Chattin’ with Nona

Chattin’ with Nona
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Yes, the title is quite brazen of me, but that’s exactly what my phone call with Nona Sivley, winner of Season 8 Hell’s Kitchen, felt like. It felt like I was just chatting with an old friend. Going into it, I was nervous – I’ve never interviewed anyone before (prospective employees don’t count) – but she made it as easy as can be. It’s clear that becoming a “celebrity chef” overnight has not given her a superiority complex.

Nona Sivley, a 29 year old sous chef originally from Fort Worth, TX (but currently living in Loganville, GA) beat out 15 other chefs to win Hell’s Kitchen and become Head Chef of LA Market – Kerry Simon’s new restaurant in, you guessed it, Los Angeles. Add to that the fact that her new gig comes with a $250,000 salary, you would think she would be taking it easy now before she starts her new job in LA. Not Nona. When I spoke to her, she was on her way to work at Chops Lobster Bar in Buckhead.

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Soon, Nona will be heading to LA to take over as Head Chef of LA Market and start leaving her southern flair on the palates of the LA food scene. She tells me that menu creation is more of a collaborative effort than a single person designing selections, so the menu at LA Market is sure to be one of diversity and deliciousness! “They have amazing food out in California,” says Nona when asked if she’ll have trouble shifting from southern cooking to “LA style” cuisine. She’s right – the types of ingredients available in California are going to be very different than the Atlanta fare she’s used to. Add to that the fact that she’s transitioning from sous chef to Head Chef and it’s a whole new ballgame.

In the finale of Hell’s Kitchen, Nona mentions that she missed a lot of her son’s milestones just by being on the show. As a matter of fact, her very first day in Hell’s Kitchen was her son, Jackon’s first birthday. She missed his first steps and even his first haircut. According to Nona, “It sucked and it was awful, but it was worth it.” She, like every parent, wants to give her child a better life than she had and Hell’s Kitchen is the beginning of that better life.

She also has some terrific support in her corner. Her husband, Curtis, took on the job of being a stay-at-home dad when it was decided that Nona would chase her dream and become a chef. “It’s really horrible hours,” says Nona of the infamously terrible work schedule of a chef. Her very first day back in the workforce, she says she “cried and cried and cried the entire night” thinking about her son at home (he was 3 months old at the time) and the immense mommy-guilt that I think all working moms feel at once time or another.

Even standing at the top of the stairs during the finale of Hell’s Kitchen and realizing that her door had just opened, all she saw was her son jump at the sudden explosion of noise and cheering in the room. Even at that pinnacle moment in her career, all she saw was her family. “I just locked eyes with Curtis and just focused on him,” said Nona of that moment her door opened. Once she talked herself into actually walking down the stairs (and willed herself not to fall down them or jump off), it was all about family.

Nona Sivley – Mother, Wife and now, Head Chef. This is one lady who knows what she wants and has an amazing support system behind her to make sure she gets there. I have a feeling Hell’s Kitchen won’t be the last time we hear from Nona.