Michelle Tribble is still getting accustomed to the idea that people know who she is.
Three months ago, before the Dallas chef made her first appearance on Hell’s Kitchen, she led a rather anonymous life.
Now, as one of the final five competing for a head chef position at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City, Tribble has fans. Actual fans!
“It’s been crazy,” she says. “All of a sudden, people come up to me and they’re like, ‘Oh, my god. Michelle! You’re my favorite. Can I take a picture with you?’
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“It’s awkward, because I’m not used to that. But it’s also cool knowing there are people out there who are supporting me.”
Yet another chef will be sent packing in the next episode at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox. The season finale of the long-running culinary-competition show airs June 9.
A Hell’s Kitchen victory would mean a major career move for Tribble. The 24-year-old is the lead line cook at Five Sixty By Wolfgang Puck, the restaurant atop Dallas’ Reunion Tower. She has worked there for nearly five years.
“There’s a ridiculous amount to master in a fine-dining restaurant, so I’ve been learning as much as I can from the chefs there,” she says. “I know every station there now.”
When fans talk to Tribble about her experiences on the show, there are two questions she hears most of all.
“They want to know, ‘Is T (a rival chef) really that uptight?’ and ‘Is Chef Ramsay really that mean?’” she says. “All I can say is they portray us well on TV. It’s almost exactly like how we are in real life.”
Tribble is a strong candidate to make it the rest of the way.
There have been close calls (she has been nominated for elimination twice in 13 episodes) and she has ticked Ramsay off a few times (few can always live up to his exacting standards). But she seems to be getting stronger as the season progresses.
In last week’s episode, she wowed Ramsay and won the steak challenge even though she had the disadvantage of having the cheapest cut of meat, a flank steak.
“I feel like that was the biggest point in the competition for me so far, where everyone was like, ‘Oh, wow, she actually is a competitor,’” Tribble says. “That was my greatest moment at that point.
“And the reward (a trip to Catalina Island and Vitamix blenders for her and the rest of her team) was such an awesome reward, the best one of the season.”
And her lowlight? “If I could go back and change anything, it would be that Greek challenge where I made this weird kiwi prawn dish,” she says. “That really was a weird dish!”
You’ll notice, though, that her biggest regret involves a food decision.
If you ask some of her Hell’s Kitchen rivals, they might be more embarrassed by moments when they wept on TV.
“When I watch the shows, one thing that’s been shocking to me is that the guys cry so much,” Tribble says. “I had no idea that the boys cry all the time.”
Tribble isn’t the type to wilt in that way, even when Ramsay unleashes one of his profanity-laced rants.
“In this industry, yelling from the head chef or between co-workers, usually about something that didn’t go right, is just part of the job,” Tribble says. “You can’t take it personally.
“If Chef Ramsay is yelling, it’s not because he likes yelling. It’s because he’s passionate about the food he’s putting out. I’d be more worried if he wasn’t yelling.”
▪ 8 p.m. Tuesday
▪ KDFW/Channel 4