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Great Chef

East Central College alum Trenton Garvey heads to Hell’s Kitchen | Features People

Union chef Trenton Garvey said he got great preparation for dealing with a fiery television chef at East Central College.

Garvey, 23, learned under ECC chef Ted Hirschi. The experience ultimately prepared him for dealing with Gordon Ramsay on Ramsay’s show “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns,”  the 20th season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” which debuted on Fox at 7 p.m. Monday.

“He’s real old school; he’s real tough. You had to look perfect every day to be ready to learn,” Garvey said of the now-retired Hirschi. “Just like Gordon Ramsay, if you messed up and didn’t do it right, he was on you.”

Garvey also worked with chef Mike Palazzola, ECC’s culinary program coordinator, though not as much because Palazzola taught primarily in international culinary competitions. Garvey didn’t participate in those as much.

“They were really, really tough chefs that were willing to give the best opportunity to their students,” Garvey said. “I think that was probably my biggest foundation was letting them mold me, teach me really. There’s so much you can learn from culinary school, but you’ve got to really do the studying. There’s a whole lot out there. It’s an awesome program.”

Garvey was a student in Palazzola’s first year teaching, after the instructor had amassed 15 years experience in the industry with a competition background.

“Needless to say, my expectations were high. Hopefully that prepared him for Gordon a little,” Palazzola said. “Trent was a typical student in most regards, but I think one of the things that set him aside was his hunger for knowledge. He asked questions, he questioned methods, he wanted to know why, he analyzed food a bit differently than many of the others and showed the beginning signs of many traits synonymous with leading industry chefs.”

Garvey said he knew he wanted to be a chef when he was a student at Union High School, where he graduated in 2013. “I actually started at KFC in Washington, believe it or not, but I realized I was better than everybody there,” Garvey said. “I kind of had a knack for learning.”

In 2016, Garvey started at the Blue Duck in Washington. Though that location closed, he has been executive chef at the Blue Duck in Maplewood for the past three years.

Garvey’s brother was the one who told him people were looking to cast for “Hell’s Kitchen.” 

“I made a call, not expecting much of it,” he said. “This season was ‘Young Guns.’ That’s how I got cast on there. I went through all the hoops and ended up there in Las Vegas, filming.”

The “Young Guns” format of Ramsay’s show features competition among 18 aspiring chefs ages 23 and younger from around the country. The winning chef this season, determined through the completion of various culinary challenges, is to be named head chef at Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. The competition was filmed in Las Vegas in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and contestants have had to keep the contest results a secret since then. 

“It was kind of incredible because I’d never really been outside Missouri and Arkansas and Illinois a few times,” Garvey said. “Then I get a call, and they say, ‘In two weeks you’re flying out to Las Vegas. … It was kind of a small-town-to-big-city kind of thing.”

Garvey is the second Missouri native in the show’s history. St. Louis-native Christina Machamer competed on and ultimately won the show’s fourth season in 2008, earning a senior sous chef job at Ramsay’s London West Hollywood restaurant in Los Angeles with a salary of $250,000.

Garvey called “Hell’s Kitchen” a “culinary boot camp.” 

“It’s just a huge, huge learning experience,” he said. “You’re up against 18 incredible chefs. It kind of levels the playing field because you’re all younger. It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.”

On a show trademarked by Ramsay’s strictness and foul language, Garvey said Ramsay was tough, but the best way to avoid his wrath was to do a good job. “He’s only tough when you mess up,” Garvey said. “You’ve just got to be good. You can’t get past him with anything. He knows. He can see it. He’s got eyes for perfection.”

In a promo running for the show, Ramsay is shown calling Garvey an “(expletive) muppet.”

“His whole thing is to be tough on you, to really take you down — that way he gets the best out of you,” Garvey said.

Garvey has a career goal of eventually opening his own restaurant or even a restaurant group. “Right now, I’m just looking to do the best that I can to learn and be the best that I can be,” he said. 

For people interested in being a chef, Garvey advises them to never be afraid to stop learning. 

“Keep putting yourself out there,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep trying to show what you do because if you don’t let people know who you are, you’ll never make it anywhere.”

Garvey graduated from ECC’s program and demonstrated what it takes to be an industry chef, with a passion and foundational skill set that should serve him well on “Hell’s Kitchen,” Palazzola said, although he good-naturedly pointed out that Garvey could have got more preparation for the show if he had opted to take ECC’s culinary competitions class.

“Understanding what it takes to put yourself out there in the way he did just to have the opportunity to compete is an accomplishment few in our industry get to experience,” Palazzola said. “It tests every bit of your skill to perform your craft in front of an audience. We are all very proud of Trent and won’t disown him if he doesn’t win.”