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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn alum competes on 'Next Level Chef'

<p>Jonathan Harrison makes a new name for himself by bringing southern cuisine to top cooking show.</p>

Jonathan Harrison makes a new name for himself by bringing southern cuisine to top cooking show.

In celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s newest TV show, “Next Level Chef," 15 cooks from across the country compete for the chance of winning $250,000. Of these 15 competitors is Auburn University alumnus Jonathan Harrison. 

Harrison is one of the show's five "home chefs," competing not only to win the large cash prize but also a year-long mentorship with Gordon Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais, the show’s three celebrity chef mentors, and to be named the first Next Level Chef. 

Beyond this list of potential winnings, Harrison went onto the show with goals that go beyond what he can accomplish in the kitchen. 

“I want to be a person who moves the South forward,” Harrison said. “I want us, as a region, to shed this stigma that we have about fighting diversity, and I want us to embrace that and know how beautiful it is. I think you can do that through food — everybody has to eat, and everybody likes to eat.” 

Harrison grew up in Columbiana, Alabama, a small town about 95 miles northwest from Auburn University’s campus. It was in that small town where he found his love for not only food but how cooking could bring people together. 

“All my happy memories revolve around food from when I was a kid," Harrison said. "We were always just around a table — laughing, cutting up, singing. Things like that are what led me to relate food to happiness." 

At age 12, once Harrison realized he watched more Ina Garten and Food Network than cartoons on TV, he began to focus more on cooking and his technique. It wasn’t until Harrison got to Auburn that he developed a wider understanding of cooking and started taking it more seriously. 

Through using new ingredients, studying the history of Southern food and making the most out of a tight college student budget, Harrison realized cooking was something he truly loved. 

Harrison was quickly noticed on the show for his outgoing personality and five-star cooking. In the first episode of the show, each chef drafted a team of five after judging the contestants' protein-centered meal. 

Chef Blais chose Harrison to be on his team, but Gordon Ramsay offered Harrison an apron of his own team’s after being impressed by his pork steak. Being a man of integrity, Harrison declined Ramsay's offer and continued the season competing on Blais’ team. 

“Personable is the perfect word for him. … When you meet him, you feel like you have known him for your entire life,” said cast-mate and now close friend Amber Lane. “He was immediately well-loved by everyone on set. He's a fan favorite for viewers, but it was definitely that way on set also.” 

The friendship between Harrison and Lane started before filming started, when they found, in their mandatory quarantine, that their hotel room doors faced each other. Since then, their friendship has evolved into publicizing a message they both feel passionate about.

“Practice radical empathy,” a slogan coined by the digital publication The Bitter Southerner, spoke to what Harrison was trying to do as a chef with a new platform and as a Southerner seeking change. 

“What we have to understand is that everybody needs to be loved just a little bit more...” Harrison said. “I think we should all want to be able to understand everyone’s struggles a little bit more and be able to help those people through that struggle no matter who they are... if I can facilitate those conversations over fried chicken and champagne, that’s what I'm going to do.” 

Harrison’s success as a chef has inspired students at Auburn, specifically those studying culinary sciences and looking to pursue a career in the field. 

“[Harrison] inspires me because I know the physical resources myself and he was given to become successful as a cook," Cameron Monistere, junior in culinary science said. "It’s incredible he persevered through that. It’s even more exciting that we will be expanding next year, making more students likely to join the program."

The new culinary sciences and hospitality state-of-the-art building, the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, is set to open in the fall of 2022. 

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Emily Nagy | Culture Writer

Emily Nagy, junior in sociology and a double minor in counseling and journalism, is a culture writer at The Auburn Plainsman.

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