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A Recipe for Success

How Murfreesboro’s Alex Belew Went From Local Chef to Hell’s Kitchen Winner

For Murfreesboro resident Alex Belew, life looks much different than it did a year ago. Since being named winner of season 21 of the hit TV show Hell’s Kitchen, life has been a whirlwind full of new and exciting opportunities for Belew. 

“When I walked out that door, it was just disbelief,” describing the emotion he felt in the final episode when he was announced the winner of the reality culinary show. “Gordon’s never picked an older person. I’m the oldest person to win by five years, six years…nobody over 35 has ever won…Watching the show, a lot of people were like, ‘We knew you were going to win from day one,’ but living it, it never felt like that. There was never a moment where I was like, ‘I’ve got this thing in the bag.’ That was never a thought. It was just always anxiety...”

Belew is still getting used to getting recognized by fans—even getting messages from fans all the way in Malaysia—and the travel that comes with this new chapter of life “[In the past] I was on a plane once every other year, now I’m on a plane three times a month,” he says of flying back and forth to be in the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in Atlantic City and other culinary events.

From the time he was young, Belew has always found himself in the kitchen. He learned the basics of cooking while watching his grandmother as a child. “I was always in the kitchen with her while she was making biscuits and pancakes and fried okra…” he remembers. “The food was always so delicious; I wanted to know how she got it from the beginning to the end.” 

This childhood curiosity led to a job in the café at Old Time Pottery when he was 14 and then eventually to his first taste of the restaurant world, working as a server at Demos’ when he was 17. Belew later began catering private dinners in private homes and then leaped to begin culinary school.

Belew is a truly well-rounded chef who has seen every facet of the business. In addition to continuing his catering business—which he did for 12 years—after graduating from culinary school, he was contacted by his former principal to teach culinary arts at Blackman High School, where his students won the National Restaurant Association’s Prostart Championship in 2014.

“It was one of the most rewarding three years of my life, and honestly, teaching culinary arts in high school is probably the sole reason I am where I am because it made me think so far out of the box,” he explains. “Because every day I wanted to teach those kids something brand new, which meant I had to teach myself something brand new….” He also shares that he was challenged by having to get creative working with a meager budget of only $1,500 a year to buy groceries for five classes worth of students. 

After three years of teaching, he continued catering, worked at Nashville restaurants such as the renowned Husk, and began selling out restaurant pop-ups in 2016, but one of his goals was always his restaurant. 

“My plan has always been since I was like 12 or 14 to have a restaurant on the square in Murfreesboro; that was always my dream,” he shares. “I grew up on Second Ave. off Main Street. My mom and I rode our bikes down the square…” So he took over the space where The Hoof BBQ previously resided to create Dallas & Jane, his restaurant named in honor of his grandparents. While he had to close the restaurant early in the pandemic, it opened the doors for something new when he decided to apply to be on Hell’s Kitchen. Being turned down for the show back in 2013 because producers said he was “too nice,” he applied again and caught their attention with his application. After a six-month vetting process, he secured his spot as a contestant on the show, where he competed non-stop for five weeks, ultimately winning the competition. 

When asked to sum up his Hell’s Kitchen experience in a couple of words, he replies without hesitation: “Amazing. I’d do it again. Especially knowing what I know now…I thrived better in it than I thought I would. I enjoyed the go-go-go aspect. Every minute was packed full of something to do….”

While he may be traveling the world now and getting used to the term “celebrity chef,” the ever-humble Belew stays grounded in his Murfreesboro roots and his wife and sons. He says his two sons, ages six and eight, are some of his toughest critics when it comes to his cooking. 

“I’ve been here a majority of my life. I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone that I went to elementary school with. I’ve been here since I was four, so that’s all I know…I grew up on Second Avenue, on Main Street. I went to Riverdale, Mitchell-Neilson, and Central Middle School back when there was just one middle school. It’s my hometown. The people are great. There are a lot of new people here now, though. It’s very strange how fast we’re growing…It’s my home. I love it here…”