All the clues hinted that Mary Poehnelt was set to win the last act of Hell's Kitchen Season 11. Poehnelt, a 26-year-old Massachusettes butcher, was the more likeable of the two finalists, though by no means less bossy than her archrival, Houstonian Ja'Nel Witt, when it came to roasting members of her team who weren't producing to her standards.
While Witt showed numerous signs of too much 'tude mistaken for confidence — at one time squealing at a teammate/competitor that she was more talented, more creative and overall better (and obviously not at all humble) — the 31-year-old local chef was chosen in a surprising twist to ascend to the post of head chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
With a $250,000 salary.
Witt's menu — a deconstructed BLT re-imagined as fried green tomatoes with prosciutto, arugula and gorgonzola; slow-braised veal cheek with potatoes; and chai crème brûlée (surely inspired by her time cooking at Kiran's Restaurant & Bar) — beat out Poehnelt's more conservative recipes. Witt's international cuisine — take her first signature dish of Thai grilled prawns with Asian pesto — has Houston diversity written all over it.
Witt planned to launch a career in optometry after graduating from the University of Houston but turned to her passion for cooking and enrolled at the Art Institute of Houston. Witt credits her mother, Brenda Dogget, and her great aunt, "Nana," for sparking an interest in cookery. Her dream is to host her own cooking show — one day.
We'd say she's well on her way.