TORONTO - New celebrity chef David Levey may have weathered the fires of Gordon Ramsey's "Hell's Kitchen" to win a choice gig with a hot British Columbia restaurant, but the trials are not over, says his new Canadian boss.
James Walt, executive chef at Araxi Restaurant and Bar in the heart of Whistler, says the freshly crowned top chef will have to prove himself at the acclaimed eatery during one of the toughest challenges for any cook - the Winter Games.
Levey is set to join the restaurant six weeks before the Games kick off Feb. 12, and Walt says the venue already has 4,500 reservations booked during the Olympic period, which gets underway Feb. 12 to 28.
"(Levey) is going to have to work hard, that's for sure, when (he) joins us," Walt said Tuesday by phone from Whistler, hours before the winner was officially announced on the show.
"I have high expectations. Obviously (he) won, but now (he has) to produce because we're banking on this person being here during a busy time."
Levey scored the year-long contract in a finale that saw the top three chefs tackle international cuisine for their ever-prickly judge Ramsey, known for exploding into profane tirades for culinary missteps.
"It's a dream come true, I'm totally in a state of shock," said Levey, who broke his wrist partway through the competition and nearly left several times.
"I've been in so much pain for so many weeks, I had to fight so hard to stay in the competition. I wouldn't change anything. This is the most important thing that's ever happened to me in my life."
The 32-year-old San Diego resident beat out executive chef Kevin Cottle of Middletown, Conn., who gained a reputation for a strong personality that verged on cockiness, and Los Angeles sous chef Ariel Contreras-Fox, a 27-year-old who was eliminated from the contest after the first hour of the two-hour finale.
Walt said Levey was "probably the most Whistler-like" of the three.
"You know, he's got the cast on and wears a toque and he'd probably fit into the social fabric quite easily, but he definitely knows about food, for sure," said Walt, who spent the past couple of days with the finalists in Whistler promoting the show.
"He definitely knows his way around and I think he's willing to do the work, which is a big thing."
Levey starts work Jan. 4, 2010 but will be on hand to meet staff and greet guests at the restaurant Wednesday, said Walt.
Walt said he was unable to follow the series closely, but admitted he was alarmed by some of the more inexperienced prospects that were competing to join his kitchen.
"It's a bit scary," he admitted. "There were a lot of people on the show that shouldn't have been there."
Walt said Levey's first two weeks will be spent rotating through the Araxi kitchen's various work stations, and he'll be watching every move.
"Then I can kind of observe (his) strengths and weaknesses and ...everything goes from there," he said.
"It will all come to light when (he's) actually here working, that'll be the big tell."