Still cookin’

MARSHALL – In the last month or so, Tracy native Jordan Roots has been seen cooking for the cast and crew of “Glee” and making lunch for 100 elementary school students. And he also got the chance to meet a “Desperate Housewife.”

Roots, a 2002 graduate of Tracy Area High School, is one of nine competitors left in FOX’s reality cooking series “MasterChef.” The winner of the show will receive $250,000, the chance to author a cookbook and the title of MasterChef. The next episode is on at 8 p.m. today on FOX.

The journey to the show started last year when a friend of Roots’ girlfriend wanted him to make a meal.

“They had me put on a dinner for their dinner club, and they were blown away,” Roots said.

The friend had sent Roots a link to the show’s website to sign up to be a contestant. He didn’t think much about it at first, but then he looked through his e-mails one day and clicked on the link.

“I thought, ‘This is pretty darned fitting for me,'” Roots said. He figured he’d just go and not have any reservations and have fun.

He went to an open call at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights where he was given a description of what to do and what to be ready for. For an open call, a potential contestant must bring one prepared dish to be served to the food judges and he/she is given a few minutes to plate the dish. Roots said he brought a cold salad with avocado, mango, prosciutto and roasted corn salsa.

About 35,000 people try out at Master Chef open calls throughout the country, Roots said.

Roots said he went through a bit of interviews, phone calls and paperwork. He said that he knew there was a chance he could be selected and wanted to feel confident, but he knew that anything could happen.

“Eventually you get a call that you’re in the top 100; you’re invited to L.A.,” Roots said.

“I was elated, it was fun news,” Roots said about receiving the call that he was going to Los Angeles.

He then competed in L.A. to get to the top 19.

“You had to audition in front of the judges to get your apron,” Roots said. The 100 hopefuls were whittled down to 40 and then 19.

Those 19 were chosen to be on the show, and Roots was one of them. The contestants face judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot.

Roots said he received accolades from the judges for his langoustine (mini lobster) dish he made in one of the earlier episodes.

“I got second to Jessie (fellow contestant),” he said.

One of the hardest challenges he faced, Roots said, was making lunch for 100 elementary school students.

“Cooking for kids is tough, they’re picky,” Roots said.

Roots said it would be easier to cook for those with food allergies as it would be simpler to work around their palate.

“That right away was pretty intimidating,” Roots said about the elementary school challenge.

Roots said he wasn’t all too familiar with the FOX TV show “Glee,” but he didn’t know why his fellow contestants were reacting they way they were.

“Walking onto the set, I had no idea where we were,” he said. “I didn’t know why everybody was so excited.”

Jane Lynch, who stars as Sue Sylvester on the series, chose the teams for the “Glee” challenge – making lunch for the cast and crew. Teams had to make salmon, fried chicken and a vegetarian dish.

“It was fun to see everyone’s genuine excitement revolving around ‘Glee,'” Roots said.

Roots was tasked with making the salmon for his team, and he said he decided to cook it the way he thought the judges would like it. He realized he should’ve made it differently.

“That was one of my more negative performances,” he said.

Last Wednesday’s episode featured TV star Eva Longoria handing out the mystery box challenge, and she also was a guest judge. Longoria is also a successful restaurateur.

“She knows her food,” Roots said.

He said he knew of Longoria, and he did get to talk with her as well.

“(I thought) ‘Holy crap, I just talked to Eva Longoria,'” he said. “For the record, she’s as beautiful in person as on TV.”

Another recent challenge involved contestants getting either a Wal-Mart basket with $5 worth of groceries or a basket with $25 worth. The $25 basket has such things as steak and vegetables. The $5 one had eggs, milk, sugar, flour, Jell-O, strawberries and bananas. Roots received a $5 basket.

“That initially scared me right away,” he said.

He ended up making a strawberry tart with a strawberry Jell-O sorbet and banana foam.

“Every single thing, we have to make up on the fly,” he said.

All of the challenges are a free-for-all, Roots said.

“Out of everybody, we all have a grasp on different techniques,” he said.

Being on the show, Roots said it feels like school constantly.

“(You’re) studying what you have in your head,” he said. “You’re only as good as your best dish.”

Roots said most of the items he makes are of his own creation.

“I rarely use recipes, other than for guidelines, inspiration and baking,” Roots said.

Art classes have always been his forte in school, Roots said, adding that he’s also a painter.

“I think I carry that into my plating,” Roots said.

He had attended Minnesota State University, Moorhead for a couple of years before moving to the Twin Cities, working in childcare and then for FedEx.

Roots said he’s had a lot of people ask what the judges are like off-camera, especially the temperamental Ramsay.

“He cares and wants you to be better,” he said, kind of like an athletic coach in college.

“He puts on these fronts for his TV shows because he cares,” Roots said about Ramsay. Ramsay is also a jokester, Roots said, and wants people to be laughing.

Through his experience on “Master Chef,” Roots said he’s met people he now considers friends.

“I’m surrounded by tons of people who love food,” he said.