Many in Georgia may brag about being a good cook, but so far none can boast the title of Master Chef.
Tonight two Georgians will continue their quest on the Fox competitive cooking show to be called one of the best chefs in not just the country, but the world. Former NFL defensive back Eddie Jackson, from Americus, and yacht stewardess Jessie Lysiak, from Social Circle, made it onto the coveted reality show hosted by world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay.
The two were selected for the show’s top 20 and have made it all the way to the final 13 contestants.
In light of their success on the show, the Atlanta Daily World’s Catherine Witherspoon talked with the finalists to discuss what it is like working with Gordon Ramsay, how they keep their weight under control and how their respective towns are responding to their success.
ADW: What made you try out for MasterChef?
Eddie: Actually a friend of mine filled out the application for me. Then I got a call and went down to audition and the rest is history.
Jessie: Someone from the show reached out to me. They learned I loved to cook and invited me to try out.
ADW: What is it like working with Gordon Ramsay?
Eddie: He’s one of the best chefs in the world. You know I’ve played with some of the best NFL coaches and college coaches in the world and I compare Gordon Ramsay to those guys. He’s very tough and intense but at the same time he knows what he is talking about because it speaks for itself with his record.
Jessie: He’s intimidating and he’s fast and I’m thinking, “What am I doing here?” It is a really good experience watching him at work. Behind the scene he’s a big kid, but as soon as he puts those chef whites on he is so serious.
ADW: Do you have a cooking background or do you simply like to cook?
Eddie: All of my family is cooks. Both of my grandmothers grew up as cooks. I started cooking at a very young age, but my dad is the one who really taught me how to cook and I just fell in love with it at a young age and it stuck with me since then.
Jessie: I like to watch culinary things. I would take jobs where I was around it and I would watch the food stylist prepare her dishes, working on the boat I would watch the chef’s and how they prepared their dishes and if they needed help I would say, “Oh, I can help!” Just to try to get my foot in the door and absorb everything I could learn is what I was trying to.
ADW: What is your specialty?
Eddie: I’m a southern guy so I try to use my southern roots in my food.
Jessie: I love duck and lamb. Those are my two favorite things to cook.
ADW: How do you stay so trim when you are always in the kitchen? You would think since you are always in the kitchen you would be eating more, is that true?
Eddie: (Laugh) First and foremost, let’s not to forget that I am a foodie. You know I love to eat, so I’m eating all the time. But the good thing about it is that I am a trainer so I’m always working out, so it balances it out. I like to work out with my clients so I burn a lot of calories throughout the day, which is a good thing and it allows me to eat certain things I shouldn’t eat.
Jessie: I can see the difference from when I started on the show until the last episode because my wait fluctuates. But when I am not cooking for other people I keep it really, really healthy. So super healthy for myself and when I cook for others I love my cream sauce and all that lovely country goodness.
ADW: I know your hometown is really proud of you, how are they responding to your success on MasterChef?
Eddie: It’s been good. I’ve gotten a lot of support from everybody down there. You know my grandmother still lives down there and my cousins and people like that. You know Americus is a small town so word gets around real quick. So everyone in the town is watching. It feels good.
Jessie: I definitely have to give a shout out to Ga. There weren’t too many people from Ga. besides Eddie. There weren’t’ any auditions in Ga, so I feel that Eddie and I have to represent. So, keep all the nice tweets coming because it’s nice to see the southern crowd behind us. In Social Circle it’s funny to hear them say, “We’ve never seen anybody on TV from Social Circle?” (laugh)
ADW: What is it like working with Jessie on the show?
Eddie: Jessie is your typical southern bell. She was just real polite, extremely polite. She can cook. I think one of the first things I tasted of hers was some chicken, and she said she likes fried chicken. I was like, “You have gotta be from Georgia, or something, liking fried chicken.” But yeah, she’s a sweetheart and she is one of my favorites on the show.
ADW: What’s it like working with Eddie?
Jessie: Eddie and I had a lot of stuff in common so we bonded on several different aspects. We became really, really good friends. When you are having that kind of living experience with a bunch of strangers it’s kind of a thing to have a go to friend that you can confide in.
ADW: Have you thought about what you will do if you win now that you are in the top 20?
Jessie: I would hope to have an offer on a cooking TV show. Hopefully travel and go to different countries and learn their techniques and their dishes but make to wear people back home can cook it.
Eddie: Now that I am on the show it’s all about competition with me. I’m a big competitor. When I got to the competition I never thought about what I would want to do with the money because my eyes were really on the trophy. Of course I would like to have my own restaurant.
ADW: What if you don’t win?
Jessie: I still want the same dream. Whether I win it or I don’t win it, I still want the same dream. I’ll still pursue it.
Eddie: No matter what the outcome is of the show I will definitely strive to achieve my dream.
ADW: What is the atmosphere like on the set?
Jessie: It’s long and in the beginning you’re nervous and you’re shaking and you have to learn to work through that because you are meeting some of the most famous names in the culinary world at the same time you are trying to cook and not jump off the stage.
Eddie: It’s pretty hectic because everyone has their different personality. You know, you got the crazy guy, loud mouth egotistical. You know everybody is different so trying to manage the different personality types and also having Gordon Ramsay there with you—the biggest personality of them all— you know it can be extremely intense and hectic, but I think that is what the show is all about and managing all that and being able to concentrate and focus on the task at hand, which is cooking the best meal you can possibly cook.
ADW: How have Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich influenced your cooking style? And what is some of the best advice you have received that has influenced your cooking style?
Jessie: To stay true to the flavor that you know are good because when you are trying to take other peoples advice, even when the other chefs come up and talk to you. They are not saying things to have you go change what you are doing, they are there just to question you to make sure you are confident and know what you are doing.
Eddie: Oh definitely! I have always respected that with Graham, he is one of those people who are at the top of their game. Being so young and being so great that is something that really I looked up to. At a very young age he was doing things that other chefs tried to get to do and that is something I really, really respected about him. And, Joe, the name speaks for itself. First and foremost, Joe is a tremendous business man and me getting my degree in business that was something I looked up to.
ADW: What advice do you have for anyone interested in cooking as a profession or going on a cooking show?
Eddie: The best advice I can give is to be yourself and to be true to yourself. Ultimately that is what is going to come out on the plate. You know, if you are a southern guy and you love cooking southern food, cook southern food. Don’t try to go and cook Italian food when you are not an Italian cook. The biggest thing with cooking is cooking with love and with love is staying true to yourself. I think that if you do that then whatever you put on the plate is going to be good.
Jessie: If they go on a cooking show, I would say make sure you get your skin really thick before you go on because it’s hard. You’re going to get yelled at and you’re going to have to learn from it and not take it to heart and cry.
If it’s as a profession, work for anyone that you can that you admire and that means work for free if you have to. You have to be around it to learn and watch people who are better than you in order to learn or you will not get better.
MasterChef airs on Fox, Wednesday at 8 p.m.