HAMMOND | A relationship between one of Northwest Indiana's best-known steakhouses and a celebrity chef ended on the eve of Valentine's Day, after 11 weeks.
Jillian Flathers, a finalist in the eighth season of the hit Fox show "Hell's Kitchen," announced Friday she resigned as executive chef of Freddy's Steakhouse. She had started the job on Dec. 1.
Conflict heated up in the kitchen of Freddy's, a half-century-old steakhouse on Kennedy Avenue in Hammond's Hessville neighborhood. The difference of opinion was stronger than if someone had ordered a steak well-done.
In a news release, Flathers cited a hostile work environment, mismanagement, and quality standards she does not want to be associated with as reasons for her resignation. Freddy's owner Jim Kamradt said she created a hostile work environment for waitresses by yelling at them, and was constantly texting and on her phone.
Kamradt said he understood she was moving on so she could audition for another reality cooking show. Flathers denied in the release she was currently auditioning for any network television shows.
"However, if she were to be invited, she'd like to remind producers that she is currently available," the release said.
Martin Gomez, who has cooked at Freddy's for two years, replaces Flathers as executive chef.
Diners should not expect much change, Kamradt said. Flathers had run specials of filet mignon and other cuts that have already been on the menu for years, and was not expected to stay long anyway.
"Chefs come and they go," he said.
Freddy's Steakhouse is a Northwest Indiana institution that has been around for more than 53 years. The vintage steakhouse is best known for big steaks, poor boy steak sandwiches, and a time-capsule ambiance where the lighting is dim and Frank Sinatra is often crooning in the background.
General manager Valerie Martinelli, who had worked with Flathers at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville, brought the cooking competition show finalist to Freddy's so she could revamp and freshen up the menu. Flathers had finished third on celebrity chef's Gordon Ramsey's long-running reality show in 2010.
Flathers said in a statement she had grown both personally and professionally while working at Freddy's, but had to think of her personal brand.
"After a great deal of thought, it has come time to distance myself from the Freddy's Steakhouse brand," she said. "I must maintain the uncompromising values that come with me to each and every kitchen that I step into; as well as with each dish that leaves it, to be placed before my guests."
Flathers has been fielding job offers from four star and five star restaurants from around the country, her spokesman Joshua Queen said. She also plans to start a consulting business where she would travel around and modernize the menus of restaurants across the country. The Colorado native may set up her firm in Chicago, Las Vegas or some other city, but is still in the early stages of planning.
"She's still putting those plans together because she want to ensure it's done right," Queen said. "She wants to make sure it's the best possible business."
Even after Flathers's departure, Freddy's still plans to revamp its lunch and dinner menus, Kamradt said. The steakhouse will shorten the number of menu items, and put a new emphasis on fresh ingredients.
Popular entrees, such as ribeyes and chops, will remain.
"I have to keep that the same because people would kill me," Kamradt said.