HACKENASCK, N.J. — Bad milk and stale Chinese food were usually all Jessica Vogel of Westwood found in her father’s refrigerator.
He’d have the ingredients for jumbalaya every now and then, though. And that often made Vogel smile because in the midst of her parents’ divorce, food preparation brought her family together.
Now, Vogel will be the one calling the shots.
The affable, 32-year-old Spring Lake native — who earned her reputation as a fan-favorite on Season 12 of Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell's Kitchen” — will be the executive chef of Jeremy Oduor’s Black Rebel Burger in Hackensack.
The Wood-Ridge restaurant is set to expand to Essex Street by the end of the month and will feature homemade challah buns and hand-cut fries, both something the original location does not have.
“My mentor once told me, ‘If you want to be a strong cook in the kitchen you have to have a strong voice,’” said Vogel, citing the wisdom she gathered from her time working with Kevin Oppici, owner of Kevin’s Thyme in Ho-Ho-Kus. “It was really hard to take my name from cook to chef.
“I finally found the respect I deserve.”
Vogel realized she “couldn’t get away” from the restaurant business while working as a hostess in Ridgewood during her teens.
Training with Oppici fueled her fire.
“His eyesight and hearing was bad but his palette was strong because of his disabilities,” Vogel said. “So was his passion. He was the one who said I had to go to culinary school.”
Off to Denver’s Johnson and Wales she went. She developed an affinity for breaking down entire deer and visiting bison farms — despite being 1,790 miles from her oceanside home.
“I’ve been in the kitchen ever since,” said Vogel, who remains among the few contestants on “Hell's Kitchen” who did not have her photograph burned upon elimination by chef Gordon Ramsay, and competed on “Cut Throat Kitchen."
The words Vogel heard in her father’s kitchen behind the heat of frying jumbalaya always trumped the demanding training and harsher critics.
“He told me that as soon as he retired we’d get a little shack in Aruba and sell [it],” Vogel said. “Ever since then, I’ve had aspirations to become a chef.”
Her career is just heating up.
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