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'Hell's Kitchen': Maturity wins the day

May 14, 2009 | 11:00 pm

Danny walked into "Hell's Kitchen" a long shot -- an overly confident, straggedly-haired, self-described Florida redneck.

Tonight, he leaves "Hell's Kitchen" as the Season 5 winner, $250,000 richer, and headed for a head chef's job at the Borgata Hotel & Spa in Atlantic City. Perhaps more important, he won a startling level of praise from the exacting Chef Gordon Ramsay:

"Danny won 'Hell's Kitchen' because in a very short period of time he grew more than any other chef I've ever seen. He now has the talent and maturity to become a great head chef."

(I cede the talent point. But on the maturity front, I'll have to risk disagreeing with Chef Ramsay. This is a guy who named his restaurant "Velvet Hammer" because it was a nickname suggesting his sexual prowess with the ladies. Yuck. Not appetizing.)
The final service was a slugfest between Danny and Paula, a quiet, sleek-haired chef who opted for elegance over bravado. Working under them were former teammates, including Lacey, Ben and Giovanni. The trio had their share of problems in the kitchen tonight -- Lacey was her insufferable self and curdled the creme brulee again and again -- but all ultimately helped deliver the best final services in "Hell's Kitchen" history.

It was enough to make Chef Ramsay quip, "Why the [BLEEP] didn't you ever cook like that for me?"

While Danny's lack of modesty can be grating -- "I am a culinary prodigy" -- he did earn some bonus points when he weepingly recalled his deceased mom and how proud she'd be of this moment: "I just love my mom so much," he said, adding that it was so unfair that she died too soon, "I know she's looking down crying with me, saying 'That's my boy, I knew he was gong to make something of himself.' "

Take a look back at the season here.

-- Rene Lynch