For most people, being kicked out of Hell would not be a bittersweet occasion, but Pagosa Springs resident Jillian Flathers is different.
Flathers, 29 (28 during the show’s taping), finished third in the FOX reality show Hell’s Kitchen, where chefs compete under the watchful eye of infamous chef Gordon Ramsay and, while winning was preferred, Flathers looks back on the experience fondly.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” Flathers said of competing on the show.
Flathers outlasted 12 other chefs on the show to make it to the final four, then was eliminated only minutes after fourth-place finisher Trev McGrath on the Dec. 8 episode that determined the competition’s final two.
Though her time on the show was cut short, Flathers made an impression on Ramsay throughout her experience, beginning with his questioning of her tattooed eyebrows and ending with a rare and special sentiment — Ramsay allowing Flathers to keep her chef’s jacket after her elimination.
Ramsay has only allowed the third-place finisher to keep the jacket one other time in the show’s eight seasons.
And it was that special sentiment that makes Flathers’ elimination both her favorite and least favorite moments on the show.
“It sucked to get kicked off, but, at the same time ... he said some really nice things about me,” Flathers said, adding, “It was awesome; it was really an honor because obviously Chef Ramsay doesn’t have too many nice things to say about a lot of people.”
While Ramsay’s reputation is for yelling and criticizing, Flathers knew there was more to him and it pushed her to succeed.
“He’s a cool guy. ... I just know he had faith in me,” Flathers said, adding, “Him having faith in me helped me get really far.”
During the competition, Ramsay’s view of Flathers pushed her along, as did two brief opportunities Flathers earned to see her husband and young sons, ages 6 and 8, while she was competing.
All four finalists were given an opportunity to briefly see their families during the competition, then Flathers won a challenge that allowed her another period of time with her loved ones the next day.
“It made me stronger, made me remember why I was there,” Flathers said of the reunions.
Besides trying to win, Flathers was also on the show to learn, though what she learned may not be put to practice in her daily work because the show centered around fine dining.
“Honestly, I don’t really like fine dining. It’s not me,” Flathers said, explaining that she likes good homestyle meals with larger portions, which is the opposite of fine dining.
Flathers was also not fond of the brigade-style cooking on the show, where each chef works at a different station to cook a different part of the meal.
But, cooking styles aside, Flathers was happy with her appearance on the show and learned valuable lessons.
“I liked my overall performance on the show. I thought I did amazing and I did my best,” Flathers said, noting that she made it through hard times and being yelled at.
“I learned from being on the show that I don’t have to take crap from anyone, not even Chef Ramsay,” she said. “I won’t ever let anyone give me crap.”
And gained valuable confidence.
“I know now that I’m an awesome cook,” Flathers said, adding that she is stronger than she previously thought and that, no matter what she does in the future, she can succeed.
Those future plans include opening a restaurant of her own sometime in the next couple years somewhere in Colorado, possibly Durango.
And the style of food?
“Good food. Good, home cooked food. No fine dining,” Flathers said.
Only time will tell if Flathers’ plans will become a reality and bring her culinary (mostly) full circle.
Flathers attended junior high and high school in Pagosa Springs, graduating in 1999 and started her cooking career in local establishments.
At the age of 14, Flathers’ first job was that of a prep cook at Boss Hogg’s, then known as Hog’s Breath. She worked at other area restaurants until leaving for college, where she studied business.
Although graduating from Brown Mackie College in 2007 with a degree in business instead of obtaining a degree in culinary arts, Flathers continued to work as a chef, most recently in Maryville, Ind. for four years.
The winner of the Hell’s Kitchen was announced Wednesday night, however, the result was not available by presstime.