Baton Rouge native Jesse Romero began dabbling in the kitchen at the age or 8 or 9, taking cues from his parents and grandparents. On May 20, the 29-year-old brings all he’s learned over the years to compete on the sixth season of “MasterChef,” which premieres with a two-hour special on Fox at 7 p.m.
The show is hosted by award-winning chef Gordon Ramsey, with acclaimed chef Graham Elliott and Christina Tosi, renowned pastry chef and owner of New York City’s Mile Bar, serving as judges.
“I’ve never had a job cooking,” says Romero. “Hopefully, that changes now.”
A petroleum landman, Romero is one of 40 amateur cooks from all walks of life competing for the title of master chef. Among them are two other Louisianians — Natasha Clement, a bartender from LaPlace, and Charlie Chapman, an HVAC technician from New Orleans.
Romero got an early start in the kitchen; he and his siblings would cook their own dinner when their parents, Elaine and Robert Romero, had to work late. But he started perfecting his skills while attending LSU.
“I kind of took over the tailgate cooking from my dad,” he explains. “I have a passion for cooking and making people happy. That’s what drives me. I love seeing someone smile when they eat what I’ve cooked.”
Romero also likes experimenting in the kitchen. He’s made a lot of new friends, talking to other foodies and chefs to get new ideas.
“I’ve been seriously exploring the culinary world for the last four years,” says Romero, who found out about the competition via one of the many foodie newsletters that regularly land in his email inbox. “I saw they were hosting an audition in New Orleans, so I filled out an application, sent it in and several months later they called me back.”
The dish he took for the audition had to already be prepared. “I boiled some shrimp and crabs, and took apples, pears, cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado and created a seafood salad. All the layers with their different colors and all the flavors really popped,” explains Romero.
He can’t say if this is the dish he prepares on the show, or if it’ll be his signature dish of fried chicken. For this, he uses a recipe that’s never been written down. “My grandfather (Sidney Becnel) used to fix his fried chicken for me on a weekly basis,” says Romero. “He’d go the store and buy a whole chicken and cut it up; then he’d season and flour it using a paper bag. I still use the same method. It’s the dish my friends most want me to serve.”
Meanwhile, he’s enjoying all the publicity he’s getting. He didn’t tell anyone about what he was up to until after the audition, when he told his parents. They and the rest of his family and friends have been offering up lots of encouragement.
So have some previous “MasterChef” contestants.
“I’m really excited … ready to see how they edited the show, how we’re all portrayed,” says Romero, who’ll be watching “MasterChef” at a watch party at Fred’s in Tigerland.