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BRING ON THE HEAT: Next Level Chef

Three Purchase alumni appeared on reality television, competing in the food arena.

Matt Maley ’90 and Chelle Baldwin ’91 paired up to compete on Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship: Gingerbread Showdown and Devonnie Black ’12 showcased her talent on Fox’s Next Level Chef with Gordon Ramsay. The confidence to show up and compete is only matched by their creativity, artistry, and drive to pursue their passion in whatever form it takes.

Read about Matt Maley | Read about Chelle Baldwin

Devonnie Black '12
Cooking Up a Story

Devonnie Black ’12 (theatre and performance) has a dual passion equally split between cooking and storytelling. Her dad is the inspiration for both. Born in Jamaica, she moved to the Bronx as a child. She remembers him cooking Escovitch Fish, a traditional Jamaican dish of fried fish and spicy pickled vegetables, at a cooking station he set up outside to avoid the inevitable mess in the kitchen. A crowd would always form. Her dad and their Caribbean neighbors would exchange stories about their native country. And his food tasted really good.

“For me, it was watching him cook and nourish people and listening to the stories that came over a plate or bowl of whatever he made. The reminiscing, the passing down of legacies and tradition, that stuff stuck out to me,” she says. “Even though we didn’t have a lot, it felt really good to watch and listen to them and see how these people gravitated toward my dad. Even now, people gravitate towards him.”

Black attended New York City’s Food and Finance High School to study the culinary arts, which she loved. But she also wanted to tell stories and pursue acting. She wrote novels in the fifth grade and devoured movies. She chose Purchase’s Theatre and Performance program to explore this other side and embraced the immediacy of performing poetry on stage as her craft. “When I stand up on the stage in front of people, I want you to leave just as full and nourished as my food leaves you,” she says.

The Sun Never Needed Time to Shine

Black believes her poetry provides messages she needs to hear. She’s admitted to grappling with depression and imposter syndrome, which she captured in her poem “Visualizing Lies.” Partnering with a friend, they created a visual version on film, which won an Art With Impact Short Film Competition award in 2019. Art With Impact promotes mental wellness for young people and the film is available online and shown on college campuses. She’s humbled by the feedback she often receives, viewers who are grateful someone put into words what they’ve been feeling.

On a rare day when the sun broke through the dreary Seattle weather, Devonnie said to herself, “look, the sun doesn’t need time to shine.” Those words found their way into an aptly named poem. “‘Shine’ was the catalyst for me. It’s not going to be perfect, but I’m trying to get to this next level. I promised myself to shine, no matter what,” she says. “Do it now. Do it scared. But just do it.”

Into the Fire

Black always wanted to work in a commercial kitchen, but with no experience beyond waitressing and bartending, she had trouble landing a position. So she made her own opportunities, developing, an online bakery selling vegan cookies she now ships all over the U.S. She also offers private chef services.

And then, she saw a post on Instagram. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was seeking applicants for a new show called Next Level Chef. She initially wavered, then entered. “I was like, if you don’t get picked, you don’t get picked. But if you don’t apply, you definitely won’t get picked.”

She made the cut. Spoiler alert: she didn’t win the contest, but she proved to herself that she could prepare delicious food under pressure. “Being able to cook with and against all these different chefs, different ranges of cooks, I found validation that maybe I was good enough to be in this industry.”

With a toddler at home, she’s content but also dreaming of her next challenge. She’s been adding private chef engagements to her calendar and someday hopes to merge her cooking with her storytelling. “I would love to open the dinner with a poem or end it with one—give them a little more to chew on than just the food.”

Visit to see full episodes of Next Level Chef’s first season.

—Kristi McKee