Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns contestant Keanu Hogan is a Baltimore native and chose to follow her culinary passion after graduating from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. (Photo Credit: Fox Television Media Relations)

By Nadine Matthews
Special to the AFRO

Yes, that’s how she got her name. “I was expected to be a boy and my mother wanted to name me after Keanu Reeves, the actor. Once I was born, she decided to keep it. I love my name,” stated Baltimore native Keanu Hogan. She’s one of 18 contestants on the current season of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition reality series Hell’s Kitchen.

In a nod to the show’s 20th anniversary, and the acknowledgement that a new generation of chefs are emerging, this season, the show is called Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns. All contestants are in their 20s.

Hogan has described herself as “coming from a tradition of mixed roots.” Her grandparents are from North Carolina, but have Polish, Irish and Native American in their backgrounds. Some of this was reflected in the foods they sometimes ate as Hogan grew up. She told the AFRO, “My grandfather loved kielbasa, corned beef and cabbage. Of course, we threw in pig tails sometimes!”

It wasn’t until she was forced as a junior at the academically rigorous Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (BPI), to choose a direction for her college career that Hogan decided on culinary arts. She ended up at BPI after transferring because her original high school was not challenging. “I had a one hundred average and I was taking honors classes,” she explains incredulously.

Thinking about what to do for college, Hogan realized cooking was a constant in her life. “Everyone was used to me selling cupcakes and brownies in school. I needed income, and it seemed natural.” Her family also loved her cooking. “I was the person in the family everyone knew could cook. It was like ‘Yeah, we want her to make the mac and cheese for Thanksgiving.”

Once she started her program at Monroe College in New York, she knew she made the right decision. “I didn’t realize how much I loved it. It’s such a huge outlet of expression. When I cook I lose myself. It becomes therapeutic, almost meditative. It’s more than a passion, it’s just my life.”

Hogan later started showing her gustatory creations on Instagram when she relocated to Los Angeles, a move she said tested her mettle. “It’s definitely the city of angels but it’s not for the faint of heart. Everyone is chasing their dreams in this big city but for connections, the circle is so small. It tests your confidence and your strength as a person. I grew tough skin there.”

One day, Hell’s Kitchen producers DM’d her and asked her to come in and interview to be on the program. It required her to go live in Las Vegas immediately but that didn’t faze Hogan who said she’s driven cross country six times. “It’s amazing. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Of meeting Gordon Ramsay, Hell’s Kitchen’s host and producer, and purportedly the wealthiest chef in the world, she said, “I wasn’t intimidated until I met him. He has a presence. You definitely feel his strength and confidence.” So far, she said, being on the show has given her a greater sense of confidence, increased her professionalism and taught her the importance of integrity.

Hogan is also undaunted by cooking under the pressure of cameras and competitors. “Cooking on TV is not that different from real life, and I was on a culinary team in school where we did competitions so that’s not much different either. You have to be adaptable as a chef.” 

In addition to running her catering business The Perfect Bite, the new mom, is launching a dessert business called Tastee Power. She explained, “We don’t want to use any artificial ingredients and want to focus on integrating and incorporating healthy ingredients.”

Hogan revealed she loves indulging in Pina Coladas and Maryland crabs during the summer. Her new favorite Baltimore destination is the recently opened BLK Swan. “They are doing things so beautifully there. Everything I ate there was amazing!” She also loves Crust By Mack. “Everyone who comes to Baltimore needs to eat there. They have literally one of the most famous things in the world to eat right now; a crab pie. If you haven’t had it you need to try it.”

For those thinking about a career in culinary arts she advises, “If you have a passion project, if you want to be an entrepreneur, do it. Quit your job tomorrow and do it. Just make sure you take care of yourself. If you’re not healthy, if you don’t love yourself, you won’t be able to do anything.”

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