SALEM — You don't smile in hell.
It's a hard lesson that Jennifer Normant learned during taping of the upcoming season of "Hell's Kitchen," a reality cooking show in which chefs compete for the head job at a New York City restaurant.
Moments before a dinner service, Normant smiled at a fellow contestant, and she shouldn't have — because there is nothing funny in Gordon Ramsay's kitchen. Normant felt the verbal wrath of the famously hot-tempered and often profane celebrity chef.
"I never smiled again," she said yesterday.
Normant, 34, is the head chef at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. A dedicated viewer of the show's eight previous seasons, she earned a spot on the ninth at an open casting call in Boston after three years of trying.
"I wanted it so bad that I was totally persistent," she said. "I wanted to see if I could do the challenges."
On season nine, which has already finished production, chefs must prepare a "mommy and me" meal for a roomful of moms and toddlers and cook using different types of beer as the basis for their recipes.
Normant will make her television debut on July 18 at 8 p.m. on the Fox network.
Ramsay, she said, lives up to the hype.
"He is extremely intimidating," Normant said. "I wanted to throw up for the first five minutes after I met him."
She grew up in Burlington and still lives there. Cooking for her was a calling.
"It was like a moth to a flame," Normant said.
During high school, the now-gone Riley's Roast Beef in her hometown hired her to work the counter, but Normant would join the kitchen crew any chance she got. She abandoned her pursuit of a criminal justice degree and took culinary classes, first at Bunker Hill Community College and then Newbury College.