By Cory Warden
I went to Plaza Grille to meet their new Executive Chef, Jillian Flathers, and sampled some of her culinary creations. From the appetizer menu she prepared her Filet Ceviche, which was fresh, bold and satisfying with every bite. Next I tried the Grilled Snapper from the dinner entrée menu, served with a Blood Orange Balsamic Reduction. The Snapper was delicate with a pleasing texture, and the sauce added the perfect complementary flavor. Her presentation was equally appealing, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine how this young, talented chef became a contestant on the eighth season of the popular food reality TV show Hell’s Kitchen.
To start, it is important to mention that Jillian spent half of her childhood in Pagosa Springs. She moved here from Detroit with her family when she was 13. At that young age, she began working in restaurants as a prep cook. She reflected back on her earliest cooking experiences and really loved the people she worked with. When she graduated from high school, Jillian moved away and went to college for business, but always cooked to support herself. She moved around a few times and landed in Indiana working for a corporation as a Sous Chef in one of their restaurants. It was fast paced and she learned to deal with the inherent stresses of serving a large, bustling dining room. From each job and chef she worked with she acquired more knowledge and valuable cooking skills. Some were more supportive than others. One chef thought he was giving her good advice by saying, “You’ll never be a chef because you are a woman.”
At first, Jillian believed him, and she went back to school to get a nursing degree. But then she had a change of heart. She knew she could cook and wanted to prove her old boss wrong. She had been an avid follower of the show Hell’s Kitchen on Fox. From the very first episode she had been hooked. After watching the show for six seasons she told herself “if that person can win then so can I!”
She went through the audition process. Several months later, they arrived at her home and handed her a card that said “Congratulations, you have been chosen to be a chef on Hell’s Kitchen!” Jillian bawled. Her youngest son, who was five at the time, said “I knew you would do it!”
The show was an amazing experience for Jillian. She made a couple of lifelong friends, and had a few months to enjoy the LA lifestyle. They flew her kids out to surprise her during the filming of one episode. She was voted “Favorite of all Eight Seasons” and only cried once, when she burned her hand. She repeatedly received compliments from Chef Ramsey, which was a feat itself. She was ultimately “Second Runner Up” of Season Eight and invited back for Season Nine. As one of the few self-taught chefs on the show, Jillian’s accomplishments shined that much brighter.
We return to Pagosa Springs, where our story continues. Dan and Renae Roehrs, owners of Plaza Grille, were looking for a new chef. They placed an anonymous ad in the Durango Herald, not knowing what the outcome would be. Jillian saw the ad and jumped at the opportunity to move back to the area to be closer to her family. She had two boys of her own and wanted to raise them in a small community rather than in the big city.
Renae is pleased with the new edition to her staff. “We love having Jillian here. She is so positive and motivating- the whole staff loves her. It is really great having a chef who believes in the restaurant and the staff.”
Jillian adds, “On the show they called me “The Cheerleader.” I never was a cheerleader and don’t really see myself that way, but I guess I was always the one pushing people and getting them to work harder.”
Renae chuckles, “I can see Jillian as “The Cheerleader.” She is definitely our cheerleader. She is tough on her cooks, but she is fair and kind. She expects more from them and they give her their best.”
“Being a chef is hard work. It is my passion so it is worth it. If I didn’t love what I do I would definitely pick a different path because it’s not an easy one.”
At 30 years old, Jillian has accomplished what many people dream of achieving. She ignored negative advice and obstacles and drove herself toward her goal- to be a chef in front of millions of viewers. After proving herself to the public at large and Chef Ramsey, she recognized her skill was real. Now she pursues her career as Executive Chef of Plaza Grille with the same determination and professionalism that took her to the final rounds of Hell’s Kitchen. Stop by the restaurant and taste some of Executive Chef Jillian’s heavenly creations today!