Muskego — The studio lights blazed, the cameras rolled and Chef Ramsay, famous for dressing down chefs on his "Hell's Kitchen" television show, moved ominously among cooking stations as the fifth season of the television show "MasterChef" was being taped in Los Angeles. And in the middle of it all was 19-year-old Jordan Kaminski, a recent graduate of Muskego High School.
He was one of 30 contestants from all over the nation who had made it through an intensely-competitive screening process to be on the show, which will start airing on FOX on Monday, May 26. At age 19, Kaminski was second youngest. There was an 18-year-old, but the others were in their 20s through 50s. Though all were talented, none were professionals.
Taping the show
Kaminski was dazzled to not only be on the national stage but to cook for Ramsay, a giant in the world of fine food.
"Every day was something I'd never dreamed of; it was so spectacular," the young chef said. The hardest part, though, was when "The Chef" himself stood at his station.
"Chef Ramsay is an almost intimidating larger-than-life figure," Kaminski said. "He's such an icon in the culinary world, and he would stand across from me and ask me what I was cooking."
"It was nerve-wracking," he said. "I didn't know what he was thinking."
But Kaminski found that Chef Ramsay was more of a teacher than a filleter of chefs, at least on the "MasterChef" show. Ramsay gave him many tips on how to do things better, he said.
But that's isn't to say that the young chef got off scot-free. Nobody does, he said.
"There were times when he wasn't too happy with me," Kaminski acknowledged.
But after seeing Chef Ramsay in action, he said, "He's one of the nicest people I've ever met, but one of the most passionate." People think Chef Ramsay is being mean when he is just being passionate about food and its proper preparation, he said.
Cooking at a young age
Kaminski himself knows that passion.
As a little guy, his mother Liz Kaminski often had him helping in the kitchen, and she remembers her son presenting her one day with his own creation of a peach souffle. He was only 4 years old at the time.
She also remembers that when Christmas or a birthday was rolling around, Jordan would ask for omelet makers, juicers, various cooking utensils and special pots and pans to saute in — and he was only 8 or 9 years old. That interest in cooking stayed robust even as Kaminski did the more usual guy things in high school, like lettering in tennis for three years.
Kaminski's high school friend Steve Kerns, who was also Kaminski's doubles partner, said in one of the audition videos: "We'd be on the court, and all he'd talk about is crabcakes and sea bass."
That interview was on one of the four audition videos Kaminski had to cook up to introduce himself and his life in Muskego. In the videos, he conducted a digital tour of his home, Sendik's Food Market where he works, the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and the Moorland Park Tennis Center. The videos also show him expertly preparing fancy dishes at home that any restaurant would be proud to serve.
The videos, however, came after several trips to the show's Chicago location. The first was to the cooking audition last October where he and many others hopeful to win a spot on the show prepared the dish of their choice. He made seared Chilean sea bass with a chilled Asian noodle salad.
They liked it, and what followed was a lot of back and forth trips to Chicago through December to get to the next level. One of those trips involved an interview where he had 45 seconds to tell them about himself."
"They know you can cook, now," so they want to know what makes you interesting, he said. Kaminski described himself as coming from a small town in Wisconsin and as having lost 90 pounds by cooking healthful meals for himself at the age of 13.
Two days later, he was back in Chicago for an on-camera interview.
"I was pretty nervous," he said, as he was asked about his personality, about cooking and about his background. Then he was asked to make the four videos.
Finally, he was back in Chicago taking personality and psychological tests and meeting one-one-one with a psychiatrist.
Weeks of waiting that were more nerve-wracking than making a hollandaise sauce ended in early January with a phone call. He was to pack his bags for a trip to Los Angeles to be on the show. Taping would be in late January and early February.
"It was one of the happiest, most surreal moments in my entire life," he recalls.
He spent the time preparing himself by watching previous shows on YouTube to see what made chefs stand out and how they reacted to what happened on the set. And he did a whole lot of cooking.
That put him in good stead when he was in the pressure cooker of the show. He blocked out all the lights and the ever-present cameras.
"I focused on what I was doing and what I do at home," he said, where he is comfortable and confident in the kitchen.
"It was a pressure situation, but a magical situation," he said, and he didn't want that magic to get away. "There was a percent of me trying to have fun with it all."
The show's rules don't allow him to talk about how he did on the show or even what dishes he prepared. The producers want to keep some surprises for the TV audiences.
Kaminski said he hopes the show will boost him on his way to his dream of having his own cooking show where he can teach teenagers how to cook healthfully using the lessons he learned through experimenting.
That experimentation came at the age of 13, when he decided he didn't want to be overweight anymore. So, he learned all he could about food by watching the Food Network on the computer and by learning about foods he had never heard of like bok choy, he said.
Using that as a springboard, he dolled up his weight loss dinners of chicken and vegetable with such things as vinaigrettes and spice rubs he devised himself, and those pounds melted off.
The young chef fondly hopes that because Master Chef airs on FOX, the local affiliate will be interested in offering him a cooking segment or another station might even offer him a show of his own.
He's got the knowledge and personality to pull it off.
"He's a good young man with a wicked sense of humor, and he can cook amazingly," his mother said in one of the audition videos.
"I'm very proud to say I'm his mother."
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