From Dyker Heights to “Hell’s Kitchen!”
Brooklyn resident and Sergeant Marine Frank Cala — a servicemember who developed a passion for the culinary arts later in his career — will be showing off his skills on a national stage.
The 26-year-old Marine chef will be one of just 18 contestants featured on FOX’s hit competition television show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” now entering its 15th season. The show — in which aspiring cooks battle for a head chef position at BLT Steak at Bally’s Las Vegas — is famous for its host: the outspoken celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.
When Cala found out that the show was looking for contestants, he jumped at the chance.
“Opportunity came about when I saw that they were casting and they were looking for people as contestants for the new season,” he said. “I thought that I had what it takes so I sent in an application. They responded very fast, within two days.”
Upon hearing that he snagged a spot on the show, Cala was both excited and proud.
“It was moreso rewarding because I’ve worked very hard to finally have something that I can showcase for very long time,” he said. “I’m also honored to represent Brooklyn.”
Cala was born and raised in Dyker Heights and attended Fort Hamilton High School. In 2009, he joined the Marines at just 19 years old. “Before that, I was with the wrong crowd and would get in trouble,” he said. “I then decided to change my life around. I had to grow up fast.”
Before joining the armed forces, Cala had very little knowledge or joy for cooking. “I found my passion and something I want to do in my life in the Marines,” he explained. “When I went, I had a best friend who was also my sergeant. He introduced me to cooking and I loved it.”
But, when the sergeant passed away in October, 2002, Cala was determined to perfect the craft.
“Before he died, he was teaching me but I wasn’t passionate. After his death, I developed a love for it and decided to carry out his passion,” he recalled. “He taught me to always stay out of the box, and to constantly try to learn something every day. No one knows everything.”
As the years went on, Cala’s skills only increased. During his service, Cala was stationed in South Korea for 18 months, where he dedicated his free time to cooking.
“While everyone was going out, I stayed studying and spent my money on food and kitchen equipment,” he said.
During the learning process, Cala said, he truly fell in love with the kitchen.
“I fell for just the food service and culinary life itself. It can always be better,” he said. “You can never know anything and it drives me crazy because I want to know everything, but I can’t. It gave me a drive to keep learning and studying.”
With filming for the upcoming season of “Hell’s Kitchen” behind him, the Brooklynite told this paper that his expectations were exceeded.
“The experience has been overwhelming because my life has changed,” said Cala, who is still an active member of the Marines. “My family is extremely proud.”
As for Ramsey, the Brooklyn boy had some kind words.
“He is the reason why I’m at the level I’m at today. I was always reading his book and studying his videos. In time, he became my idol–I mean that. Working with him was a dream come true,” said Cala, who plans on continuing his time as a student before opening up his own restaurant down the road. “The number one thing that had drawn me to him was the standard he places on everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, you’re being held to same standards of perfection like everyone else.
Season 15 of “Hell’s Kitchen” premieres on Friday, January 15 at 9 p.m. on FOX. For more information on Cala, other contestants and the show, visit www.fox.com/hellskitchen.