You all probably know some seriously successful home cooks, where you tell them they should be professionals. A bunch of reality TV chefs agreed when it came to Jaeger Stoltz of Seattle and Shami Marangwanda of Kirkland. The two are among 100 contestents competing on the new season of “MasterChef,” which premieres tonight.
Tune in to watch Stoltz and Marangwanda battle 98 others for a shot at the “MasterChef” title and a quarter-million dollars, with complications like “Mystery Box Challenges” and “Pressure Tests” along the way. They’re being judged by Gordon Ramsay, joined by Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot.
Ramsay is an intimidating figure, but both locals said they had a blast on TV.
“I definitely learned that I”m pretty resilient in terms of a very very tight schedule and long day,” said Stoltz, a hairdresser at Bocz salon. “Thank God I’ve been doing perms and bang trims for years.”
Stoltz has always had a bent toward cooking, “always the friend who hosted the dinner parties and barbecues.” Styling hair is his career, but he has a side hobby of entering cooking contests, where he won one of the biggest — the $100,000 Sutter Home Build A Better Burger Contest — a few years back.
“My favorite thing ever is creating recipes,” he said. “Living in Seattle, we have such an amazing supply of fruits and vegetables and great meats and artisan cheese. If you have a creative bone in your body you just go crazy going to the Ballard market and just exploring.”
He credits his grandmother for his interest in food. “Maybe it’s a little cliche, but it’s certainly true for me. My grandmother lived her entire life with an iron skillet in her hand, frying up something, a little 4-foot-ten German grandmother.”
And, he sees similarities to career skills like coloring hair and his almost-career of cooking. “It’s all based on science and ratios and percentages, and then you get this artistic outcome.”
For the initial competition rounds on MasterChef, standing in line “with about a thousand other people,” he served the judges seared pork loin with harvest hash. It was enough to get him into further auditions, and eventually onto the show, where he said the blend of different people and personalities was a thrill.
He was proud of himself for managing the stress of preparing food under time pressure with cameras all around. “Man, if I need to whip together some gnocchi in an hour, come to me because I now know I can do it.”
For Marangwanda, timing was everything when it caem to the show. She had been laid off from her job as a recruiter a week earlier, and a friend called to say she should use the time to audition: “You’re the best cook I know!”
“All along the entire process, (I thought) ai, I don’t know. I’m not really flashy and out there, I just like to cook,” she said.
“I went in just having fun,” focusing on food from her home country of Zimbabwe, starting off with an oxtail stew in red wine sauce made with sadza, a starch that’s “the heart” of the cuisine. Then she sauteed collard greens, “different from the South,” crunchy and delicious.
She had already landed a new job, as a recruiter for Starbucks, when she got the call that she had been chosen for the show. Luckily, she said, Starbucks let her participate, with no idea whether she’d be gone for weeks or months.
Marangwanda has been cooking for as long as she can remember. Her father moved frequently for work, and “as a girl in Zimbabwe you’re expected to know how to cook.” When she was about 10, she remembers her father telling her to make a pot roast, and having no idea what to do. She turned the heat up to 500, and served it charred on the outside and raw within. But she’s learned a lot since then.
“I cook every single night. My husband is the most spoiled man in the whole world in terms of home cooking.” She has a small side business cooking for baby showers and new mothers, and a passion for feeding friends. “If I put on my Facebook ‘I’m cooking dinner,’ they show up!”
On MasterChef, as with Stoltz, “I learned to cook under pressure! That was the biggest thing,” she said.
“I got to meet some really cool people… I had fun as much as I could, and I’ve made lifelong friends from the show.”
She said it was a great experience. Even with Ramsey’s reputation?
“I was a little bit afraid, but I always feel like “He can’t be that mean. This can’t be for real, it’s just TV…” she said.
Then, “When I first saw Gordon Ramsey, I was like, “OK, maybe it is real. But I respected all the chefs, I think they’re amazing. For me it was an honor.”