Michael Langdon looked at it as a test.
He was heading to Philadelphia one day in April to audition for the “Hell's Kitchen” television show when his car's clutch blew out. It was 6 a.m. and pouring rain. He figured if he still made it to the audition, “I knew it was meant to happen.”
He finally reached an old friend, who got him there. But because he was late, he had to wait nine hours. He spent the time walking around the neighborhood where he once lived. In the end, Langdon, 33, executive chef at the Huntsville Golf Club in Lehman Township, was selected as one of 20 competing chefs on the 11th season of chef Gordon Ramsay's popular show on the Fox television network.
Langdon, a Plains Township native, and the other chefs spent five-and-half weeks in Los Angeles last year taping the show. He cannot legally reveal the results of the show, but he's still on it. Only one of the 20 was eliminated when the first two episodes were shown Tuesday night. The winner will be hired as a chef at the Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Las Vegas at a $250,000-a-year salary.
“It's a little bit difficult not to tell,” said Langdon, who couldn't even tell family, including his wife, Katy. “But I signed so many contracts.”
That means he could face some legal difficulties if he spills any revealing details.
But Langdon came away from the show with some new friends and a great admiration for Ramsay, despite all his blustery, demeaning criticism of the cooking contestants.
Langdon admires Ramsay's passion for perfection in the kitchen. He said he would work for Ramsay in a second.
“His demeanor is in a fashion only because he demands perfection,” Langdon said of the celebrity chef. “His passion for the food makes him the way he is.”
And “the way he is” is the main reason for the unrelenting pressure on the competing chefs.
“I can't even describe the amount of pressure,” Langdon said. “It's brutal…brutal, brutal.”
He said the chefs were surprised when the show flew them to Las Vegas to cook in front of a live audience of 2,500. Plus, cooking in a strange kitchen with people you don't know with cameras always in your face adds to the stress.
“When you come out of the show, you're so much more appreciative of what you have around you,” he said.
Especially since he could have no contact with anyone, even his wife and two sons, Ayden, 8, and Maxwell, 2, back home in Hanover Township, where he lives with his family, or access to a phone, Internet, or even music.
But the experience also taught him never to settle for anything less than perfect.
Langdon said he has been cooking since he was 15. His first job was at the former Toma's Pizza in Plains Township, and he later worked at Antonio's Pizza in Wilkes-Barre. He studied at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh.
He has worked at the Glenmaura National Golf Club in Moosic and Brasserie Perrier in Philadelphia under Chef Georges Perrier, who also was chef and owner of Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, one of the top French restaurants in the country. He has been executive chef at Huntsville Golf Club since February 2012.
His signature dish is pan-seared striped bass with garden vegetables and ratatouille with a saffron tomato jus.
The family meal
But even before he was a professional, he knew the importance of cooking.
“Growing up, the family meal was really important to us,” Langdon recalled.
His family had a garden, and both his parents cooked; his grandfather hunted and fished. When Langdon was young, he was making homemade sauerkraut, and he remembers pulling quills from game birds his grandfather shot.
Chef Thomas Keller, whose Napa Valley restaurant French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., is one of the top restaurants in the world, is a big influence on Langdon because of Keller's philosophy on how to treat staff and pushing oneself to the next level.
So what does Langdon like to eat?
“Everything,” he said. “I really cook with the seasons.”
So in spring and summer, that means fresh vegetables; the fall, butternut and acorn squash; and in winter, heavier foods, such as braised pork ribs.
Langdon is the third chef from Northeastern Pennsylvania to compete on “Hell's Kitchen.” Hazleton native Jen Yemola made it to third place on the show in 2007, while Hilton Scranton sous-chef Maria Torrisi made it to the fifth episode of the 2010 season before she was booted.