To ‘Hell’ and back

By on February 10, 2016
Alan Parker, at JoBoy’s last week, is the oldest of the 18 chefs on the 15th-season of Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Alan Parker, at JoBoy’s last week, is the oldest of the 18 chefs on the 15th-season of Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Alan Parker, who hoisted the 2014 Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off trophy, is a contestant on “Hell’s Kitchen”

Lititz Fire & Ice organizers hit a home-run again in 2016, recruiting an impressive panel to judge this year’s chili cook-off.

The panel, which serves to facilitate significant fundraising for local charities, includes Warwick boys’ basketball coach Chris Christensen, businessman Steve Zuckerman, and reality TV star Jon Gosselin.

However, The Lititz Record Express found another reality TV show figure that could be considered the perfect judge in the local event.

That would be chef Alan Parker, who’s currently a contestant on the 15th-season of Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Last week, we tracked down Alan, a sous chef at Hollywood Casino who hoisted the 2014 Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off trophy while working in Appalachian Brewing Co.’s kitchen.

“I was fortunate enough to be serving Appalachian Brewing Co.’s chili at Fire & Ice two years ago,” he said while waiting for his burger at JoBoy’s.

The Lititz Record Express Facebook caption that day described “Chef Allen Parker’s ingredients included beef and pulled pork and four types of peppers: Anaheim, poblano, chipotle, and roasted red bells. Sports Editor Bruce Morgan, who judged the event, may have been swayed by Parker’s secret component: Appalachian Brewing Company’s Jolly Scott Beer.”

Alan’s exposure on Hell’s Kitchen, which he described as nothing short of a boot camp “where they build you up to tear you down,” has left him enriched with not only new experiences but a kind of “total recall” of thousands of events encountered working in the kitchen.

“Everything came pouring back during the filming,” he said while discussing how contestants essentially lived on the show during its production.

One contestant described the show, run by ferocious chef host Gordon Ramsay, as “You get so used to not being in control of anything. You never have a wallet. You never have your phone. You’re wearing a microphone 24 hours a day. You fall asleep and then someone goes up your shirt to change your batteries.”

The show has long wrapped up filming, but has several weeks left airing Friday nights on Fox.

Though contractual obligations preclude him from discussing the show’s outcome, the website tengaged.com on Tuesday ranked Alan No. 7 among the 18 contestants

The blog posted: “Alan really screwed himself in the challenge, but he’s a good team player when it comes to service.”

The “team player,” who was adopted from Korea, talked about growing up in Berks County and learning Pennsylvania Dutch cooking from his grandmothers. He currently lives just outside Lititz in Neffsville.

Alan took some flak at home recently for a comment he made regarding how locals make chicken and waffles — compared to a more upscale version of chicken and waffles that featured a whole piece of chicken leg that was snipped to look like a flower with a chili-maple sauce drizzled over it.

“I meant no offense; I said that’s a certain type of chicken and waffles,” he said. “I said the chicken and waffles made in Lancaster County is more like, I would say, a Chicken-a-la-King. I got yelled at, but that’s the style, it’s more a soupy, gravy dish. There was no disrespect, just clarification.”

But he assures locals he’s the real deal when it comes to making local fare – which includes chicken and waffles and comfort foods such as hearty meat and potatoes.

Even while flying to Los Angeles and Las Vegas to work on Hell’s Kitchen, Alan, 43, sticks to his roots. For instance, he explained the nuances of making the ever-popular, Lancaster County staple chicken pot pie dish.

“If you’re from here, you better make a pot pie that is in a pot with really thick, square noodles because I don’t want to be around when you serve anything different. At least that’s how it was in my family,” he said.

Beginning at the age of 13 — working at farmer’s market — Alan cut his teeth working every conceivable position in the food business. He worked at dozens of local restaurants, including some in Lititz, and has been a sous chef for Glitterati’s and the Celebrity Grill at the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, for the past seven months.

He survived the long application process for “Hell’s Kitchen” and missed four times before finally landing in the studio kitchen as a contestant to compete as one of 18 chefs.

A few years ago, he applied along with a co-worker from York County, Jon Scallion, who made it into the top four in “Hell’s Kitchen’s” 11th season. A year earlier, Barbie Marshall, who runs a catering business in Strasburg, made it into the top four.

Alan said the restaurant business isn’t for everyone and “it takes a unique person to do this.” He said the business has it its own “little subculture inside American culture.”

“It’s as hectic as it goes, it’s standard,” he said. “That’s in Hell’s Kitchen that’s in any other kitchen. You’ll have some of the craziest fights and verbal disagreements with your co-workers; sometimes with your boss. Still at the end of the night you guys are going to have a beer, sit there and joke about it. You’ll laugh it up and do it all over again the very next day.”

Being the oldest of the 18 chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” actually helps, Alan said.

He’s learned the culture of “foodies” extends from the people who prepare the food and the people who truly appreciate it.

“I think people forget how intimate food is with ourselves because it’s been so commercialized and you don’t think about it so much,” he said. “But there are people who give two damns about it and go that extra mile to produce something that isn’t pre-fab stuff, pulled out frozen from a bag that has no heart and soul — that are slaving to put something extraordinary in front of them.”

He said such restaurant people embrace and rely on the foodie subculture to note and recognize their efforts.

“That’s their prize, kind of being held to a different level inside the community,” Alan said.

Discussing the title of the show, which implies a certain kind of hellish, mental torture doled out by Ramsay, Alan kind of scoffs. Yes he’s been through the ringer and witnessed the kitchen craziness where cell phones may get shattered by an unhappy, out of control, kitchen boss.

“But one thing I notice that gets better as I get older is that I understand the boundaries that I can push with certain people. Not that I was tyrannical back in the day, but (I) would say mean things and wouldn’t really care,” he said.

Through years of these altercations and kitchen controversies, he’s come to learn how to motivate people differently and personally.

“I’ve learned that you have to approach certain people certain ways to get the same outcome —where I can approach other people and swear at them from the moment I talk to them and I’ll get the same result,” he said.

Could it be that Alan escaped Ramsay’s rings of Hell’s Kitchen to become a little bit softer?

“I don’t want (workers) to feel intimidated, I just want them to do the job right,” he said. “You need people to fight the whole time, it’s literally like a war. You’re back there with a team of guys — whether you like them or not — you’ve got finish the service that hits you all at once, and it’s got to be good because you’re only going to dig yourself sending out crap food.”

He described working those rush times in a restaurant, often Friday and Saturday nights.

“You’re either going to make this three-hour push easier or you’re going to make it a living hell,” Alan said.

Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

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