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‘Hell’s Kitchen’ runner-up chef Louis Petrozza kicks up ‘Cheeburger’ menu

By Staff | Dec 10, 2008

As the old saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

For Louis Petrozza, the fast-talking, Brooklyn-born chef, the heat in the kitchen couldn’t have gotten any hotter than hell itself.

“Hell’s Kitchen,” that is.

The former contestant on the Fox reality TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” made a personal appearance on Monday night at Sanibel’s Cheeburger Cheeburger, flagship restaurant of the popular national chain. Petrozza, who finished as the runner-up to Season 4 winner Christina Machamer, is visiting several of the franchise’s 67 locations across the country in order to promote their use of fresh, locally-grown ingredients on their menu.

“We’ve been promoting the use of sun-dried tomatoes,” explained Jeffrey Jablow, Director of Training and Menu Development for Cheeburger Cheeburger. “Together with Chef Petrozza, we’re going to develop a new sauce topping for our burgers, which we hope to have available in the next couple of months.”

Shortly after 7 p.m., Petrozza arrived at the restaurant in the Tahitian Gardens Shopping Center and began his “meet and greet” — which was more of a “meet and eat” — signing autographs, posing for pictures and chatting with fans about his experience on the popular TV series.

“Being on a reality show is like running in a marathon,” explained the 48-year-old chef. “You’re totally sequestered for 30 days — nobody will tell you what’s going on outside of the studio. You’re working on the set and living in the set. It’s kinda like being in prison… with less freedom.”

The charismatic cook spent about an hour bouncing from table to table, sitting down and talking with fans about both his background in the culinary industry (his uncles owned several restaurants in the New York area) and his future as an executive chef. Currently, Petrozza is doing promotional and development work with Valley Sun, appearing at food conventions and corporate events as well as running a private catering business from his home in Charlotte, N.C.

Howard Hoffman of Pittsburgh, Pa., dining at the restaurant with his wife, Carolyn, and their son, Brett, shouted to the chef, “You were robbed!”

Approaching their table with a smile and his arm extended for a handshake, Petrozza responded, “You know what? My mother thinks so, too!”

Of course, the most frequently asked question of him is “What was it like to work with Gordon Ramsey?,” the cantankerous British chef and “Hell’s Kitchen” host infamous for his foul-mouthed tirades and verbal abuse of his fellow kitchen workers.

“Like a lot of European chefs, Ramsey is a maniac in the kitchen,” Petrozza said with a laugh. “But off camera, he’s a really great guy.”

In addition to promoting sun-dried tomatoes and fresh produce items on their menu, Cheeburger Cheeburger has recently introduced low carbohydrate options, including wraps as an alternative to the traditional burger buns. Also upcoming will be an assortment of items available on a value menu, offered for all diners — singles, couples, families and children.

“A lot of people are paying attention to specialty diets, such as fat free, low sodium, low carbs,” added Jablow. “We haven’t had to change our menu that much since we’re already doing those things.”

The restaurant still offers the chance for folks with big appetites to appear on their “Wall Of Fame.” If you finish one of their famous “Pounder” burgers — which is actually 20 ounces before cooking — they’ll take a snapshot of you and their giant fabric Cheeburger which will be placed on the walls of the eatery.

Still hungry after your main course? Then try one of their fountain favorites, a shake or malt, available in some 378,000 different flavor combinations. Jablow also noted a new dessert item, to be added on the menu in the near future: the Oreo Mousse Mountain.

“It’s two four-inch Oreo cookie wafers, a layer of peanut butter mousse, a layer of chocolate mousse, a scoop of Edy’s ice cream, Oreo crumbles, hot fudge and whipped topping,” he said. “It was created by Kraft specifically for us.”

For more information about Cheeburger Cheeburger, visit their Web site at www.cheeburger.com.