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Recipe for success: Loyola chef wins ‘Hell’s Kitchen’

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“At the Retreat and Ecology Campus, we’re trying to fully grasp the farm-to-table relationship,” executive chef Scott Commings says.

University chef. Cooking instructor. Reality TV star. Scott Commings can now officially add that last title to his list of accomplishments.

• Learn more about Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus.
• See a FOX-32 interview with Commings.
• Visit the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ website.

Commings, the executive chef at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus in suburban Woodstock, plowed down the competition for the past several months on Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” the high-pressure cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. On Thursday night, Commings capped off his impressive run by beating Chicago chef Jason Zepaltas to take home the top prize—a $250,000-a-year job offer as head chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Las Vegas.

“Oh my God—I just won,” Commings said on the show. “I can’t believe it. I’m still in shock.

“I pushed really hard. I gave everything I ever had. It’s been a tough road. ... There’s no question this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

For Commings and his family, however, the hard work was definitely worth it.

“My whole life is my wife and kids,” an emotional Commings said, “and now my kids are growing up on a beach.”

Commings, who beat out 19 other contestants to win the show, had a simple goal when he started at Loyola in 2010: create a dining experience that people would love—and do it with seasonal, locally grown food.

It was a goal that meshed perfectly with Loyola’s commitment to sustainability.

“At the Retreat and Ecology Campus, we’re trying to fully grasp the farm-to-table relationship,” Commings wrote in a piece for Loyola magazine last year. “We’re lucky to be located in an area with an abundance of growers and livestock farms.”

Commings took that farm-to-table ethos and ran with it. He oversaw the five-acre farm at the campus, where students learn how to grow food and prepare it. That on-site farm, in fact, yields enough produce to supplement a large portion of the food used in the campus’s kitchen and dining hall.

Before he cooked on TV before millions of viewers, Commings created a series of hands-on culinary classes and programs at Loyola. The classes—which teach everything from knife skills to pasta making to wine and food pairings—are extremely popular and sell out months in advance.

Even though Commings is expected to head out west for his latest cooking adventure, Loyola is committed to sustainable farming and building upon the programs that he started.

“Scott was the second person we hired at the Retreat and Ecology Campus, and he helped create such an amazing place for people to come and enjoy fine food,” said Tim McGuriman, associate vice president of capital planning at Loyola. 

“Of course we’ll be sad to see him leave, but we realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him and his family. We really wish him nothing but the best.

“And we absolutely plan to continue the programs that he created.”