HAMMOND | A half-century-old Hammond steakhouse has hired a reality television chef who came close to winning Gordon Ramsay's hit show "Hell's Kitchen" and asked her to bring more flair to the menu.
Jillian Flathers, who made it all the way to the second-to-last episode in season 8, is taking over as executive chef starting Dec. 1 at Freddy's Steakhouse on Kennedy Avenue in Hammond. Flathers has been tasked with livening up the menu at a decidedly old-school steakhouse that's filled with dark wood paneling, red vinyl booths and 53 years of atmosphere.
Signature items such as steaks, chops and po' boy steak sandwiches will remain. But Flathers will condense the size of the menu, create new items, and shift focus to fresher, more flavorful foods.
"We are reviving the oldest and best steakhouse in the region," said general manager Valerie Martinelli.
In August, Freddy's hired Martinelli, who had previously been general manager at Meyers Castle and Venice Italian Steakhouse, both in Dyer. She also had been food and beverage manager at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville, where Flathers had been a chef.
Flathers, who is now cooking at the Sow's Ear restaurant in Colorado, wanted to return to Northwest Indiana to be closer to family and was eager to have the opportunity to work with Martinelli again.
On "Hell's Kitchen," Flathers won praise from the notoriously hard-to-please celebrity chef, who is known for his volcanic eruptions at food that does not meet his exacting standards.
"He's not as bad as they make him out to be," Flathers said. "If you know how to cook and do a good job, he's not going to scream at you. If you truly love what you do and have the passion to be a chef, he'll treat you well."
Flathers currently works at a fine dining restaurant near a resort on the San Juan Mountains. She plans to modernize Freddy's menu, and cut it at least in half.
"I want to bring my flair and revamp it with a lot of fresh foods – fresh vegetables, fresh meats," she said. "People are going toward being health-conscious, and eating healthier. I'll try new styles and different things."
Freddy's plans to create a special event for her debut, and will sell tickets through eventbright.com.