HEAD CHEF MICHAEL WRAY FROM HELL'S KITCHEN TO LOVE
by Jonathan Williams Photos courtesy of Michael Wray
From the February 2006 issue of Prick Magazine.
Chef Michael Wray with his wife Lola.
While most guys take their girlfriends out for expensive dinners on Valentine's Day, Chef Michael Wray is usually too busy cooking up some romance for other couples. But when you're a young, tattooed chef who's married to a burlesque performer and former stripper, those Valentine's festivities can only be put off for so long.
"Usually we celebrate the day after Valentine's Day and we call it Love Day," he says. "We make up our own Valentine's Day sort of deal because I usually have to work on Valentine’s Day."
Wray has worked hard to become the celebrity chef he is today. He started out washing dishes and peeling onions in a French restaurant in his hometown of Fort Collins, Colo. and ended up preparing dishes at swanky Hollywood eateries such as White Lotus and the Sunset Room.
"I never even finished high school and I've stayed with cooking ever since I was 16 years old," he says. "I washed dishes for probably two years just working my way up in different levels of restaurants. I've never worked in a restaurant more than a year because I just get bored and move on. I want to open my own restaurant and do my own thing, so I've always just worked in restaurants to get a feel of how they do things."
As the winner of last year's Fox reality show Hell's Kitchen, Wray's dream of opening his own place will soon come true.
"I was very passionate about what I wanted to do and luckily I got on [the show]," he continues. "I got fired for trying to get on this show and just going on too many interviews. Before I even knew that I had gotten on the show, they sort of gave me a choice of don't go on anymore of these interviews and stay here and work or you're going to be fired. And I chose to try to pursue it."
Wray's passion for cooking is reflected in most of his tattoos as well. He has tattoos of tuna, surf 'n' turf (a T-bone steak on one hand and a lobster tail on the other), a Dungeness crab, and "Head Chef" across his knuckles.
"There's a whole new generation of chef's who are skinny and tattooed and work too much and there's not that whole fat executive chef job anymore," he says. "I've gotten tattooed since I was 12 years old, so I have a lot of really crappy tattoos also that I've been trying to fix over the years. I really love what I do, so I get chef knives and stuff instead of swords and skulls. [My wife and I] try to get tattooed every other month. They keep getting smaller and smaller because we're running out of room."
He also has a few tattoos that represent his own chef knife company, Skull and Cleavers, and his love of tattoos is also reflected in the knives he sells online.
"The logo for my knife company is two cleavers with a skull," he says, "and I just got a new tattoo in San Francisco that I really like that's a cobra and a chef knife and it has a banner with my company name on it. I make the blades myself and I cast silver and do a lot of welding. I have a brass knuckles set of knives and lots of skulls and whatnot on the knives. I want to have fun with it."
But he says the knives are really just something to occupy his time until his Vegas restaurant opens later this year. And as the ultimate Valentine's tribute to his wife, Lola, the restaurant will be called Lolapop and will be a cross between Benihana and Cocktail with burlesque shows and upscale food.
"I want to have performance art and bring a lot of the kitchen into the restaurant and have little grottos and booths that are way tucked out of the way," he says. "I'd definitely have a stage and have [the dancers] up there so everybody could stare at them. It would definitely be very upscale as far as the food goes and the atmosphere."