Here’s the (lightly edited) write-up of our interview of Jason Maur, of MasterChef fame.
Tell us a little about your career path. How long have you been a lawyer, and what type of law do you practice?
I have been practicing law since November of 2010. I have a general practice, so I do a little bit of everything. Considering the general needs of society right now, a lot of my practice consists of family law, real estate closing, wills and probate matters, and employment law.
How long have you been cooking? Why did you decide to pursue law instead of becoming a professional chef?
I have been cooking ever since I was a little kid. My mother thought it was important to teach me and my siblings how to cook. I continued to teach myself more and more over the years. I had been saying since second grade that I was going to be a lawyer. It was always my career path, but to me, cooking is an art — a way to express myself, and a large part of who I am. But to paraphrase my favorite musician Harry Chapin, “Cooking is my life, it is not my livelihood, and it makes me feel so happy, and it makes me feel so good. I cook from my heart and I cook from my soul. I may not know how well I cook, it just makes me whole.” I am definitely going to continue to cook, and pursue my culinary ambitions, but that does not mean I am ready to just drop my law career. I did not go through all those years of education for nothing.
Why did you decide to enter the MasterChef competition? If you had to pick only one, which of the two professions would you choose?
I decided to go out for MasterChef because I would sit at home, watch the show, and simply say to myself, “I can do that!” I entered my first audition, looked around at the other dishes, and just kind of knew that I belonged there. One of the open call judges could not stop raving about my BBQ sauces and came back for more after trying all the other dishes. To me, that alone was a huge victory, but it also made me want the title even more!
As for which profession I would choose, that is tough because until MasterChef, cooking was not a profession to me at all. If the question is whether I could never cook another day in my life if I kept practicing law, I could never do that. I need to cook and express myself. But I also could never simply give up being a lawyer to try and make it as a chef. In order for me to stop practicing law, there would have to be a pretty enticing offer on the table.
What’s more competitive: practicing law or MasterChef? Which has the harder workload? Longer hours?
In this economy, practicing law by a mile. There simply are not jobs out there. That is one reason why I started my own practice. MasterChef is competitive: we all want the same title, but we also all enter knowing that only one person out of something like 30,000 of us can get it, and there are a lot of other talented amateur home cooks out there. With the law field, we all went to law school expecting to practice law and have a job. That is unfortunately not the case right now, and most young attorneys are not where they expected to be after such a huge investment of their time, money, hard work, and dedication. As for the longer hours and the workload, definitely being an attorney.
Do you think culinary school is a better bet than law school in this economy? Which profession has the better job market/job security right now?
Who can tell what the better profession is for employment right now? I know a lot of unemployed chefs and a lot of unemployed attorneys. One thing is for sure, people will always need food, and people will always need lawyers, whether they think they do or not. As the old adage goes, “The man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” That all being said, I think MasterChef proves that one does not necessarily need culinary school to be able to cook well, although it certainly helps (especially when learning about plating… more on that later), but to be able to practice law well, law school is a must.
Would you rather try a case in front of a judge or present your dish in front of the MasterChef judges? Are there any similarities between the two “trials”?
This is the easiest question you have asked me to answer… try a case in front of a judge. I am a trained attorney, I am confident in court — there are rules to follow, and you tend to be prepared for what opposing counsel or a judge may throw at you. Chef Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Chef Elliot, on the other hand, were all wild cards. Cooking is so personal, and for me it’s such an expression of who I am. To be able to cook for the three of them was an honor, and I don’t think I have ever been as nervous as when the doors opened and I had to take the long walk to see them sitting over me as I attempted to put the finishing touches on my dish.
Who was the toughest judge you faced on MasterChef? Gordon Ramsay was very critical of the plating of one of your dishes (he said your plating looked like a “skid mark”) — how did you react to that?
Yeah, I am not going to lie, that was really rough. He was referring to a black garlic smear I had put on the plate. This is a technique I have used before, and have seen used in restaurants and in competitions by many a chef. I understand the criticism, but I stick by the use of black garlic (it is delicious if you have never had it — it has almost a molasses taste to it, and you can eat it raw). The hardest judge to me was Joe, because he is so hard to read… I would hate to try and play poker against him. As for being critical of my plating, they had a right to be. I did not get it plated the way I envisioned the dish in my head. Quite simply, time got the best of me on this go around. The plate did not look restaurant quality, and it should have. No excuses, I knew my time limit and I slipped up. Unfortunately, it was in front of three of the toughest critics out there.
How hard was it to balance your legal career with the competition? Did you have to take time off from work to compete?
I did have to take some time off from work, but I had a bit of notice, so I was able to get myself situated pretty well. I finished off most of my open cases before I left, told my other clients I would be out of state for a bit, and gave them the number of another attorney friend who agreed to look out for any emergency issues (of which there were none), and get a continuance if necessary (which it was not). That being said, once I got back to Connecticut, it was difficult to get myself fully back in gear and get the ball rolling again.
What was the biggest challenge you faced on the show? Craziest ingredient, toughest judge, cooking something outside your comfort zone?
There were two huge challenges I went up against: the first was time. I am a BBQ guy, which means I like to cook low and slow. When I was faced with short time limits, I had to change things up. The biggest thing this affected was my plating. The other big challenge… myself. I am usually a very calm and collected person, and don’t feel the pressure of situations. This may have caused me to underestimate the time constraints I was under. I was happy with the ingredients I got to work with, although obviously I know now to stay away from the black garlic smear when serving Chef Ramsay.
What’s your signature dish/type of cuisine?
I someday want to have a gourmet burger and BBQ restaurant. I love taking cuisines from around the world and putting a summer BBQ twist on them. If I were to say what are my signature dishes that people keep on requesting? My smoked duck, Mexican-style pulled pork, peach babyback burgers, and my bacon, garlic, and egg fried rice (the recipe for which can be found on my blog, maurpowerfoodie.wordpress.com). Since coming back from the show, I have moved into baking a lot more, and have found I actually really enjoy it. I make a killer crème brûlée, a scrumptious tres leches cake, and a sinfully delicious cashew/bacon brittle over chocolate mousse.
You review a lot of restaurants on your blog. What are some of your favorite restaurants to go to with clients/other attorneys? Do you share your foodie opinions with them when you go to business lunches/dinners?
I love trying new restaurants. I use Pub 25 in Newtown as a place for lunch meetings a lot for a couple of reasons. It is close to where I work, they have my favorite burger in the state (and an amazing lunch special deal for it), and the atmosphere allows for business conversations. I try to keep my foodie opinions out of my law business when talking with clients. When I am with other attorneys, it depends. If we are working on a case or a business plan, I try to avoid my alter ego of MaurPowerFoodie. However, if we are simply networking or hanging out, or if someone asks my opinion, I am always happy to give it.
We here at Above the Law wish Jason Maur the best of luck on MasterChef and with his legal practice. He made an appearance on the local news in Connecticut this morning during a cooking segment, and you can watch him in action here. You can also see more of Maur when award-winning chef Gordon Ramsay, restaurateur Joe Bastianich, and acclaimed chef Graham Elliot return for Season Three of the culinary smash hit MasterChef with a two-night season premiere event on Monday, June 4 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Tuesday, June 5 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
On the following page, we’ve got some footage of various MasterChef contestants getting smacked down by the judges (including Maur, at about 13 seconds into the clip). Click through to experience some schadenfreude….