Hail to the Chef

Jenny Cavellier on the set of Masterchef's 7th season


When watching competitive cooking shows on TV, there’s one burning question that viewers want answered: Isn’t the food cold by the time the judges taste it? There’s a pregnant pause before Jennifer Cavellier ’13 bursts out laughing. “Cold might be overstating it, but it’s tepid, for sure.”

A contestant on season eight of TV’s MasterChef, she was one of just 20 selected to put on the coveted white apron — along with a chance at a $250,000 grand prize — out of tens of thousands of applicants. So obviously, she’s been cooking since she was a wee tot, right?


“I started cooking in college,” Cavellier recalls. “Like most students, money was an issue. I loved to eat fancy meals but couldn’t necessarily afford fancy restaurants. So, I started trying to replicate everything at home.”

The 26-year-old, who majored in psychology at USD, has made a career out of working with adults with special needs as a learning disability specialist. But in late 2016, her job was to join fellow MasterChef contestants in an airplane hangar-sized space in Los Angeles where much of the show is filmed.

“The set is out of this world,” Cavellier says. “The tools and resources, the pantry and the food, it’s unbelievable. There is every item related to cooking that you can imagine.”

The premise of the show is simple: Home cooks compete in timed individual and team challenges, and are eliminated until just one remains. Along the way, their culinary efforts are evaluated by a trio of judges, led by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who has a reputation for bluntness.

“He’s even more intimidating in person than he appears on TV,” Cavellier admits. “But even though he puts on the pressure and can be harsh, he was always very fair and constructive in helping to make us better chefs.”

What viewers see is pretty darn close to reality, she says. “The time constraints are very real. They hold you to a clock and you really have to think on your feet. When the time is up, that’s it.”

The whole experience definitely made Cavellier step out of her comfort zone. “I’ve always had anxiety about public speaking, and to try and articulate what my food was about in that setting was hugely stressful.” But bit by bit, she gained confidence.

Now, she’s back to her real life in San Diego, but the dream she had when she decided to audition for MasterChef lives on. “My ultimate goal is to open a restaurant that employs adults with special needs,” she says. “I’m hopeful that I can incorporate both of my passions into a career. MasterChef gave me a lot of things that I had no idea I was going to gain from it. For that, I’m more than grateful.” — Julene Snyder

Sadly, Jenny was eliminated in episode 12, “In a Pinch.” Find a schedule for upcoming episodes of this season of MasterchefPhoto © 2017 FOX Broadcasting Co.

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