Photos by Keith McCoy

Jonathan Harrison has always wanted to throw dinner parties for a living, but he’d never worked in food professionally—not until he was selected as a contestant on Gordon Ramsay’s new show Next Level Chef this season. And that changed everything for him. Each week Jonathan, a 29-year-old from Columbiana, and 14 other contestants are competing on three floors of differently designed kitchens with ingredients passing through each floor and the top floor getting first pick and the bottom floor getting what is left over. Watch Jonathan on Next Level Chef on Fox Wednesdays at 8 p.m. through mid-March, but first learn more about him in his own words.

How did your interest in food begin?

I come from a very food-centric family, and our happiest times as a kid were around the table. I have always loved gardening since my grandparents did it, but my real respect for food started to come when I was 12 when I discovered Ina Garten. She was living the life I wanted to life with a nice house and having people for dinner all the time, making food I had never heard of before. I asked my mom to buy some ingredients for beef bourguignon when I was 12, and it turned out pretty good.

What have been some highlights from the first three episodes that have aired as of this interview date?

Winning episode three was incredible. Obviously I thanked the Father, the Son and Kacey Musgraves, and Kacey put it on her social media story. The first episode Gordon said that whoever cooked the pork steak has the flair I am looking for, and that was me.

If you could take three pieces of equipment from one of the kitchens you worked in on the show home with you, what would they be?

I would take one of these pretty blue Staub Dutch ovens, the Shun knives and everything HexClad in the kitchen—a brand of pans that conduct heat really well.

What has your life looked like since you returned home from filming the show last fall?

I had never had a professional gig before I left for the show, and the wheels hit when I got home with texts people asking for me to cook. It hasn’t stopped since. I have been doing private chefing for different people around town and a lot of birthday parties. I have always wanted to throw dinner parties for a living, and that’s what I have been doing. I catered 120 for my watch part at the 4-H Center and the same number at a farm-to-table event for Columbiana Main Street. I am on hiatus from real estate right now but I do love real estate. I love working at the 4-H Center as the onsite program coordinator, and I bartend now and then at The Local. If I’m not cooking, it’s because I am at the 4-H Center. When I get home, I immediately open the refrigerator.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite things to cook?

My favorite thing is to take Alabama ingredients like Birmingham beer to develop recipes; it imparts so much flavor. I do a butternut squash and pickled peach soup that I made with Stone Hollow Farm Sweet Mary Mix and add a Thai flavor with ginger and lemon grass. I love braising chicken with the raspberry sour from TrimTab. When you can get it, I like doing a beef roast braised in Hero Doughnut stout from TrimTab. I also love putting pickled green tomatoes from Stones Hollow in a gratin and green curry, and Golden Eagle syrup is a staple as a well as a honey.