How JWU Prepared Brynn Gibson '20 for a Spot on ‘Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns’

Whether she’s holding the line on the latest episode of “Hell’s Kitchen: Young Guns” on FOX or assembling more than 1,000 dumplings for one of her Dumpling Den pop-ups at Fortnight Wine Bar in downtown Providence, Brynn Gibson ’20 has learned not to let stress faze her. While her path to her hard-earned confidence wasn’t necessarily direct, every step along the way was crucial. “Both Johnson & Wales and ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ have opened my eyes in such a positive way that you cannot please everyone. And the person that you need to like first is yourself.”

Alum Brynn Gibson '20 on the line on Season 20 of Hell's Kitchen. Photo: Scott Kirkland/FOXGibson’s fascination with cooking started early. With both parents working all day, “the only time we really sat down together was at like the dinner table,” she explains. “I saw how food brought my family together, how it brought people together. … I ran with it because I loved how sociable and intimate it was.”

A cooking class at age 12 kicked off a series of “a-ha!” moments that culminated in making the monumental decision to attend JWU. “I did the Career Explorations day. It was so cool,” she explains. “We were put through what the lab was like, and I really thought, ‘This is what I want to be doing. And this is how I should be learning. It’s very hands-on.’ That was pretty much what sealed it for me.”

Finding Her Way at JWU

Gibson’s path at JWU wasn’t linear, either, but she had the support of mentors like Bridget Sweet, JWU Providence’s executive director of food safety; Associate Professor Lynn Tripp; and Instructor Steven Johansson: “They really understood that to teach meant you had to encourage the student and make them want to learn. And those three people made me want to learn.”

Gibson originally chose Dietetics & Applied Nutrition as her major, thinking it would serve as a practical niche. But she gradually realized that the creative aspects of Culinary Science & Product Development were more appealing to her skillset: “Changing my major was the best thing I could have done,” she explains.

“I really thought, ‘This is what I want to be doing. It’s very hands-on.’ That was pretty much what sealed it for me.”

Once she made the switch, both Sweet and Tripp helped her gain confidence in her choice. When she transferred to Bridget Sweet’s class that was already underway, Sweet took the time to help her catch up: “She helped me through all these food safety topics that I like. She walked me through everything, and I’m so deeply appreciative.”

Dumpling Den originals by Brynn Gibson '20Tripp's tutelage was crucial for helping Gibson better understand the process involved in developing recipes and a product line from scratch. “Professor Tripp opened my eyes to the product development world,” she says. “Now, I’m using my knowledge from her course as I develop my own business and think about going wholesale.”

The “Hell’s Kitchen” Experience

Gibson was only 21 when she filmed Season 20 of “Hell’s Kitchen.” She never tried out for the role; the show’s casting agents found her via a Facebook group for line cooks. Gibson is still a bit puzzled how they zeroed in on her: “I’m in this group of 120,000 people and they reached out to me. They were just like, ‘Hi, would you like to interview for this?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, it’s spam, I guess.’ And then it ended up being really real and it kind of just went from there.”

“At the end of the day, we’re only going for one job, one position.”

For Gibson, diving in to the “Hell’s Kitchen” experience was like “being thrown to the wolves.” The fast pace and frenetic schedule forced all the chefs to think on their feet — a demand that Gibson found more mentally taxing than physically stressful: “But it was the mental game of when do I become a team player or when do I become an individual player? How long am I a team player? At the end of the day, we’re only going for one job, one position.”

Gibson is open about having severe anxiety, something that was a huge challenge throughout her time filming the show. (And no spoilers – the season is still underway.) But being pushed so far out of her comfort zone actually helped her learn how to be self-reliant: “I’m so much more confident in myself now, even though I went through what I went through on international TV.”

She’s also learned how to set better boundaries — a necessity to distance herself from TV Brynn: “It’s [important to acknowledge] that I do have limits. I’m a people pleaser. I think that’s kind of why we’re all in the industry. … We want to make other people happy. It’s a very common thing, but I had an issue of trying to please everybody. … Now that the show has aired, I’m going to say what I want to say and be 100% genuine.”

Evolving the Dumpling Den

Dumplings have become another mode of expression for Gibson, who started doing the Dumpling Den pop-ups at Fortnight in April. The response to her umami-packed, self-saucing “OGs” was immediately positive, leading to more pop-ups and possible expansion plans — there’s even a line of merch in the works.

Gibson has loved dumplings since she was a kid, both for their adaptability and their portability: “I’ve always liked dumplings. They’re a great vehicle to fill with whatever you want. So there’s a creative freedom that comes with it. … It’s very much a blank slate or creative canvas that I can work with and do anything with them.”

She’s looking to expand her menu beyond the pork and vegetarian options she currently offers. “Right now the most difficult project I’m working on is chicken dumplings. I’ve been getting multiple requests, and I’ve been using my product development background,” she explains. So far, she hasn’t developed a chicken dumpling she’s happy with. For her next pop-up, tentatively scheduled for September, she’s looking to add some vegan options to the menu. “And I may or may not be trying to collaborate with somebody else,” she adds.

With only a few weeks to go until the “Hell’s Kitchen” season finale, Gibson is going from success to success. In the most recent episode, she earned a coveted black kitchen jacket, which is only given out to the “Final Five” chefs. With every week she advances in the kitchen — and more pop-ups in the works — opportunities abound for the young chef. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

Follow The Dumpling Den on Instagram for the latest pop-up info, or follow Gibson’s food-related account, The Food Nugget.

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BANNER: BRYNN GIBSON ’20 SHAKES HANDS WITH GORDON RAMSAY ON SEASON 20 OF “HELL’S KITCHEN.” PHOTO: SCOTT KIRKLAND/FOX. TOP RIGHT: GIBSON ON THE LINE IN LAS VEGAS. PHOTO: SCOTT KIRKLAND/FOX. BELOW RIGHT: PORK DUMPLINGS FROM ONE OF GIBSON’S DUMPLING DEN POP-UPS. BELOW: OFFICAL “HELL’S KITCHEN” PORTRAIT BY MICHAEL BECKER/FOX.

 Brynn Gibson’s official “Hell’s Kitchen” head shot by Michael Becker/FOX.