eat. drink. MISSISSIPPI
December 2012 / January 2013
Mississippians are known for their abundant hospitality, soulful blues music, and most importantly – delicious home cooking. Delta tamales, Gulf coast seafood, Cajun and creole influences, and even Grandma’s fried chicken have all played a role in cultivating the Southern food culture.
Mississippi has influenced several well-known celebrity chefs, including twenty-five-year-old Josh Marks. Earlier this year, Marks became the second contestant from Mississippi to compete on Fox’s competitive cooking reality show Masterchef. Poplarville-native Whitney Miller took home the winning title on the show’s first season in 2010.
Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Marks came to Mississippi to play basketball for Tougaloo College. However, it was during his time off the court that he began to discover another talent – cooking.
His reason for taking up the skill is simple.
“You have to eat every day,” he said. “College was my first time being out on my own. I started cooking by trial and error and realized that I was good at it.”
Marks has had plenty of inspiration, from his Panamanian father that developed his love for curries, to his Southern roots that taught him an appreciation for comfort food and Creole and Cajun cuisines.
After graduating cum laude in 2009 with a degree in economics, Marks decided to make Mississippi his home and took a job as a contract specialist for the U.S. Army in Vicksburg. While he still continued to cook for family and friends, it wasn’t until he took a trip home to celebrate his sister’s birthday that he considered making it a career.
“A friend called me up while I was in town and said, ‘Hey, there is a casting call for the show Masterchef. Are you going?’” recalled Marks. “I stayed up all night cooking and preparing my dish.”
The next day, Marks, who stands 7-feet tall, towered –both literally and figuratively – above 30,000 other hopeful competitors. His shrimp etoufee impressed the judges enough to help him win a spot on the show.
Season three kicked off on June 11, 2012, in Los Angeles. For the next three months, Marks would face several challenges, such as preparing a meal for over 200 Marines and cooking with offal, a term used to describe the internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal. While he was initially eliminated in Episode 12, he would win a special challenge two episodes later, earning him a spot back in the competition and eventually becoming one of the top two finalists.
Since the show, Marks has made several public appearances at food-related events across the country and is working on a business plan to open a recreational cooking school in Chicago. While he admits his time on the show was stressful, it was also a lot of fun. Adds Marks, “It really inspired me to become a chef and pursue cooking as a career.”