Local chef competes in Gordon Ramsey’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen All-Stars’

Fair Oaks Golf and Country Chef Benjamin Knack competes on "Hell's Kitchen All-Stars" which premiers Sept. 29th on Fox. (Hell's Kitchen)

Fair Oaks Ranch Chef Benjamin Knack returns to Hell’s Kitchen

Winner receives head chef position at new Caesar’s Palace Restaurant in Las Vegas

When ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ returns for Season 17 September 29 on the Fox network, a San Antonio area chef will be among sixteen former contestants competing.

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Recently, Benjamin Knack–Executive Chef of Fair Oaks Golf and Country Club located just north of San Antonio at the foothills of the Texas Hill Country, received a phone call from internationally known chef personality Gordon Ramsey.

“Will you be interested in appearing in the upcoming season of Hell’s Kitchen All-Stars?” Ramsey asked.

Chef Benjamin Knack at Fair Oaks Ranch Gold and Country Club (Fair Oaks Ranch)

“It was a bit surreal,” Knack said. “I don’t remember exactly how I responded to him, but I definitely said ‘yes, I would.'”

The Fair Oaks Chef is primed for a second helping of Ramsey’s fiery competition program. When Knack came in third place seven years ago for Season 7, Ramsey praised him for his strong leadership skills and encouraged him to “never give up.”

“The first time I appeared I had never seen or heard of the show before,” Knack recalls. “I’m not much on reality shows and I expected this was going to be a another cooking competition. I found out it’s far much more than that. There was real drama, with obstacles and curves thrown in throughout the filming. I actually hurt my back and shoulder carrying 100 pounds of ice as a challenge. It was enough to cause me to worry about my career as a chef, because it’s such physical work, but I made it through.”

“My experience has helped me. For two years I worked as chef of one of the top 50 restaurants in the country. This time I know what to expect and am looking forward to it because I think I can win.”

This time around, Knacks feels more prepared.

“I’m healthy and ready to go,” he smiles with determination. “Obviously, I’m quicker and smarter than I was seven years ago. My experience has helped me. For two years I worked as chef of one of the top 50 restaurants in the country. This time I know what to expect and am looking forward to it because I think I can win.”

What’s his strategy?

“I am going to be myself,” Knack says. “Just like in life, if I win or lose–well, you don’t sell yourself out if you keep your integrity by being who you truly are.”

Melissa Pollock, Directing of Dining at Fair Oaks Ranch, has worked with Knack for three years. She agrees.

Achiote NY Strip steak, confit fingerling potatoes, roasted asparagus, heirloom tomatoes, avocado jalapeño purée (Chef Benjamin Knack)

“Ben doesn’t try to be someone else. His secret to success is to stick with who he is,” she said in a separate interview. “I tease him somewhat about being a Gemini. He’s puts his heart and soul into his food preparation. He’s hilarious, kind and bighearted. He wants the members and diners to relax and enjoy.”

“On the other hand,”  Pollock raises a finger. “He is strict. What you see is what you get. He tells you what he’s thinking and he has high expectations. There is never guessing for the kitchen staff. They know he wants perfection for each plate served.”

Knack was attracted to San Antonio’s growing culinary scene which reminded him of his time in Massachusetts at Sel de la Terre, L’Espalier and Beacon Hill Bistro, when Boston’s food scene was in its developing stages a decade ago. He also served as Executive Chef for The Bedford Village Inn in Bedford, New Hampshire where he created a fine dining experience focused on seasonal, local ingredients.

A three month free-agency stint included side travels to kitchens in New York, Washington D.C., Virginia, Connecticut and Colorado. He fell in love with San Antonio where he took over the reins of executive chef at the Las Canarias at The Omni La Mansion del Rio and Ostra at Mokara Hotels & Spas on the River Walk.

“He cares about the quality of every ingredient and has the heart of a teacher.”

When Pollack moved from The Omni La Mansion del Rio in 2016 to Dining Director at Fair  Oaks, she asked Knack to come with her. He agreed.

“The Club is very lucky to have him,” she observed. “When you are as passionate as person as he is, you know he truly cares about the food and dining experience. He cares about the quality of every ingredient and has the heart of a teacher. If one of his staff has an idea for an upcoming dining event and he sees they are excited about it, he will ask do you know how? If they don’t he will show them.”

Chef Benjamin Knack and Director of Dining Melissa Pollack discuss culinary events at Fair Oaks Golf & Country Club, near San Antonio, Texas, September 13, 2017. (Jack Dennis)

“He has brought a higher standard to Fair Oaks and to this area,” Pollack said. “It’s been particularly rewarding to see people coming in to ask for him, or hear what the Chef’s specials are. Culturally, he has brought to the club what other country clubs are not used to experiencing.”

The chatter among members is positive as Knack introduces fresh, localized food prepared in ways they have not always experienced before. It’s not unusual for him to drive to local  road-side markets, gardens or farms to hand pick vegetables that will be cuisine consumed at Fair Oaks Ranch that day.

“Our members appreciate that we go local with our food,” Knack emphasized. “It’s local, prepared hand-cut steaks, fresh fish. To some degree, it’s French inspired. We learn from France that the best dining encounters should best come from feeling enjoyment. That is what I want for each diner.”

“…they cooked from their hearts, their souls. They cared, and I feel like they are still on my back. Each day, I remember them and hope to honor them just as I do my diners.”

Chef Benjamin Knack selects fresh produce. (Benjamin Knack)

His background as a Culinary Instructor helped him prepare for more than two decades of career experience as an Executive Chef. Promotional media information from “Hell’s Kitchen” says “Benjamin Scott Knack is recognized as a food service leader across the country, specializing in classical and gastronomical techniques. In additional to fine dining cooking expertise, his business savvy includes managing staff and increasing restaurant inefficiencies.”

Pollack enthusiastically seconds that testimony.

“One virtue that sets him apart from many chefs is his business savvy,” He is financially competent. He knows his numbers, his costs. He’s disciplined.”

Chef Benjamin’s Inspiration

“As a kid our family had a garden,” Knack beams. “Mother prepared and cooked all of our food. We always ate together for a family meal. There was not television, radio or phone calls. It was special for my sister, brother and me. I come from a family of chefs. My grandfather was a baker from Germany.”

“Each day that we prepare meals, I take an artisan approach, because all of my mentors, my parents, the Chefs I learned from, they cooked from their hearts, their souls. They cared, and I feel like they are still on my back. Each day, I remember them and hope to honor them just as I do my diners.”

Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen)

Season 17 marks the first in Hell’s Kitchen history to have an All-Star edition as the sixteen former contestants return to compete once again, and the winner of this season will receive the position as head chef at the first-ever Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. All of the returning chefs made it onto the Black Team in their respective seasons, with them being finishers between 6th and 3rd places. Knack was one of five contestants, out of the returning 16, who made it to third place.

Ramsey, as head chef and executive producer, said the Hell’s Kitchen All Stars set is “completely redesigned” and Caesars Palace Hell’s Kitchen will open this winter.

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16 returning chefs to compete in Season 17

Contestant

Age

Hometown

Competed

Finished

Dana Cohen 32 Emerson, New Jersey Season 10 3rd
Elise Harris 32 Newburyport, Massachusetts Season 9 (2011) 3rd
Benjamin Knack 40 San Antonio, Texas Season 7 (2010) 3rd
Ashley Nickell 28 Orlando, Florida Season 15 3rd
Michelle Tribble 24 New York, New York Season 14 3rd
Jared Bobkin 29 Troy, Michigan Season 15 (2016) 4th
Barbie Marshall 39 Strasburg, Pennsylvania Season 10 4th
Milly Medley 35 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Season 14 4th
Benjamin “Ben” Walanka 34 Overland Park, Kansas Season 5 4th
Nicholas “Nick” Peters Bond 27 Newburyport, Massachusetts Season 14 (2015) 5th
Jennifer Normant 40 Burlington, Massachusetts Season 9 5th
Amanda “Manda” Palomino 31 Atlantic City, New Jersey Season 15 5th
Robyn Almodovar 36 Fort Lauderdale, Florida Season 10 (2012) 6th
Giovanni Filippone 45 Santa Rosa Beach, Florida Season 5 (2009) 6th
Vincent “Van” Hurd 34 South Glastonbury, Connecticut Season 6 (2009) 6th
Joshua “Josh” Trovato 26 Los Angeles, California Season 14 6th

 

 

Click photos below for more information about Fair Oaks Ranch Golf & Country Club

Fair Oaks Ranch Golf & Country Club (Club Corp photos)

 

Fair Oaks Ranch Weddings in Texas

 

 

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