Cassie Peterson, from Clear Lake, Iowa, has been putting the Midwest touch on dishes in this season's " MasterChef" competition on Fox.
Last week, though, turned out to be Peterson's final episode. Though she didn't make it as far as she would have liked, she said on her Facebook pagethat "20th place out of 30 some thousand ain't bad," which sounds like a great outlook to have with her experience.
"I was born in Mason City, and lived in Clear Lake for a while and moved around and lived all over, spent a majority of my childhood in the tiny Amish town of Kalona," Peterson said. "I went back to Clear Lake when I was in middle school and that's where I graduated high school.
"I've always really enjoyed cooking," she said. "I was always moving all over the place, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom and she cooked a ton, so that was all I did. I didn't have too many friends, just because we never stayed anywhere long enough.
"In Kalona, I remember how the whole town always smelled like bread baking, and even as a child I noticed that the town centered around food, hard work, and simplicity," Peterson said. "So I learned a lot about cooking when I was really young, and I really enjoyed it. But I didn't think that I would be able to make it in a career that way, so I went to school to be a police officer."
In school, though, Peterson took a job in the central kitchen, where she worked as a dishwasher at first. "It was horrible, but I just really wanted to learn what it takes to be a chef."
When Peterson suffered a broken back in a car accident, she couldn't go on with her police studies. She thought, "I've always had something to do with food, I'm just going to do it, life is way too short to not do what you love." She opened her own bakery in Mason City, Iowa, called the Cupcake Store.
"MasterChef" features home cooks, people who might have had a background making food professionally, but who are not professionally trained in any way. Some of the contestants have catering businesses they run from their homes, or have worked in restaurants, but they have never gone to culinary school.
Peterson, in fact, was out of the restaurant business when the opportunity arose to join the show in its seventh season.
"I took a break from baking to kind of switch gears before this happened anyway," she said. Peterson attended an open tryout in Minneapolis, where she took a dish she had prepared ahead of time. She found herself one of a couple thousand other aspirants.
Passionate about food
"I was one of the first ones to try out for the day," she said. "A bunch of you go into a room and these food critics and judges walk around and try your dish … and give you feedback and pick your brain a little bit and feel you out. After that, I got to meet the executive producer of the show and went home and made an audition video and sent that in. A few months later, I heard back from them and found out I was selected to go to L.A.
"I got to L.A. and there were a bunch of other people there and we all just cooked our butts off to try to prove ourselves," Peterson said. "It was awesome. There's never been a contestant on the show from Iowa before, and I felt they were really missing a whole world of food, a whole cuisine. I decided to go on the show and show the world how awesome the food is here and how passionate people in the Midwest are about their food.
"I think they were kind of blown away at one point when we were just kind of messing around in the kitchen and the producers walked over to me going, 'Cassie, WHAT are you doing?' I was like, 'OK, here is a burger, everyone can make a burger, but THIS burger has molten beer cheese all over it and it's got potato chips ground up into the patty...'
"They said, 'So, you have potato chips in your burger and you are smothering it with cheese infused with beer?' And I just replied, 'Absolutely. It's not good for you even a little bit, but it's delicious.' The producer grabbed the pan, tried a little bit, didn't give me any feedback, she just grabbed the pan and the spoon and was walking around eating beer cheese out of the pan."
As for her finish, Peterson said, "I was worried that people would be so disappointed in me. I had so many people cheering me on. So many people have been so supportive. Now that it's over and my final episode aired, I can just sit back and really enjoy this whole experience.
"I know I didn't make it as far as I hoped I would, but in the scheme of things, I made it farther than I ever dreamed and won more than I could ever wish for," she said.
Big congratulations to Madeline Van Ert, of Rochester. She is our new Miss Minnesotafor 2016.
I first featured Madeline last year when she won the Miss Rochester 2015 crown and went on to the Miss Minnesota pageant.
We'll touch base with Madeline again in the fall when she heads off to the Miss America Pageant.