WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Ileana DSilva is only 24, but in the six years the Gloucester County woman has been a chef, she's accomplished a lot.
Competing in season 21 of "Hell's Kitchen" got added to the list last winter.
"I got a message on Instagram out of the blue last October, from a casting agent who said, 'Hey, we're looking for people for this upcoming season of Hell's Kitchen. We need a feisty young lady.'"
The message launched DSilva into months of interviews, and she was ultimately chosen for the show, which is about to air on television. This season, the theme is 20-Somethings vs. 40-Somethings.
"What they've done with this season is kind of show the generational gap between the upcoming young chefs in my generation, who have so much passion and energy, and are just so hungry to learn. And then the older chefs who kind of learned more old-school ways, the 40-Somethings who, they've got so much experience behind them," she said.
"But once you're in there, and you're on set, and you're all sharing your dorm together, the age gap kind of disappears or blurs a little bit, because you kind of realize, 'Hey, we're all chefs.'"
DSilva trained to cook at the Culinary Institute of Virginia in Newport News, and these days, she works at Casa Pearl on Merrimac Trail in Williamsburg.
She said the industry is one where you're constantly learning on the job. They even sometimes do "Chopped" mini-competitions at Casa Pearl on slow days.
"You learn so much day to day, just working and making mistakes," she said. "I've worked for a lot of really great chefs who have pushed me and trained me and showed me more even outside of culinary school."
She was definitely pushed while filming "Hell's Kitchen."
"There's cameras in your face, there's like 20 other strangers that you're running around with, kind of just trying to figure out, you know, 'How do we survive,' trying to gauge each other's talent," she said. "I had no idea that I was capable of doing, I mean, 80% of anything I did on the show, just because he pushes you so hard."
"He" is multi-Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsay.
We did ask if Ramsay took it any easier on the younger group of chefs, but DSilva gave that an emphatic "no."
"Not at all. No, he didn't really have a whole lot of mercy," she laughed.
"I kind of knew what I signed myself up for. So he's like 'Oh, you're pathetic,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, I mean, you got a point.'"
But she said he wasn't there to make them feel good, he was there to push chefs to their highest potentials.
In the end, she said she would have washed dishes for the show if it meant she could stay longer.
"I've got so much incoming support from everybody and it's it's mind-blowing, because you kind of forget like, 'Oh, wow, yeah, I did a thing and it was a big deal.' And it's something that I'm not used to, but it's it's awesome. It's an incredible feeling. And I'm so blessed to have the community that I do, and see all the incoming love," she said. "I never thought I'd be here."
The season premiere will drop on Sept. 29 on FOX.