Cookery shows in the UK tend to bed in like regulars in the pub — the same names and faces year in, year out: Masterchef, Great British Menu, Sunday Brunch, Tom Kerridge in various guises, Michel Roux doing something. Chunkz’ Bad Chefs is a welcome outlier, but the Youtube star is kept from the prime slot, and lives on ITV2.
Its bigger sister, ITV, is also welcoming something fresh this year. New — to the UK, at least — is Next Level Chef, an American import that runs for eight episodes on concurrent Wednesday evenings, from January 11. Having started in America, and still on there, the British format is largely similar. Gordon Ramsay leads proceedings, with help from chefs Paul Ainsworth and Nyesha Arrington. The show sees 12 chefs compete in what’s billed as “the world’s toughest cooking competition”.
What is Next Level Chef?
Following its success in America, Next Level Chef will launch on British screens at 9pm on Wednesday January 11, running for a further seven episodes (incidentally, a French series is expected to follow).
The series follows 12 chefs competing for a mentorship with Ramsay, Ainsworth and Arrington — and, perhaps more compellingly, £100,000. So far, so typical, but the twist here is that the 12 are split into three teams, each led by one of the professional chefs, and each cooking in a 50ft-tall, three-story kitchen. Or, more precisely, three kitchens stacked on each other (hence the ‘next level’ moniker): on the top, a fully kitted out, top flight room, bells, whistles and all. In the middle, a typical professional-grade kitchen, the kind of stainless steel jobbie that might be found in smart restaurants across London. In the basement, one that is beyond basic: warped and blackened pans, just the thing that might usually be found in a neglected student house. The idea is that the chefs must prove they can cook well even in the trickiest of situations (though Keith Floyd cooking ostrich steak while being overrun by ostriches this is not).
Similarly, these aren’t all professional chefs; some are described as home cooks, others are called “social media chefs”, which sounds suspiciously like a home cook with a TikTok account.
Each episode sees the teams compete, cooking a variety of dishes; at the end of each episode, the judges naming one winning chef each episode — which saves the rest of their team, and pushes them into the top kitchen the following week — while also eliminating a chef at the same time. The eliminated chef’s team then is sent, in shame, to battle the basement kitchen.
Who is Paul Ainsworth?
While chief mentor Gordon Ramsay — whose production company, Ramsay Studios, is behind the show — has long been a familiar face on British screens, his fellow judges may be somewhat harder to place.
That said, over the past few years Paul Ainsworth has increasingly become a mainstay of mainstream food telly, having done the rounds on Masterchef, Great British Menu, Saturday Kitchen et al. Ainsworth is pally with Ramsay, and in this series the crinkled Scotsman goes so far as to call him his “protégé”; Ainsworth worked for Ramsay for six years, following a stint with Gary Rhodes. He later followed Marcus Wareing from Petrus (a Ramsay spot) to the Berkeley (the Michelin-starred Wareing flagship).
Afterwards, the Southampton-born chef, raised in his parent’s bed and breakfast, moved to Padstow in 2005. He swiftly opened what is now known as Paul Ainsworth at Number 6, which has held a Michelin star for almost a decade. Above it is Ci Ci’s bar. Caffè Rojano followed in 2010, and Ainsworth also operates the Padstow Townhouse and the Mariners, a local boozer Ainsworth and his wife Emma took upscale after buying it in 2019.
Who is Nyesha Arrington?
Lesser known in the UK is Nyesha Arrington, although she seems to be well known in the US. Born and raised in southern California, and later trained at Culinary School at the Art Institute of California in Los Angeles, Arrington’s background includes training in one of Joel Robuchon’s restaurants, but her mentor is said to be Josiah Citrin, the chef-patron of Santa Monica’s Mélisse, which has two Michelin stars.
Her other experience includes a stint as head chef at Wilshire, also in Santa Monica, while her recipes have appeared on the pages of the likes of the Los Angeles Times and GQ.
Arrington doesn’t seem short of television experience, either; in 2013 she won the meekly-named cookery competition Knife Fight — which didn’t make it to the UK — following a victory on Food Network's Chef Hunter. Before that, the chef was a fan favourite on Top Chef, an American series, later opening Leona and Native, both in LA and both since closed. In the show, Ramsay refers to Arrington as a “rockstar restaurateur and one of America’s hottest cooking talents ever.”
Ramsay and Arrington previously worked together on the original series of Next Level chef, which premiered this time last year on Fox. Arrington came out on top, saying in the show’s first episode: “I’m the reigning champ of season one Next Level Chef US, and I plan not to lose... ever.” Time will tell.
How can I watch Next Level Chef?
Next Level Chef will air for eight episodes on ITV on Wednesday nights at 9am. The first episode will be on Wednesday January 11; guest stars for the series include Gino D'Acampo. For more information, visit studioramsay.com.