Danny Veltri was a hotshot chef. And he knew it. He and his friend had taken a risk and started a restaurant called Flip Flops, in New Smyrna Beach, and the place was hopping. There was a three-hour wait every Friday night for the fresh, saucy tropical specialties he describes as “Floribbean.”
But it wasn’t always such a heavenly place to work.
“The kitchen was literally the size of a shoebox,” Veltri says.
After a hard day of work, Veltri, then 23, collapsed on the couch and watched a bunch of aspiring chefs on a reality TV show called “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Sitting at home on the couch, it was really easy to be like, ‘I could do that. These guys are all idiots,’” Veltri recalls.
Veltri went to Miami for an open casting call.
He stood in line. He said the right things. He got on the show.
He met Chef Gordon Ramsay and witnessed his absolute obsession with quality in the kitchen — the insistence that Ramsay himself taste every sauce, every dish before allowing it to be served in the restaurant that was set up for the show.
“He went through hundreds of spoons a night,” Veltri recalls.
Thanks to Veltri’s performance during the six-week filming of the show, about which he was sworn to secrecy, he won a none-month job as a chef at the Borgata Hotel, in Atlantic City. It was the chance of a lifetime.
All he had to do was wait until the show actually aired on FOX. Unfortunately for him, that was a long time. So long that FOX told him not to spread the word about the delays between taping and airing.
But, suffice it to say that at times, it was difficult keeping his tremendous success a secret while he was back at Flip Flops, working in the shoebox kitchen. Especially one day when an angry customer stormed out without paying a bill.
Veltri chased him down in the parking lot and listened to the man’s complaints about poor service. In that moment, when it was most tempting to tell the man where he could go, he kept his cool and simply persuaded the man that it wasn’t fair to skip out on the bill.
Finally, just weeks after Flip Flops became an even greater success and was purchased by investors who expanded the square footage of the kitchen by a factor of 20, Veltri made the big time on FOX. He did his nine-month stint in Atlantic City, and then he was out of a job. Flip Flops had moved on without him, and he was happy to see the restaurant succeed.
So he started his own business. It’s called Back From Hell Catering, and in just a few weeks of existence, it’s off to heckuva start. He recently catered the VIP tent for a concert in Daytona Beach featuring singer Gretchen Wilson.
Having “Hell’s Kitchen” next to his name doesn’t hurt his new business. But he’s not just riding a false wave of celebrity. He was already good enough to launch Flip Flops and turn it into a success, and now he’s got those memories of Ramsay’s pile of spoons to remind him of the importance of quality.
“That’s the No. 1 thing I’ll take away from Chef Ramsay — his standards,” Veltri says.
To meet Veltri in person, come to the Seafood Festival. If you can stand the heat.