Road To Masterchef: How Hurricane Harvey and Questlove Lead Ryan To The Kitchen
By Shontel Horne
What does it take to face famed chef Gordon Ramsey week after week as he critiques your culinary skills on national television? Travel Noire spoke with some of the contestants who are up for the challenge on the 9th season of MasterChef to learn more about how they took their skills from their home kitchen to the small screen. Houston native Ryan Cortez (@groovethefunkydrumma) shares how the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and wise words from Questlove gave him the courage to transition from being a full-time drummer to pursue a culinary career.
Travel Noire: When did you decide to pursue a professional career in food?
Ryan: That was actually last year right after Hurrican Harvey. I was volunteering with some friends of mine and I would cook for them because I didn’t want them to come back and eat sandwiches. The last season of Masterchef was on and my friends said “You could do this,” but competing wasn’t my thing. Long story short, here I am! I ended up auditioning, got called in, I really buckled down and focused and that’s when I knew I could do it. When I got the call.
Travel Noire: Who were some of the people that helped you learn how to cook?
Ryan: Both of my grandmothers are excellent cooks, so is my mom. My sister is a chef as well. It kind of runs in the family. I never looked at it as a career until Masterchef happened. It was more of a hobby. I realized I could do it full-time because it is something I love. I was looking for the next chapter besides music. I got to talk to Questlove, who is an inspiration to me, and he was like “Dude, do you think that if people thought I didn’t care about food as much as I do about drums I would be as popular as I am? I opened myself up to a whole new audience when I started to talk about the food that I love. I’m not the greatest chef at all so I don’t try to say I’m a chef, but I talk about everything. Never be afraid to do what you love on any level.” That was very inspiring and something that I’ve kind of held to during this experience as I transition to food full-time.
Travel Noire: Who are some of your biggest culinary inspirations?
Ryan: The tutelage of Aarón Sanchez. He’s the man. He’s a fusion genius. He loves southern flavors and that’s what I love about him. He’s a chef that accepts cayenne and Tabasco sauce. He accepts our version of heat and the way that we do food in the south then he crosses it over with his learnings from Mexico and knocks it out of the park. His restaurant is popping. He was a huge inspiration.
Travel Noire: What dish best represents your cooking style?
Ryan: As long as you’re not allergic to seafood, and my girlfriend is, I would choose a fish from what I call “The Third Coast” and that’s down here between Texas and Louisiana. It would probably be a grilled red fish or a fried whole red fish that I would serve you. You would definitely know it was me if it has fish.
Travel Noire: What is your favorite food city to visit in the world?
Ryan: Brussels, Belgium! It’s the land of a thousand tastes. They have the most perfect pomme frites/french fries of anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. Belgium is a city where I love to eat when I’m traveling. When I go to Europe, that’s usually where I’ll fly in to.
Travel Noire: How do your traveling experiences inspire the food you cook?
Ryan: It’s a combination of my travels, the TV shows I watch—watching Emeril Lagasse as a young teenager—all of that has intertwined into what I put on a plate. Masterchef said “We want to see you on a plate” and my audition dish was a catfish dish because that’s what I grew up eating. I had Joe Bastianich eat a piece of catfish. It was cooked perfectly and they loved it. I was like “These guys are sold, I’m sold.” I’m here and that’s what I’ve held true to, is being me on a plate. Keeping it southern. Whether it’s crawfish, barbecue, Tex-Mex, I keep it southern.
Travel Noire: What are your long-term goals after Masterchef?
Ryan: My long-term goal is to own and operate my flagship restaurant which would be named after my grandmother Diola. It would be a restaurant that caters to seafood from the Third Coast. From Texas and Louisiana and Alabama.