Mystery solved, sort of: It seems reasonably clear to me that Daniel Kaufman, a.k.a., Dan Kay, a.k.a. Dan Katze, a.k.a. the Busted Chef, a.k.a. the Montauk Grifter, never actually worked as a producer on Hell's Kitchen, as he repeatedly claimed to the people he conned. But he definitely managed to convince several of the show's former contestants that he worked there, which is some fairly acrobatic grifting.
When I first brought you the tale of Kaufman, the fake chef and fake internet entrepreneur who conned multiple victims out of tens of thousands of dollars and was arrested on grand larceny charges last month, I assumed that his claims to be a veteran producer of Hell's Kitchen and Chopped were part of his ruse, and that the Dan Kay listed in those shows' IMDB credits was someone else whose identity Kaufman had adopted. The fact that a very real Dan Kay had served very publicly as the executive chef of a Manhattan restaurant called Elmo along with sous chef and former Hell's Kitchen contestant Amanda Davenport—who told reporters that she met Kay through the show—served to confirm my "two Dan Kays" hypothesis.
But two days ago I learned that Dan Kaufman and Dan Kay the Elmo chef were the same person—which led me to the conclusion that Dan had somehow grifted his way onto the Hell's Kitchen set. Could there be any other explanation? Could Kay have somehow conned Davenport, an actual Hell's Kitchen contestant, into believing falsely that he worked on the show?
Today I finally spoke on the phone to Davenport, and the answer is yes. Dan convinced at least four Hell's Kitchen vets, from three different seasons, that he had worked on the show. He hung out with them, partied with them, hired them, and told them he had cancer for good measure.
"Lots of us who were on the show knew him," Davenport says. "I met him through Facebook after the season I was on started airing. He was Facebook friends with lots of people who were on the show." In July 2009, Davenport says, Dan hired her and another Hell's Kitchen alum to prepare a tasting for his "consulting firm." He later hired her at Elmo.
Davenport says Dan spoke only vaguely of his work on Hell's Kitchen and Chopped. "I never really checked into it," she says. "I asked him what seasons he was on, and he just said, 'Oh, a couple.' But he knew enough people and what we did on the show that I never really asked." According to Davenport, Dan regularly hung out with at least four former contestants from three difference seasons of the show under the pretense of having been one of the producers. "I would be going to show-related events, and he'd say, 'Oh, I'm going, too.' He'd go to parties with us. We all knew him."
A spokeswoman for ITV, the company that produces Hell's Kitchen, confirmed for me that Dan didn't work on season six of the show—Davenport's season—but curiously declined to comment further, citing confidentiality issues. ITV's reticence notwithstanding, Davenport is thoroughly convinced that Dan never worked on the show. "He was never a producer," she says. Earlier this week, Chopped's Ted Allen confirmed to me that no one on the show had ever heard of Dan.
Davenport worked with Dan for several months, first at Elmo and then—after Elmo's owners suddenly fired him without telling anyone why—at City 55. She quit when Dan failed to produce any paperwork to actually hire her. "Dan was never really at Elmo," she says. "He was always in and out, no one really knew what he was doing. He told us he had cancer and was going to doctor's appointments." She says she never saw him cooking alone, and that when they cooked together, she'd usually take over because he didn't seem like he knew what he was doing.
Contrary to what some former Elmo staffers told me earlier this week, Davenport says she and Dan were not dating. "Our relationship was strictly professional," she says.
At the request of some of the people I spoke to for this story, who agreed to provide information only on the condition that they not be identified as having been associated with Kaufman, we have turned off commenting for this post. If you have had run-ins with Dan Kay, Dan Katze, or any other version of Dan Kaufman, please let me know and I'll follow up.