The last time I talked with Shaun Jay, he was an impressive 20-something magician from North Raleigh. He’s still that, but also much more. He was recently a contestant on the reality TV show MasterChef, where he made it past auditions and as far as the second episode before being sent home. I knew about his magical proclivities, but his appearance on TV was the first I heard about his culinary talents.
He told me that he’s been cooking since he was about 3 or 4 years old and credits his mom for giving him a start.
“I’d always help out my mom in the kitchen,” he said. “She would always give me little tips and tricks.”
I wish I could say the same. I’m sure my mom wanted to teach me about cooking, but I avoided anything tougher than a quick microwave heating, something that has led at least one foodie to offer me cooking lessons. It took a wife for me to finally begin to get the cooking bug, though I would say it’s no bigger than a gnat at this point.
Certainly I’m nowhere near ready to try my hand at reality TV. Jay compared the experience to something like the American Idol of cooking shows. He initially had to audition with a pre-prepared dish for the judges to sample. He decided to showcase his diverse cooking abilities with a vegan meal: veggie barbecue with fake meat, homemade barbecue sauce, rice, fried cauliflower and fried vegetables.
“It just worked out to where I was able to get on the show,” he said. “I guess they liked me and my food.”
Next, Jay and others had an hour to make a dish. He chose the all-American apple pie.
“That’s a lot to do in an hour,” he said. “I almost failed making the apple pie, but I came through.”
He burnt the bottom of the pie crust because he wasn’t used to the gas ovens they were using.
“There was a lot of smoke coming out of the oven, and I was freaking out,” he said.
But he was able to whip together a new crust, finish the pie and present it all with a magical flourish. Though the whole routine didn’t make it on TV, Jay wanted to do something special to explain to the judges that he used Granny Smith apples for the pie.
He lit a string on the oven, turning it into a green handkerchief. Then he took that handkerchief and rubbed it against a red apple, turning it green, the color of Granny Smith apples. He followed up with still more magic, and the judges were delighted.
Unfortunately, Jay’s luck only lasted so far. For the next part of the competition, everybody had to make a lamb dish, something he had never attempted.
“Everybody was running around and whipping everything together,” he said. “That was pretty stressful.”
He didn’t make it any further. The second episode was his last. But Jay has nothing but positive things to say about his experience on the show.
“It taught me a lot,” he said. “It taught me, (No.) 1, a good work ethic, because as I was thinking about going on the show, I was just looking at the different judges and their accomplishments.”
Plus the show turned him from a cooking hobbyist into something more.
“I’ve always been cooking, but ever since I found out I was going to be on the show, it really ignited my desire,” he said.
Right now, Jay is on hiatus from school and still performing magic. He doesn’t know if he will make a career of cooking, but he says he could see a future where he combined his skills with magic and his passion for food. At 22 years old, the future is wide open, and Jay isn’t counting anything out.
“You never know. It could be. It could happen,” he said. “Even though I didn’t get super far on the show, that doesn’t mean that I have to stop cooking.”
I’m writing this on a Tuesday night. Tonight I’m making homemade pizza. So I haven’t given up on cooking either. But don’t expect to see me on MasterChef any time soon.
For more information about Jay, check him out at ShaunJayMagic.com.
Oh, and if you are interested, MasterChef is still going. Jay says he still watches and roots for his fellow contestants.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at email@example.com.