Connecticut chef Morgana Vesey and her colleagues so idolized cantankerous celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay that they hung a picture of him on the kitchen wall in the restaurant, and conversed with the photo every morning as they came into work. When a Fox representative reached out to her about appearing on a season of "Hell's Kitchen," Ramsay's notorious cooking competition reality series, she initially didn't think it was a legitimate offer. "I thought it was a joke," she said. But less than a month later, she was meeting her culinary hero face to face in Las Vegas, joining Ramsay's group of "Young Guns" for the season now airing on FOX. Vesey, currently a chef at Water Street Cafe in Stonington Borough, is one of 18 contestants on Ramsay's 20th season, which brings together chefs all aged 23 years or younger at the start of the competition. She turns 24 this month, but she was 21 when the season taped, she said. "Each week, the competition will get more intense, as these 'Young Guns' are put through rigorous culinary challenges - reaping high stakes rewards and punishments...But only those who possess the right combination of ingredients will continue in the competition, until one is named winner," the website reads. The grand prize winner will earn a head chef position at Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas. In a promotional clip, Ramsay says the "Young Guns" version "has to be one of the most exciting seasons ever." Vesey, originally from New London, has been working in the culinary industry for nearly a decade, starting out as a 16-year-old cook at Montville's Oakdale Pizza. As she prepared to graduate high school, she considered college, but couldn't decide what she'd like to study. "I realized I didn't want to do anything other than cook," she said. "So I stayed in the kitchen and kept cooking." As her career progressed, she eventually became the sous chef at Canggio in Norwich, a modern Peruvian restaurant, and was formerly a part-owner of Norwich's 86'd Bar & Eatery. In the first episode of "Young Guns," which aired May 31, Vesey made a solid first impression. As the team of female chefs faced off against the men, she presented Ramsay with an entree of pan-seared duck with Brussels sprouts, prosciutto and carrots with a pan sauce. He deemed it the "dish of the night," giving it a top score and sealing a win for the women. Before tasting her dish, Ramsay told Vesey she "looks 16." "I have a baby face, but I have an old soul," she told her idol. While a reality show experience is by nature unpredictable, Vesey said she prepared for the taping by perfecting a signature dish and practicing sauces and techniques. "You want to be able to pull something out of your pocket that's really going to wow someone," she said. It took some time to get used to the cameras' constant presence, she said, "but eventually you just try to forget about it and focus on what's happening." The fully equipped competition kitchen was also a highlight for her. Vesey said she wants her talent and professionalism to shine through as she progresses in the competition, and she also wants viewers to see her creativity. "I really like fusion food, I really like Spanish food, I like to throw some Asian flair into my food," she said. "I hope they show that on the show." She'd like to open her own fine-dining fusion restaurant in the future, she said, but she's looking to branch out beyond Connecticut to see what else the culinary world has to offer. Being a young woman in the industry hasn't been without difficulty, she said. As a sous chef at age 21, she's had authority over employees considerably older than her, which poses challenges sometimes. Others assume she's a baker, not a chef, just because she's female. But she encourages other women looking to enter the field to follow their dreams. "If your passion is for cooking, don't let anybody tell you that you shouldn't be a chef," she said. "It's a lot of work. It's a lot of hours, it's a lot of missing birthdays, and family events and holidays. But if it's your passion, then you should go for it." "Hell's Kitchen Young Guns" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EST. fox.com\/hells-kitchen.