Every year, the Boss hires a chef to cook for us during hunting season at the camp. This year, we stumbled onto this guy named Giovanni. Although he is of Italian descent, he grew up in France...and then New Jersey when his family moved over. From there, he gravitated down to the resort town of Destin, Florida where he's made quite a name and reputation for himself. As it is the slow season in Destin, many restaurants have closed, leaving Gio between gigs. Thankfully for us! But guys like him are never out of work for long.
We knew right from the start that "Gio" was the right man for the job. He is a superb cook, but he is also a colorful character with lot of animated stories. He's easygoing, upbeat and fun to be around...one of those guys you just can't help liking immediately.
Turns out, Giovanni is one of the contestants on a TV show called "Hell's Kitchen" put on by the world-class asshole...err, sorry I mean world-class "chef," Gordon Ramsay. This Ramsay guy has made a career out of being an obnoxious jerk, and has a couple of shows where he gets to do just that.
Gio didn't say too much about the show (like who won), other than saying he didn't. The rules of programs like that are pretty strict about not discussing it until the whole series has aired.
So last Thursday night was the premiere of this season of "HK." The Boss called and asked me to pick Gio up at the hunting camp in the afternoon and fly him to Destin where the owners of the Marina Cafe restaurant were holding a little viewing party in his honor - and then bring him back afterward (he does still have a job to do for us). I got an invite to the party, of course - free food and drink for the night! And while I could not drink, nothing said I couldn't eat!
We had a nice tailwind on the way down, thanks to a cold front that had snuck through that morning. It was beautiful and clear, a perfect day for someone's first helicopter ride. The 110 mile flight took exactly one-hour, despite the circuitous routing you have to take as you thread your way through the various restricted military airspaces around Eglin Air Force Base.
The party was great. We got there a little after six. The place is divided into two rooms: a long dining room and a large, stylish bar. It wasn't a private party, and the restaurant/bar was open for regular business. As show-time approached, the place got more and more crowded, until it was quite packed. With a bunch of big-screen TVs all blaring the Fox channel loudly, I asked the maitre d' if the other patrons didn't mind all the noise? He swept his hand across the room and said, "Everyone's here for Gio!" It was true; the non-party patrons had gone. Gio circulated through the room like an experienced politician, posing for about a thousand pictures.
Gio did tell us that everyone on the show was an accomplished cook in their own right - they wouldn't be there otherwise. But the producers edited the footage in a way to make it look like the chefs are the most inept, bumbling fools who couldn't boil water. Vulgar and abusive, Ramsay is particularly hard on them, sometimes spitting out their food. But that's part of his schtick. You either find it entertaining or you don't. (I don't.)
Gio's official "HK" bio calls him "pompous," and "arrogant." That is an exaggeration; he is nothing of the sort. But that is the way the producers decided to portray him, so they played up his occasional bursts of fiery Italian temper. Ah, television.
See Giovanni's "HK" bio HERE.
As ten p.m. approached, we had to leave. The Destin FBO closes at ten, and it's difficult (but not impossible) to get out onto the ramp. Plus, the nice tailwind we had on the way down would be a headwind on the way back to the camp.
At 1,000 feet we were making a blistering 80 knots (92 mph) across the ground. The direction and velocity of wind changes with altitude. On a hunch, and because I don't like flying low, I climbed up to 4,500 feet. Gio and I watched the groundspeed readout on the GPS creep up to 95 knots (110 mph). I love these little accomplishments...when I can cheat Mother Nature a little. Hey, you might not think that there's much difference between 92 mph and 110 mph in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit helps when you gotta pee (as I did, just as soon as I took off, naturally). Still, it took us a long hour-and-a-half to get "home." Sadly, the 95 knot groundspeed did not last for the duration of the cruising portion of the flight; the further north we got the more the speed dropped off.
So Gio has become a real celebrity in Destin. He did not get kicked off the show in the first episode, of which we are glad. We'll all be watching for him in the new episodes to see how long he lasts. As soon as his stint with us is over, he'll be starting work at a restaurant called Destin Chops as it reopens for the season. We wish him the best of luck. Now we've got yet another reason to go to Destin (where the Boss has a beach house anyway). As if we needed another.
I might not fly very much as a "corporate pilot," but I sure do eat well.
"Hell's Kitchen" airs on Fox on Thursday night.
Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" website
Marina Cafe/Destin Chops website