Sam Seideman had a pretty good cooking resume, for a 17-year-old.
He’d taken all of Chef Cecily Gans’ culinary courses at Staples High School. He’d worked at Jr.’s Deli & Grille, Hudson Malone and Norwalk’s Knot Norms. He helped cater, and cooked at home for big family events.
Early in his senior year, he saw an Instagram ad for a new Gordon Ramsay show. On a whim — and on his September 10, 2020 birthday — he applied.
He plowed through the 126-question application. “What is your signature dish?” he producers wanted to know. “What would you do if half of your ingredients disappeared?” He had to submit a video too.
Sam — an accomplished rugby player, and Staples Teen Awareness Group leader — had the confidence of youth. “I don’t want to sound arrogant. But you had to sell yourself, and I thought I did a pretty good job,” he says.
Still, he was stumped by certain questions. “Who is your manager?” they asked. “What’s your agency? Are you union?”
Two days later, on a mask break during Journalism class, a casting company called. Soon, the executive producer followed up.
Fifteen rounds later, Sam was still in the running.
One of the interviews was an awkward Zoom test for “chemistry” with other applicants (and Ramsay and his daughter Tilly).
“There was a transgender Indian, a Black guy, someone from Sweden,” Sam recalls.
One person had 130,000 Instagram followers. Another had a million on TikTok.
“They were really going for diversity and popularity,” Sam says. “I was a white kid from Westport. I had no diversity, and no following.”
Six people had made it to the final round. Ramsay would pick 3.
Early Thanksgiving morning, Sam was working at Hudson Malone. He got an email from the producer: Sam would be working with Gordon Ramsay on “Uncharted Showdown.”
From that day through early January, there were constant commands: Show us your wardrobe. Keep your haircut. Etc., etc., etc.
On January 5, Sam headed to Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Suddenly, filming a reality TV show was very real.
He learned how to act normally, with a camera in his face. He was given safety demonstrations, then sent into the ocean in a kayak, and up on ziplines.
On camera, working with Gordon Ramsay.
As a minor, he also spent 3 hours a day with a school tutor. Rules are rules.
On the third day, Ramsay appeared. “What’s up, Sam?” he said.
“He was super nice. So chill,” Sam says.
Ramsay invited the cast to ask him anything. Sam wanted the best advice for opening a restaurant.
“Don’t do it!” the world-famous restaurateur replied.
“But you opened 13 during COVID!” Sam countered.
“A fair point,” Ramsay said. “If you open one, call me!”
The cast and crew traveled around the area. At each stop, locals taught them about the cuisine and culture. They learned about cooking live fish with peppers, saw hearts of palm harvested with machetes, and joined indigenous people making chocolate.
The cast. From left: Gordon Ramsay, Tilly Ramsay, Harrison Head, Sam Seideman, Gloriana Solano, Ki-Lin Barbeau.
There were many surprises. Amazingly, Sam says, “besides what we cooked, the food was atrocious. And we couldn’t leave, because of COVID.”
One day, Sam and his castmates kayaked in rain and high waves out to some rocks, where they harvested sea cockroaches for ceviche. Sam was bitten 14 times by sea urchins. The doctor on set removed them.
“It was all very real — not staged,” Sam notes.
It was also a chance for him to show his chops. At one point Ramsay wondered, “What’s the plan today?”
Sam said, “You’re asking me?!”
He gave his advice. Ramsay said enthusiastically, “Let’s do it!”
As they filmed, he said to Sam, “How did you learn to cut like that?”
“Watching you!” Sam responded.
Ramsay later called Sam “one of the keenest young chefs I’ve ever met.”
Sam Seideman, at work.
And so it went. For 6 days Sam and his crewmates bonded, cooked, and shared adventures.
One day Sam suggested adding jackfruit to chicken tamales. No one had ever suggested changing Ramsay’s menu before. When he learned it was Sam’s idea, he approved.
Sam Seideman, in charge.
Soon enough, it was back to Westport. Sam had signed a very strict non-disclosure agreement, so even his friends did not know what was up.
School administrators did; they had to approve his absence. Someone told his teachers. Sam was mortified when one said, in front of the whole class: “So how was the Gordon Ramsay show?”
But then it was back to normal life (of course, little about Sam’s life is “normal”). He graduated with the Class of 2021, and headed off to Pennsylvania State University. He’s majoring in hospitality management. with a minor in business.
He almost forgot about the show. (Occasionally though, a new college friend would ask, “Why is Gordon Ramsay following you on Instagram?”)
Last summer before his sophomore year, Sam was working at Camp Wekeela in Maine. He’d been a camper there; now he was running their kitchen (which he helped re-design) and the entire culinary program. (That’s another story itself).
Texts started arriving. Friends had seen ads and trailers. The show would air August 8, on National Geographic.
Sam ducked out of a camp event, to watch himself — and Gordon Ramsay — on TV.
He loved it. “I was glad I looked pretty natural,” he reports.
“Uncharted Showdown” moved on to Disney + and Prime Video. One day Chef Gans — his Staples culinary teacher and mentor — texted him. She was in a hotel room, and Sam’s face suddenly appeared on the screen.
His appetite for TV whetted, Sam recently applied for “Next Level Chef.” He was one of 2 19-year-olds in the final 25. Producers chose the professional chef instead.
But Sam’s life is quite full. He’s enjoying his Penn State classes. He’s social chair (of course) of his fraternity.
And he’s applying again — this time to a hospitality show.
(“06880” provides updates on Staples students and alums doing intriguing things. Please support our work. Click here — and thank you!)