By Dawn Robinette
Photography by Desiree Shelanskas
When Hollywood came calling, Mary Lou Davis turned them down. “Hell’s Kitchen,” Chef Gordan Ramsay’s restaurant reality show where chefs compete to gain a spot working for Ramsay, found Davis on social media and asked her to audition.
The Chef de Cuisine at San Antonio’s Whiskey Cake turned down the opportunity. “I thought it was a joke,” she laughs. Instead, she was invited to Los Angeles to interview. And she turned it down. “My general manager and CEO were telling me not to go on the show because they’d make me look like a fool. So I told them no.”
Thankfully, “Hell’s Kitchen” called back, and she decided to go for it. And that’s the advice she shares with others.
“You have to bet on yourself. I’ve been spending my time waiting for somebody to do something for me or waiting for the right opportunity. But that opportunity is never going to come unless you make it yourself.
“If it’s something that you believe in and something that you want to do, you have to full-heartedly 100% go in and make it happen. It’s not just going to happen for you. We’re all going to face adversity in our lives, and it is going to make you a stronger person. But are you going to back down or are you just going to push it out of the way and keep going? I say push it.”
The show was filmed in 2019, but the airing was put on hold by COVID-19. Davis finished the competition as runner-up, turning in strong performances throughout the show. “I’ve been sitting on that secret for two years now!” she excitedly exclaims.
She lost 10 pounds during the filming. “It was so stressful. It’s every single day for three weeks. You only get one day off. And the last thing that I heard before I went there from the people I worked with was that I wasn’t good enough. So the whole time I kept being afraid that I wasn’t good enough.”
Davis’ end goal is to have her own restaurant, but she’s not ready for that just yet. “I really want to go and travel and learn more skills before I decide to settle down and open up my own spot. Being on “Hell’s Kitchen” opened my eyes so I can see how much more is out there and how much I don’t know.”
Her Instagram profile includes the description, “unapologetically myself,” a place she came to after being told that she didn’t have the right personality to work in the kitchen. “I couldn’t understand that. I don’t want to be what you want. I want to be myself. I’m a naturally happy person. I wake up, I’m smiling and I’m laughing. I’m really just an all-around happy person.”
But that good nature can keep people from taking her seriously. “My personality has seemed almost like a burden. Most people won’t take me seriously because I am happy. And I’m young in this profession. Every day I feel like I do something that validates myself. It’s like here, you’re on the right path. So I will continue to be unapologetically myself.”
She credits her mother, Mary Davis, as her inspiration. “She’s always been on my side. I grew up in a single-parent household. I worked so hard because I want her to be proud of me. And I wanted her to know that I do know how to work hard, but it’s also to prove everybody else wrong as well.”
No matter what she faces, Davis’ life motto helps her stay the course. “I have it actually tattooed on me. ‘This too shall pass.’ It can be something positive. It can be something negative. What’s going on right now with “Hell’s Kitchen”? I’m getting all this attention, and it just lets me know, hey, this is going to pass. So you need to make the most of it and do everything that you want to do. But then also when I’m having a bad day, it’s on my arm. It’s going to pass. Then you’ll have a new battle.”
“We’re all going to face adversity. We’re all going to face trouble. There’s always going to be blocks in the road, but it’s all in how you make it. So how are you going to get past this? That’s what defines you when you’re faced with trouble. What do you do? You don’t need to know the right answer. You just need to know where to find it.”