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Local chefs line up for shot at Ramsey reality show
By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

Daren Leonard of Chicago prepares his dish during Sunday's casting call for a new Fox reality cooking show, "MasterChef." The show pits amateur chefs against each other for prizes. The casting call was held at Sur La Table in Naperville.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Between 300 and 400 people lined up outside Sur La Table in Naperville Sunday to try out of the new Fox reality cooking show, "MasterChef."


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Naperville residents Pam Bartlett, center, and Cindy Long, right, prepare food during a casting call for a new Gordon Ramsey reality cooking show, "MasterChef" Sunday. The auditions were held at the Sur La Table store in Naperville.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/25/2010 12:01 AM

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Marisol Ramirez acquired the cooking bug at a very young age. At five years old, she often helped prepare meals for her family.

As she grew up, she slowly learned several family recipes that she worked to perfect.

One of those was a chicken pulao cream sauce served over a bed of Mexican white rice.

About 23 years after the Burr Ridge resident first started cooking, she hopes that recipe will be her ticket on to a Fox television reality show.

"Cooking and entertaining, I think it's one of those things I was born to do," Ramirez said.

On Sunday, Ramirez was one of about 300 culinary hopefuls to answer a Chicago-area casting call for a spot in a new Gordon Ramsey cooking reality show, MasterChef. She stood in line outside of Sur La Table in Naperville for nearly three hours before she had her chance to impress several high profile judges, who made the final call on whether she would get invited to a Tuesday callback at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. The hotel's executive chef, Kevin Hickey, was one of the judges.

The show is based on a European show with the same name and will debut in mid-March. In it, amateur chefs compete to create the perfect dish under the tutelage of Ramsey's, who made his name in American television on "Hell's Kitchen," a highly watched show about professional chefs. The casting calls will help show officials narrow down a field of thousands to about 40.

Several people in line Sunday said they just hoped to have some fun and the audition can help feed their desire to at least see if they have what it takes.

Veteran Hollywood casting director Goloka Bolte said the Chicago-area crowd impressed her - both with their dishes and with their stories.

"There are so many really likable people here that are great cooks," she said. "You're rooting for them. They become like your kids: You want them all to win."

The casting call followed similar events in New York City and Miami. Bolte said it is no accident that several walks of life will be represented in the show's final roster.

"We want to represent a good cross-section of the cooking community," she said. "So many people have that buried passion to cook. This show will provide an avenue to pursue it."

Chicago resident Peter Olszak said encouraging words from friends drove him to the casting call. As he stood in line outside of the restaurant, however, he said he had one thing on his mind.

"I was thinking, 'How crazy am I? What am I thinking?'" he said. "But I just like sharing my cooking ability with other people."

Carelys Hepburn of Naperville hopes to start a dinner club in town or some day open a bakery or restaurant.

"Food is my passion," she said. "It's always been a dream of mine in the back of my head. It beats having to be in an office all day."