season of one of television most intimidating shows, Fox's Hell's Kitchen, which Cruz is a contestant.
"It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I met some amazing people, Chef Gordon Ramsey. He has such a skill as a chef and I learned so much about myself," says Cruz.
Season 13 of Hell's Kitchen was filmed last fall, and Cruz admits it has been hard to keep a secret this long, but well worth the wait, having the opportunity share his passion for cooking with the world.
"It's a fun environment. It's not an eight to five job. This is not something that is always the same, it's going to be different at I like that motivation, that go-go-go and I think that was a key player in making the decision to do this career," explains Cruz.
Cruz has been at the Auburn Hotel for nine months.
He studied his craft at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and has worked in restaurants throughout Europe. He says Hell's Kitchen has been one of the best experiences of his life.
"I think that is the biggest reward is when someone tells you thank you, this was amazing. That's all you can ask for," explains Cruz.
Remarkably, two area chefs are on season 13.
Alabama native, Janai Simpson, who works at Epic Restaurant in Columbus, is also competing for the $250,000 prize and a head chef position at a restaurant owned by the show's host, Gordon Ramsey.
A group gathered with Simpson at the River Mill in Columbus Wednesday, September 10, to watch the premier.
"I thank God for the journey because now you can see in all his glory, he has taken me from really being nothing, to being on a show that everyone knows," says Simpson
Cruz and Simpson are two of 18 people around the nation picked to put their culinary skills to the test.
Unfortunately, Simpson did not make it past the premiere Wednesday and was sent home.
Cruz will move onto next week.
You can watch Hell's Kitchen on Fox 54, Wednesdays at 8:00 PM.