Interview with Hell’s Kitchen’s Jessica Cabo

Jessica CaboChef Ramsay and staff
If you missed Fox’s first season of cooking reality show Hell’s Kitchen, which offered its char-broiled finale this past Monday, you missed soiled dishes, spoiled souflees, master Chef Gordon Ramsay’s blistering wrath, twelve would-be restaurant owners in a back-stabbing-but-nicely-plated cook-off for the top, and one damn fine lesbian kiss. Let’s rewind to that last part: Hell’s Kitchen’s Jessica Cabo, who made it all the way to the final three before she was cut, may have landed the first ever open-mouthed lesbian kiss on a primetime network reality show, when she greeted her girlfriend Courtney during a suprise visit in her final episode. No Survivor-style cutaway this time!

What else was different about this kiss? No hype. No commercial after commercial featuring Jessica and her girlie leaning in, to entice the guaranteed contingent of lookieloos out for that dose of oh-so-hot, commodity lesbianism. No caption reading “Jessica, 27, Lesbian Headhunter.” The fiery, platinum-spiked Jess, who matches people with jobs by day, and her friends with fancy gourmet spreads in her Venice Beach pad by night, was neither kept in the kitchen closet by the network, nor marketed as the newest slice of lesbian-chic bread.

And this on one of the summer’s more popular TV shows–Hell’s Kitchen averaged around 7 million viewers each week–on a network not usually known for its respectful treatment of lesbians.

A few days ago, Jessica talked to me over a Rasberry Stoli and soda (or three) about last week’s smoking kiss, why she doesn’t plan to become a professional chef anytime soon, and how she got revenge on the show’s winner, Michael, with a lap dance from his wife! You mentioned that fans have been coming up to you constantly the last few days. What does that recognition feel like?

Jessica Cabo:
When it first started, it was once a week–after the show would air, someone would come by and say “Oh, weren’t you that girl?” Now it happens multiple times a day. If I’m at a restaurant especially. Yesterday we went to Jones on Third and the patrons and the staff kept coming up to me. They just want to shake your hand and say they liked you. You know not everyone likes you, but they still say “You’re my favorite one!”

AE: Have you been invited to cook places?

I could if I wanted to. But I’m a headhunter—that’s what I do. Cooking is my passion—I do it for my friends, I have dinner parties, I have cookbooks, I’m on Food Network all of the time, I know the name of every chef in LA—that’s my deal—that’s what I love. But it pays 9 bucks an hour, so…

AE: Did you go to culinary school?

I didn’t go to cooking school. No. It’s not even being narcissistic, but you know how you know what you’re good at? The things that I’m good at: sales and cooking. I love music. I’ve played drums my whole life, but was never a good drummer. I DJ now, and I’m alright. I have good records and good hair. (laughs) I get away with it. I know, though, that I have a natural ability for cooking.

AE: Were you really looking forward to the idea of owning a restaurant? Is it a dream of yours?

Yeah. I’ve always thought that when I make enough money, I’ll open a restaurant. Of course, I’m a realist. I know that there’s a 95% failure rate.

AE: You have to afford to lose money for awhile to make it.

Totally. But I’d love to invest in a restaurant, of course. I’d also do PR or marketing for a restaurant. I know someone at The Standard—he’s like “come in, you can be a pastry chef on the weekend for fun.” Because that’s my personality.

AE: How did you first get involved with Hell’s Kitchen?

: A friend of a friend suggested that I try out for the show, because they knew that cooking’s one of the things that I do. The producers did tryouts on a Saturday morning at the Avalon and I went. I almost didn’t go. But I stayed in the night before, I got up in the morning, and was one of the first people in line, so I think I was the twelfth interview. As soon as I got there and they asked “What are you like in the kitchen?” and I joked “I run the show.”

My only real experience is that I made pizzas when I lived in New York and so when I went down to college in North Carolina, I ran this little pizza place.

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