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Chef Josh Marks Has Skills

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Photo credit: Amanda Calvert

The hit competitive cooking show, MasterChef, which currently runs on Fox, has introduced a wealth of new culinary talent to its viewers. It has allowed for numerous amateur chefs who practice their artistry in the kitchen the opportunity to perfect their skills under the supervision of professional chefs Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot.

Each of the series' three seasons that have aired has shown us promising talent in its winners and the runner-ups.

Most runner-ups either vanish into the ether -- or they're expected to. Not this time.

Chef Josh Marks, also known as "The seven-foot chef," is taking America by storm with his passion for the culinary arts and his ability to make food taste better and be healthier for all of us who to love to eat.

The 25-year old self-taught culinary master beat out more than 30,000 contestants, some whom were highly trained. Josh has never taken a cooking class; his talent in culinary arts is natural. In his native of Chicago, he honed his skills under the direction of his father and grandmother. His specialties are in the art of manipulating spices.

Josh has been added to 5starchefs.com, a website that features the talents of some of the very best chefs out there. In addition, he has also become the spokesman for Real Men Cook, a charity that promotes male involvement, education outreach and advocacy on food resource, healthy living and public policies on these issues.

From what we can see and taste from these recipes, this guy has skills. We conversed about his passion for making good food.

Thank you for taking the time to converse with me today, Josh.

My pleasure, Bryan. Thank you as well.

How old were you when you started cooking?

Well, don't be surprised when you hear this -- but, probably around 21.

I am surprised; I thought you were going to say nine years old or something. So, that means you've only been cooking for four years?

Yes, at this level. When I was in high school, I flipped a burger just like any other 16-year-old. I didn't truly start experimenting and discovering my craft until I went to Tougaloo College in Mississippi.

Did you major in culinary arts?

No, sir. I went to school for economics and business administration.

After getting that kind of degree, what turned you on to cooking at this level and making a career out of it? What was the transition?

First and foremost, you have to eat every day. To satisfy my hunger, I always experimented with the different things that I cooked because I was able to make food taste good. Once I started to explore more and more, I started to realize -- 'Damn, I have skills.' I can do more than just make food taste good. So, I committed myself to learning the technique and process as well as the origin of food. Don't get me wrong, I'm still learning.

Wow, you've done what a lot of people dream of doing and that's the ability to make your hobby become your profession.

Yes, and I'm honored that I can go out and do it on that type of stage with chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliott. The type of effort that they put into me; all of the love and the passion that they showed me was just a complete honor.

In your discovery of your cooking skills, what was that dish that just did it? What was the dish that you made that was just so good that it made you want to move forward and make cooking a career?

This is going to surprise you, but the first dish that I ever mastered was Hamburger Helper. (Laughs) It was actually Chicken Helper. I prepared it like the instructions said and added my own ingredients. I had a can of peas in my cabinet; I drained it and added that. I tossed it around and it was good. Peas added vegetables to this otherwise processed box meal. Most people don't think to add vegetables to Hamburger Helper; it can make quite a difference. When I had it, I said, 'Damn, this is good.' This a lot better than the other 50 Hamburger Helpers that I've made. (Laughs)

That is hilarious and cool that you started with something that most people feel pretty bad about making. You took something simple and made it better. I'm sure people learning this about you will make them feel a lot more confident in the kitchen.

A lot of bachelors do start with Hamburger Helper, canned chili and things like that. It just takes that extra effort to make the food taste good and make it healthier for you in order to want to pursue more.

You emphasize flavor quite a bit in your cooking. I imagine that you are able to take some of the healthier stuff that people wouldn't ordinarily like and make it more appealing to the masses. Do you have any examples?

There is a recipe that I have posted on my website, IShootOnions.com, that I call "A Sexy Little Fruit Salad." It has grapes, melons, pears and it has some other unusual ingredients that you wouldn't ordinarily put in a salad, but I feel those offbeat ingredients are what make it special.

Give us another example of a favorite unhealthy food that we can make better.

Everyone in America loves hamburgers. Show me a person that doesn't like hamburgers and I'll show you a liar. (Laughs) I'm all about cutting the fat. I use turkey instead of beef. Don't get me wrong, I like beef, but I use turkey. When I said that I was 16 and flipping burgers, I was flipping turkey burgers. It starts with the meat. Salt is another element, a lot of processed salts are like ketchup. Ketchup loses the integrity of the tomato. Just to add a few more elements like cilantro oil to add an unusual flavor to the meat make a special kind of burger. It also works to compliment the meat, the tomato and other vegetables. It makes for an interesting salad on a burger.

So tell us more about being added to 5starchefs.com and what it's all about.

It's a website that connects people with me and some of the best chefs in the industry. They'll be able to have live cooking lessons, and the opportunity to have live meet and greets. It's a great way to connect with everyone else out there who wants to cook great and healthy food.

You have a phenomenal culinary career ahead of you; you're passionate about it and shows. What does the future hold for Chef Josh Marks?

Who knows? Maybe a TV show. (Laughs) My passion is sharing my food. My ultimate goal is to start a cooking school. For me to share with others my knowledge on food, how to make it taste better and be healthier for everyone is very important to me and a dream of mine.

Be sure to check out Josh's website for great recipes. Also look for Josh's live meet and greet on 5starchefs.com on Friday, January 18th.