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Meet the Hudson Valley Chef Repping the Region on Hell’s Kitchen

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All photos courtesy of Chef Tara Ciannella

Congers-based chef Tara Ciannella represents the Hudson Valley on Hell’s Kitchen, the heated cooking competition led by Gordon Ramsay.

If you’re a fan of Hell’s Kitchen, currently airing on Fox in its 21st season, look out for Chef Tara Ciannella of Congers. For those unfamiliar with the reality show, professional chefs from around the nation are invited to compete, then split into two teams, going head-to-head in culinary challenges. The last chef standing has the chance to become the executive chef at a restaurant of chef-turned-television-host Gordan Ramsay’s choosing.

 

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On this season, the competitors are assigned teams based on their age—either team 20s or team 40s—hence the subtitle: Battle of the Ages. Ciannella, who is 41, competed in the latter group. Longtime fans noted that this was an unexpected twist as contestants are typically in their 20s or 30s. But the Rockland native didn’t even become a chef until she was in her 30s—previously, she worked in the fashion industry.

Hudson Valley Chef Hell's Kitchen Tara Ciannella

Ciannella’s life changed dramatically in 2006 when she was in a car accident that left her with a major brain injury and, subsequently, significant memory loss. “I lost so much memory, and the kitchen is where I felt at home,” Ciannella describes the injury as a blessing in disguise. Just as Ciannella found her footing in the industry, she learned she was pregnant and decided to shift gears. Her husband encouraged her, saying, “take a leap of faith. I don’t care if you’re broke; start your own business.” And that was all she needed to hear. In the 16 years since her accident, Ciannella has made a career as a line cook and started her own business—Tara’s Italian Cucina—all while appearing as a guest on various cooking shows.

 

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Earlier this year, Ciannella flew across the country to compete in Hell’s Kitchen alongside 18 other talented chefs. She gave us a preview of what her days looked like, as well as how she bonded with the chefs and expanded her culinary horizons. First and foremost: she had 18 housemates.

“I’m a 41-year-old woman. I already had my dorm days,” Ciannella reflects with a laugh. Ciannella shared a room with three other chefs, meaning none of them got any shut-eye until the last chef turned out the lights. “You lived, ate, and slept with these people,” she says, all while filming 18 hours a day. “No one could tell you what to expect unless you were there.”

Hudson Valley Chef Hell's Kitchen Tara Ciannella

“The best thing for me was pushing myself further than I thought I could [go],” she shares. Not only was it an adrenaline-filled learning experience, but it afforded Chef Ciannella the opportunity to meet dozens of chefs. She shares fond memories of receiving hands-on cooking lessons and pep talks from one of the best in the business, Chef Gordon Ramsay. “He genuinely wanted to teach us and wanted us to do well,” Ciannella recalls.

 

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Eventually, Ciannella returned to the Hudson Valley to pick up from where she left off. “I’m definitely more confident in my cooking and abilities, and it shows,” asserts the chef. Next on her radar is opening a brick-and-mortar store so she can have a workspace outside of her home. “I really want to become that local Hudson Valley chef that everyone gets to know,” she says.

To learn more about Hell’s Kitchen or watch the show, visit the website.

Related: Chef Einat Admony Cooks From Home – and the Heart – in Kerhonkson

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