Anyone who works at a hospital, especially one that has been operating in virtually the same location for the past almost 264 years, will come to realize two things: Hospitals truly are pillars of the communities in which they’re located and serve, providing medical care, economic support and stable employment opportunities – and they are family affairs. It is not unusual to see multiple generations of relatives working in hospitals, developing deep bonds with their co-workers and creating families away from home.
To illustrate this point, six employees from different departments throughout Pennsylvania Hospital (PAH) each contacted me on the same morning to tell me the same message. They were all excited and proud to inform me that a former Food and Nutrition Services employee, Joshua Trovato – who is also the son of two current hospital employees – earned a spot as a contestant on season 14 of FOX’s popular show, “Hell’s Kitchen” (HK).
Anyone who has seen the show – where aspiring chefs compete for a quarter of a million dollars and a coveted gig as the head or executive chef at a premier restaurant – knows this achievement is nothing to shake a ladle at. Contestants are put through a ringer (perhaps in this case, a pasta maker?) of grueling challenges, all while being taught and tortured by the immensely skilled and mercurial chef Gordon Ramsay. (Fun note: FOX actually has a section on the HK’s website titled: “Gordon’s Most Terrifying Tantrums”). However, if anyone can take the heat in HK, by all accounts, it will be Josh.
Josh, 26, who currently resides in Los Angeles and manages the kitchen at the University of Southern California, has overcome and experienced much in life. And he had to fight early on for that life. At two and a half years old he had to undergo surgery for a coarctation of his aortic valve. Then, at 21, when others that age are exploring the joys of legal drinking age, Josh had to have a cardiac angioplasty and balloon stent placed. “I was just born special and needed a little help from amazing people that God put in my life,” said Josh referring to his physicians, family and PAH family.
“Joshua always loved to make people laugh and was always such a good-natured kid,” said Ralph Trovato, Josh’s father who has worked in the Department of Security at PAH since 2005. “He is really passionate about what he wants to do in his field and we support him fully.”
Shown here are proud parents Barbara and Ralph Trovato.
His parents and Josh agree that he was eight years old when his passion for cooking first manifested itself. “I was watching The Food Network, went into the kitchen and grabbed a knife out of the drawer. I mimicked everything they did. I tried to cut like them, sauté like them,” said Josh.
The thought of an eight year old wielding a knife might make some parents uncomfortable.
“He was such a good kid, it was really something for him to have that high a level of interest to recreate what he was seeing on TV at that age. And, he seemed to have a real knack for it – so I let him,” said Barbara Trovato, Josh’s mother who has worked at PAH since 2006. “It seems he’s always loved to cook and really does have a talent for it. I’m not just saying that because he’s my kid,” said Barbara. “Everything he makes really is delicious!”
When asked what inspired him to become a chef, Josh credits his family first and foremost, from his mom’s chicken parmesan (“That was one of the things that was comfort food to me. I’m Italian and that’s my heritage.); To his grandfather’s spaghetti and crabs (“I remember standing in his house in Cape May, NJ, and looking up to him…”), to his father’s shrimp scampi, a popular dish in the Trovato household. “That’s what I love about food. When you think about it, it brings you back to the first time you had it and all those good memories,” said Josh.
Josh worked at PAH the summer of 2007 between spring and fall semesters while attending Johnson and Wales University for Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. For only working at PAH for about four months, he left quite an impression and built long-term relationships – again, which is reflected by the interest of hospital employees who worked with Josh nearly eight years ago and still keep in touch with and ask about him today.
“I met so many wonderful people at Pennsylvania Hospital who are still there to help and support me. The hospital has given me and my family so much to be thankful for,” said Josh. “I couldn't imagine having my parents work in a better establishment. God has a way of bringing people together and I couldn't be more grateful for the PAH family that I have.”
Before heading to New York City to officially start his career, Josh lost a significant amount of weight and got into great shape after tipping the scales at 300 pounds. He built a kitchen for Navajo Native Americans, did missionary work in Peru, and completed internships in Canada, Greece and Australia where he “worked his butt off down under,” he said.
Josh worked his first “real job” in the field in NYC at the Tree Bistro in Manhattan, owned by Colm Clancy in the East Village. “I was there for three years really trying to figure things out for myself and he was really there for me, supporting me to fulfill my dreams,” said Josh. He worked his way up at Tree from a self-proclaimed “salad guy” up to chef du cuisine, commuting six hours a day from his parent’s home in Audubon, NJ, for the first few months. He also worked as the assistant general manager of Natsumi in Times Square.
Hard to imagine that a young man already so accomplished in the field of culinary arts was kicked out of home ec in high school. Twice.
“I was able speak to the vice principal and get him back in the first time it happened,” said Ralph. “But not the second time. When I got there, the vice principal told me, ‘Mr. Trovato, I have a lot of respect for you but he’s not coming back into this class. Turn around and go home.’ All I could think was geez, Joshua – how are you going to get into culinary school if you got kicked out of home ec?”
For the record, Josh wasn’t disrespectful to the teacher. He simply knew a lot about more cooking than most adults and basically told her as much.
With that experience under his belt, perhaps Josh is the most perfect contestant to face off with Chef Ramsey.
As the new season of HK is currently underway, Josh isn’t permitted to discuss the show (he’s still in the running!) but he says being a part of it was an amazing experience; the best he’s ever had. “You do something like this and it’s a spark,” said Josh. “I got to the point in my own life where I was overwhelmed with wanting something more, and ‘Hell's Kitchen’ was it for me. I'm so grateful for it. I believe it is the beginning of wonderful things to come, and I'm very excited to see it develop.”
Tune into FOX on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. to see how things develop! In the meantime, check out Josh Trovato’s contestant profile video.