Chef Ramsey pointed out that Donya seems like she is a strong-willed person and tends to bounce back from adversity every time she is faced with it.
The “American Dream” means something different to every person you ask. But for Donya Taylor, the American Dream is being able to come from nothing and end up succeeding, which is exactly what she wants to show the world and inspire others — that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can make it from anywhere.
Donya is now competing on season 22 of Hell’s Kitchen, where she is battling it out with 17 other chefs for a chance to complete this season’s theme of achieving your “American Dream,” win $250,000 and earn a top spot at one of Chef Gordon Ramsey’s many restaurants throughout the nation.
When Gordon Ramsey asked where she was from in the first episode, Taylor proudly responded “Uniondale, New York — Long Island to be exact.”
Taylor was 10 years-old when she moved to Uniondale and finished growing up in the community, having graduated from Uniondale High School in 2011. But before relocating, Taylor had a troubled start to life. She was born in the Bronx and was unfortunately addicted to drugs upon birth. Taylor was eventually adopted by her aunt and later made the move to the suburbs, or so she thought.
“I got into a lot of trouble in ninth and tenth grade and my mom was like we got to figure out what you need to do,” said Taylor, “Being from the Bronx, you hear you’re moving to the suburbs and you immediately think you’re going to be with rich people, meanwhile it's exactly like the Bronx.”
Taylor credits her introduction into the culinary arts on the trouble she would get in that forced her to focus and pursue something greater than herself. “I sat down with a counselor one day and she opened up this booklet with career options in it, and I closed my eyes and just put my finger on the paper and chose and when I opened my eyes and it was on cooking.
Taylor explains that at first, she thought she had made a mistake, but overtime found that she did indeed have a love for cooking, and she was good at it.
“I ended up trying one year of it and really excelled in it, from my knife skills all the way up to my culinary vocabulary, and I just became really intrigued with the food,” said Taylor, who now works as a caterer for her own brand, Eastside Eats.
Taylor describes her culinary style as an “urban-fusion,” where she takes “ethnic foods” and other things people would make in low income areas, and turns them high-class. “I like to take hood-food and make it gourmet,” Taylor explained to Gordon Ramsey in episode one.
“Where I'm from, a lot of people don't have a lot of access to nutritious foods,” she explains. “We don't have whole foods, we have small bodegas on every block and it doesn't have a lot of variety to eat fresh.”
One example of this type of “urban-fusion” dish is Donya’s signature dish from episode one of this season. “I wanted to take your original fish and grits that you fry up but just make it more gourmet, so I twisted it around and I took catfish and crawfish and stuffed it, then made fresh grits and instead of using all of those unhealthy fats and butters, I used simple butter and reduced cream and things like that to make more luxurious as you would say,” she explained.
As delicious as her fish was, according to Gordon Ramsey, her grits needed a little more umph to give her the perfect score she was craving, but still walked away with a solid four out of five star rating for her dish and secured the win for her and the red squad over the competing blue team.
“Oh, I did not agree,” joked Taylor. I tasted it before he tasted it, he said it needed a little bit more work and I didn't agree. I thought it was absolutely delicious, but it was heartbreaking because I thought that was a five dish.”
Overall, Taylor describes her experience on the show as surreal and incredible. It all started with a viral video of a bacon, egg and cheese she made in a stuffed pancake. The video caught the attention of producers at FOX, who saw the talent and potential in Taylor to compete at a high level against other professional chefs and reached out offering her a chance to audition for a spot on Hell’s Kitchen.
“It was incredible, the pressure of that environment and trying to showcase that fine dining skill set that Gordon Ramsey is really looking for and you just want to make sure he sees you.”
You can tune in to season 22 of Hell’s Kitchen and follow Donya Taylor’s journey from Uniondale on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on FOX. You can also stream the episodes the day after they air on Hu