2016-10-27 / Life in Leelanau

Local chef goes to hell and back

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff


LAKE LEELANAU resident Aaron Smock was one of two area chefs appearing on Season 16 of “Hell’s Kitchen,” a reality cooking show on Fox. Smock is a chef at The Homestead in Glen Arbor. Photo: Greg Gayne, FOX Broadcasting Company LAKE LEELANAU resident Aaron Smock was one of two area chefs appearing on Season 16 of “Hell’s Kitchen,” a reality cooking show on Fox. Smock is a chef at The Homestead in Glen Arbor. Photo: Greg Gayne, FOX Broadcasting Company Aaron Smock was no stranger to handling the proverbial heat before entering “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Smock, a 24-year-old resident of Lake Leelanau, had logged his share of 80-hour weeks as a chef at The Homestead before flying out to Los Angeles to appear on Fox’s reality cooking show, but his bid for $250,000 and a head chef position at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at The Venetian in Las Vegas ended early nonetheless.

Chef Gordon Ramsay gave Smock the heaveho in Episode 5, “Walking the Plank,” which aired Friday night.

“Clearly you have a passion for cooking, but you need to come in with confidence and you need to possess that killer instinct, and right now, you are not ready,” Ramsay told Smock after announcing his decision. “But don’t stop. Because you can cook.”


AARON SMOCK is back on the peninsula after putting his culinary skills to the test on Season 16 of “Hell’s Kitchen” in Los Angeles. Full episodes of the reality cooking show are available through Hulu or by signing in with your TV provider on the Fox website. Visit hulu.com/hells-kitchen or fox.com/hells-kitchen/full-episodes to learn more. Photo: Greg Gayne, FOX Broadcasting Company AARON SMOCK is back on the peninsula after putting his culinary skills to the test on Season 16 of “Hell’s Kitchen” in Los Angeles. Full episodes of the reality cooking show are available through Hulu or by signing in with your TV provider on the Fox website. Visit hulu.com/hells-kitchen or fox.com/hells-kitchen/full-episodes to learn more. Photo: Greg Gayne, FOX Broadcasting Company Smock showed flashes of potential early in the two-team, 18-chef competition, and even earned four out of five stars from Ramsay with his signature dish, pork schnitzel with blaukraut, but was labeled as a “weak link” by his teammates for what they said was a lack of confidence and an inability to communicate in the kitchen.

The early departure left the Leelanau County contestant scratching his head.

“I’m still baffled on how that happened,” Smock said on Monday. “It still doesn’t make any sense to me, but I’m not hurt about it. I’m not one to hold a grudge; it doesn’t bother me too much.”

His teammates nominated him and one other chef for elimination in Episode 4, but both were spared when Ramsay unexpectedly booted a member of the red team. Ramsay, who aptly plays the role of a tirade-happy head chef, told Smock to “get his head out of the sand and start (expletive) communicating.”

Smock didn’t do himself any favors in Episode 5 after Traverse City chef Kim Ryan challenged him in a “Battle of the Baltic Sea Cod.” He served up an oven-baked cod with roasted root vegetables and sautéed Brussels sprouts, but Ramsay said the sprouts were too watery and awarded Ryan the point.

“She’s good. I’ll tell you that,” Smock said. “She’s a tough cookie.”

The blue team again nominated Smock for elimination, but he was unable to dodge another Ramsay bullet.

Smock said he worked well with his teammates but that they didn’t see the same chef Ramsay saw.

“Part of me thinks they felt threatened by me because I was so young and I was good,” Smock said.

Smock, whose culinary career dates back to his days of cooking with his father in his hometown of Frankenmuth, said the experience made him a better chef.

That’s particularly the case when it comes to his ability to communicate.

“I’ve found my voice and am a lot louder in the kitchen,” he said. “I’m a lot more confident in my cooking abilities and in my life.”

Smock had nothing but good things to say about the experience and even Ramsay, who Smock said is one of the most down-to-earth and nicest people.

“Super cool, super funny,” Smock said. “He’s just a normal guy, but when he’s in the kitchen he’s a perfectionist. He likes everything to go right and everything to be perfect. He would ask about our families and everything.”

But while Ramsay entered “Hell’s Kitchen” with 15 seasons under his belt, Smock adjusted to the spotlight.

He said the transition from everyday life to reality TV — from Lake Leelanau to Los Angeles — was tough at first. Contestants were on camera every day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“It took about a week or so to transition into that, but after that it was like nothing,” he said. “It was just normal.”

Smock said he was comfortable with the way Fox portrayed his character.

“That’s how I am every day, a goofball who likes to have fun,” he said. “They didn’t change me at all.”

Despite his five episodes of fame, Smock said few folks have recognized him since his return to the county.

That said, he doesn’t get out much.

If he’s not at his favorite restaurant in the county, Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, he’s probably at The Homestead.

“We’re really excited and proud of him,” said Jamie Jewell, vice president of sales and marketing at the resort.

So what’s next for Smock?

He said his life changes “on the drop of a hat” but that he would like to eventually own his own restaurant somewhere in the county or Traverse City using “good, local ingredients.”

Regardless, after going to hell and back, he’ll be prepared to handle the heat in any kitchen.

“Cooking is my life,” Smock said in his exit monologue. “I’m going to make a name for myself.”

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