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May 29, 2024

Mural City Cellars winemaker competes on 'Gordon Ramsay's Food Stars'

Nicholas Ducos set out to impress the celebrity chef but instead caught the attention of Lisa Vanderpump in the premiere.

TV Reality TV
gordon ramsay's food stars Provided Image/FOX

Nicholas Ducos, a winemaker and co-owner of Mural City Cellars in Fishtown, is a contestant on the second season of 'Gordon Ramsay's Food Stars.' Above, Ducos tries to impress Ramsay and his co-host Lisa Vandermpump during the premiere.

As a contestant on "Gordon Ramsay's Food Stars," Philadelphia winemaker Nicholas Ducos hoped to impress the titular celebrity chef, who he grew up watching on TV, and gain him as a mentor in the pursuit of the show's $250,000 prize. Instead, he caught the eye of Ramsay's co-host, TV personality Lisa Vanderpump, who asked him to join her team.

"I really wanted to be on Team Gordon; Gordon was one of the reasons why I went to culinary school," Ducos said last week. "And then what you don't see on the show is Gordon actually shot me down pretty hard. But Lisa saw something in me during that time and she took a shot on me." 

MORE: Philly baker to compete on American spinoff of 'The Great British Bake Off'

Ducos, who co-owns Mural City Cellars with his partner Francesca Galarus, is a contestant on the second season of the Fox reality competition. "Food Stars" follows "Hell's Kitchen" star Ramsay and Vanderpump, of the Bravo series "Vanderpump Rules," as they face off to find the next food and beverage star through a series of entrepreneurial challenges.

Ducos grew up in Allentown and Bethlehem before attending high school in Florida, but his interest in food and wine has taken him around the world. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, then embarked on a monthlong course on food, wine and agriculture in Spain, which ignited his interest in wine. After that, he moved to Miami, where he studied to become a certified sommelier and ran beverage programs in restaurants. When he "got tired of working in restaurants," he moved to Napa Valley and worked at a winery, then headed to New Zealand to learn more about the winemaking process.

"In my time between California and New Zealand, the idea of doing a winery started to roll into my mind," Ducos said. "And so post-New Zealand, I packed up with my partner Francesca, we moved up to Philly, where she's from and closer back home for me, and we decided to start our journey opening up Mural City."

The pair released Mural City Cellars' first vintage in 2019 and opened their urban winery in Kensington in 2020, which later expanded to include a wine garden. In March, Mural City Cellars moved to a new location at 1831 Frankford Ave. in Fishtown, which includes a winemaking facility, wine bar and bottle shop. Mural City is considered Philly's first independently owned urban winery, and the business sources its grapes from small growers within 300 miles of the city. 

Ducos joined "Food Stars" thanks to his participation in a meetup group of entrepreneurs who own food and beverage businesses in the city.

"I guess what happened was that the Gordon Ramsay team reached out to one of the entrepreneurs in the city, but they were unable to do it," Ducos said. "So they pass it along in an email to everybody in the group. My partner Francesca honestly signed me up. When I didn't really want to do it initially, she signed me up, forced me to make the two-minute video. From there on, it kind of just snowballed. And it was just producer meeting after producer meeting after producer meeting and then eventually I found out that I'm flying to London to go compete for a quarter million dollars with Gordon Ramsay."

In the "Food Stars" premiere, which aired last week, Ramsay and Vanderpump heard pitches from a large group of entrepreneurs and they narrowed it down to seven people on each of their teams. For the pitches, each contestant had to walk down a long hallway before facing the celebrity restaurateurs "Shark Tank"-style and explain why they should be part of their teams.

Ducos said he had a week to work on his pitch before flying out to London and spent "lots of time writing out this thoughtful pitch" about his company.

"I wanted to really bring in everything that is Mural City and really just show Gordon that this business is a real thing, that urban wineries is a new thing that's coming and it's taking over America and probably going to be more global as time goes on," Ducos said. "Then when the time came and I was walking down that very, very long runway, and then I was standing in front of Gordon and Lisa, I just saw them and then my entire pitch just disappeared out of my head." 

For his pitch, Ducos allowed the judges to sample his wine, and told them his company expected to hit $1 million in sales for the year.

"In three years, we went from 800 cases to 3,000 cases," Ducos told Ramsay and Vanderpump. "The demand is huge. Our goal for Mural City is to be the household name ...

At that point, Ducos never got to finish his sentence because Vanderpump stopped him and asked him to join her team. 

"She stopped me halfway through my thing and she's like, 'Listen, you're gonna be on my team.' So I think there was some things there that she really appreciated about my entrepreneurship," Ducos said.  

Vanderpump, who has her own line of Vanderpump Wines, also chose another wine entrepreneur for her team: Jess Druey of the California-based Whiny Baby. Ducos was "shocked" to see another winemaker on the show and more surprised to find out they ended up on the same team rather than being pitted against one another. 

mural city gordon ramsayProvided Image/FOX

Philly winemaker Nicholas Ducos (second from left) collaborates with his team during the second episode of 'Gordon Ramsay's Food Stars.'

"I think we were both taken away because initially we thought we'd be competing against each other," Ducos said of Druey. "So it's really interesting how that's gonna play in the show going forward."

Moving forward, the members of Team Ramsay and Team Vanderpump must work together to compete in a series of challenges involving profit and loss, marketing, branding and other entrepreneurial aspects. Ducos noted that the team-style format of the show proved difficult for the "strong-minded" competitors.

"Everybody here is an entrepreneur," Ducos said. "They're the ones who are in charge of making the big decisions for their companies. And in a situation when you get all these go-getters together in one room, and all of a sudden, people start shooting down each other's ideas, but you're normally the one in charge, it really can create a little bit of tension. So I think we'll see that going on in the show when you get a bunch of people who are in charge who have to listen to other people."

Mural City Cellars held a watch party for the premiere — with cardboard cutouts of Ramsay and Vanderpump — and Ducos said the winery intends to continue hosting them weekly throughout his tenure on the show. Ducos said his time on the show was a "bootcamp" of sorts, but it was also a "fun journey" that he's pumped to share with the city.

"Working with Gordon and Lisa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Ducos said. "It was fantastic. I'm glad that we could bring Philly a little bit of love during this time and really show that we're not only one of the best food cities in the country, but now we're also gonna be one of the best beverage cities in the country. So I think if anything, I'm proud to say that, and I'm proud to be a part of it and leading the change here in Philadelphia."

"Gordon Ramsay's Food Stars" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox and can be streamed the next day on Hulu.

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