Jason Maur was in the midst of the most grueling trial of his young professional career. He needed to present his case to the three of the toughest judges in the world. But for the Monroe attorney who started practicing law in November 2010, this trial had nothing to do with legal training. If it had, it probably would’ve been easier.
Maur was one of 30,000 participants in MasterChef, a reality television show that pits amateur chefs against each other in a battle for a $250,000. All participants must prepare restaurant-quality meals within a certain time frame, and they’re judged by food industry icons chef Gordon Ramsay, restaurateur Joe Bastianich and chef Graham Elliot.
“Food is a huge part of who I am,” said Maur, whose general law practice includes family law, real estate and probate work. “It’s an art form to me, and it’s a different way that I can express myself.”
Maur’s cooking skills landed him among the top 100 amateur chefs in the country before he was cut during the season premiere episode that aired earlier this month on Fox. “I’ll take being in the top 0.3 percent of amateur chefs in the country,” Maur said last week. “It was an amazing experience. Not many people can say they’ve cooked for chefs of that caliber” who judged the show.
And because of contractual agreements, Maur actually can’t discuss all of the details of his experience because the show’s season is ongoing.
Maur has been cooking ever since his mom taught him as a young boy. He developed his skills as his interest in food intensified with age. Finally, he got to the point that he believed he could compete with others who participated on MasterChef.
So he signed up an open casting call in New York City and wowed the judges there with pulled pork infused with Mexican spices and homemade mole barbecue sauce.
“One judge told me I should bottle my sauce and sell it,” Maur said. “The thing I love to do most is a good barbecue.”
His performance in New York led to an invitation to California where the show was taped. He can’t say how long he was out there, but he had to wrap up his cases and ask a colleague to handle any emergencies or continuances, which never popped up.
Meanwhile, Maur was immersed in food…cooking it, discussing it, thinking about it. “[The process] is intense and takes a lot out of you,” Maur said. “During the show, we had no access to phones or to the Internet. It’s a complete sequestration.”
And it was a tremendous learning opportunity for Maur, who was eliminated because he ran out of time and didn’t present a smoked shrimp dish as professionally as he would have liked. Getting feedback from the celebrity chefs was a powerful experience.
“I wouldn’t say I was starstruck, but I have an extremely deep respect for those judges,” Maur said. “Graham Elliot is one of my inspirations as a chef because he is so innovative.”
But Maur is not ready to give up his law practice anytime soon. “At this point in life, cooking is purely a side project,” he said. “I’m not looking to change everything and work as an apprentice in a restaurant.”
He is considering opening a gourmet burger/barbecue restaurant sometime in the future, though.
Now that his run on MasterChef is over, he’s going back to preparing culinary delights for friends, family and himself. He’s always happy to create the menu for friends’ parties, and he often puts great time and effort into meals he makes just for himself.
After an intense day with his law practice, “there’s nothing more satisfying than a burger and a beer,” he said. “I do it with a fried egg, bacon, some cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary roasted potato chips. That is the quintessential comfort food for me.”
He also actively blogs about food and restaurants at www.MaurPowerFoodie.wordpress.com where he aims to provide food education so people can experiment with food on their own.
With grilling season in high gear, Maur encourages people to seek out beef with 20 percent fat to make the perfect burger.
“The trick to getting the best burger is to grind the meat yourself,” he said. “And you have to have an ideal burger to bun ratio so you get the same amount of both in every bite.” •