For La Tasha “Mac” McCutchen 13 must be a lucky number; the Lake City native battled 17 other contestants in the 13th season of Hell’s Kitchen to earn a head chef position at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Atlantic City with a $250,000 salary.
McCutchen, a 1997 graduate of Lake City High School, was quiet about her progress on the show during a mid-season visit to Lake City to participate in the annual Lake City High School Alumni Homecoming Weekend.
During her visit, McCutchen worked with the culinary arts students to prepare breakfast for the alumni and demonstrated how to make one of the dishes contestants at Hell’s Kitchen are most often chastised for during the season: risotto.
She also served as one of the judges for the Alumni Cook-off and rode in the annual parade along with some of the schools current culinary students.
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McCutchen, who has worked in food services for 12 years, said she selected the culinary arts as an elective for all fours of her high school years, but didn’t initially pursue that path. She did, however, spend some time waitressing tables while in college.
“When I got into the service of food, I realized how much I cared about it myself,” said McCutchen. “I wasn’t actually cooking the food, but I wouldn't just serve anything. I just fell in love with it.”
“My first kitchen (position) was an open kitchen and I fell in love with, when I sent a dish out to the table, watching their response as they ate,” said McCutchen. “Seeing people enjoy food and knowing that I’m a part of that is really what kind of does it for me. It’s stressful in the kitchen of course, but that’s just the satisfaction I get from it – knowing that my food is bring a kind of happiness to other people.”
After attending SC State University for some time, McCutchen decided to attend Horry Georgetown Technical College where she earned an associates degree in business culinary arts. Later, in 2007, McCutchen moved to Florida and attended Johnson and Wales University earning a second culinary arts associates degree.
McCutchen said her opportunity to tryout for the show “fell in her lap” when casting call interviews were held at the hotel where she worked under Season 5 runner up and sous chef Paula da Silva.
“I came into work one day and I found out they were doing interviews and I just went down and did it,” said McCutchen. “I love competing – in high school I played basketball, I played volleyball, softball – I love to compete.”
McCutchen said da Silva encouraged her to interview for the show telling her to “just go try.”
“Just having that little validation that she believed in me enough for her to recommend me to go and apply – even though I knew in my heart that was something I always wanted to do and that I have that competitive spirit – having that validation from herwas enough for me.”
Throughout the season, McCutchen showed a level head and temper on camera – even when other chefs lost theirs.
Through the course of the season, McCutchen earned praise for many of her dishes – despite disappointing Ramsey with her very first offering; a grilled watermelon steak.
She said during her visit to Lake City that that error made her realize she didn’t push herself hard enough and that pushing herself was what Ramsey was looking for in the competition.
McCutchen faced three other chefs in the final episode which aired Wednesday night, Sade Dancy, Bryant Gallaher, and Jennifer Salhoff.