Reality check: 'MasterChef' contestant a versatile cook

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Gavin Edmondson doesn’t own a television. And yet he might be on it, at least for a short while.

Mr. Edmondson, 26, is one of the 30 contestants scrambling to impress the daunting panel of judges when Season 5 of Fox’s “MasterChef” premieres Monday at 8 p.m. The program, which celebrates the kind of everyday cook who can improvise under pressure, carries the tagline: “30 home chefs. Three expert judges. Endless recipes for major catastrophe.”

“A friend turned me on to the show. She basically halfway signed me up and then encouraged me to go,” said Mr. Edmondson, who grew up in Meadville and is now a college admissions counselor at Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago, Ill.

He attended an open audition in Chicago, where his personality and kitchen prowess eventually landed him a shot in the pilot episode. Although Mr. Edmondson is not permitted to discuss specifics, or if he advances to the next episode, the show’s website has video of the contestants cooking for 500 men and women on a U.S. Army base in California.

Future episodes, according to the site, will include challenges ranging from preparing meals at a beach wedding to what might be a football tailgate party.

Winner of “MasterChef” earns $250,000 and a cookbook deal. Once Mr. Edmondson, who lives in Waukegan, realized he had a good chance of being in the top 30, he began catching up on previous seasons.

It’s probably a good thing he did not know much about Gordon Ramsay: “I knew he was kind of somebody who yelled at people at lot,” he added, laughing.

Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot are the other judges.

Mr. Edmondson grew up in a household where his father, Paul, a pilot, enjoyed improvising Cajun and Southern cooking.

“He was always making really good food. So of course when you grow up like that you don’t realize it’s good food. It’s just the normal stuff you eat each day.

“So when I went to college and was confronted with the reality of cafeteria food, it was suddenly like ‘Whoa, I really had it good at home.’ ”

After getting his first apartment, Mr. Edmondson taught himself the art of Italian cooking and has since refined his specialty, French cuisine. He recalled the time he was visiting his brother, Corbin, who had defrosted a large amount of seafood the previous day.

“He said, ‘We should do something with it,’ ” said Mr. Edmondson, who of course interpreted it as “Gavin should cook something.”

Corbin didn’t have pasta on hand, but his brother hand-rolled a batch en route to a meal of seafood Alfredo, Manhattan clam chowder and pasta Fra Diavolo.

Such versatility is crucial on “MasterChef.” Mr. Edmondson discovered this almost immediately.

“It was much more difficult to cook in that environment than I would have thought,” he said. “Knowing where the pots and pans are — they’re much farther away than they are at home so it takes time to run over there, grab what you need.

“You don’t necessarily know where everything is, and you have to hunt for it. I wasn’t prepared for that.”

Nonetheless, he said, “I had a wonderful time. It’s certainly a big ego boost to say ‘Hey I made it into the top 30 on the show.’ ”

Dancing Bieber

So you think you can handle The Biebs?

Wednesday's two-hour premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance” will feature Justin Bieber and his choreographer, Nick DeMoura, as they introduce a new element: dance crews.

On each of the next four audition episodes, Canada’s favorite out-of-control heartthrob will help spotlight crews from across the country. Unlike the usual voting process, this one is through Twitter (more on that at

The bad news: Not listed among the guest judges this season with regular judges Nigel Lythgoe and Mary Murphy is Jesse Tyler Ferguson. But we’ll give them a pass because Pittsburgh's Tony Award-winning Billy Porter is in for the Philadelphia auditions (air date TBA).

Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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