College of Charleston alum Necco Ceresani ’12 never imagined he would be among the top 20 contestants on Fox’s popular cooking competition, MasterChef. But at 8 p.m. tonight, after embarking on a journey that started in 2015 with an unsuccessful audition, he’ll join 19 other talented home cooks trying to take the heat from world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay in hopes of winning the “MasterChef” title.
A longtime fan of the show, Ceresani believed he could make what MasterChef contestants were cooking. He first auditioned for the show before its seventh season, but was unsuccessful. Then, when Fox held auditions for MasterChef’s eighth season in Boston a year later, Ceresani decided the opportunity was too good to miss.
“One thing led to another, and after a long audition process, I kind of got the golden ticket to come to L.A. and went for it,” Ceresani says.
Ceresani’s interest in cooking started early in life. His mother cooked dinner every night for his family in his hometown of Newberry, South Carolina. Growing up with delicious meals on the table, he developed an appreciation for food made from scratch. That appreciation took him into the restaurant business as a dishwasher at the age of 15.
In college, he worked as a bartender and waiter in two high-profile Charleston restaurants, Halls Chophouse and FIG. Ceresani not only watched amazing chefs creating delicious dishes, but he also learned how to talk knowledgeably about food with other people in the business. Little did he know, his training in Charleston’s kitchens would go on to help him on MasterChef.
Today, Ceresani is a community marketing manager at Boston software development company XebiaLabs. While there, he built a recipe-finding app with fellow alumni David Blumenfeld ’12 and Jordan Homan ’12.
All three now live and work in Boston and they see each other weekly.
Blumenfeld and Homan served as taste-testers for Ceresani’s numerous practice meals and entrees in the two months before he flew to Los Angeles to compete on MasterChef. Ceresani crammed for the competition, buying cookbooks and spending nights after work toiling away in his kitchen. He made chicken dishes, baked cakes and continuously researched recipes. The food was then passed on to his friends and family, making room for Ceresani to cook more.
“You have to be prepared for everything, I felt, so my coworkers, my close friends, my wife, my dog, my neighbors, everybody got to eat all the time,” he says. “It was pretty fun.”
All that practice proved beneficial when Ceresani started cooking in the MasterChef kitchen. He said that being on the show was unimaginable. The tasks and dishes were challenging, but there was real camaraderie with the other top 20 participants, which he called “the most diverse group of people in America.”
Competing on the show, he says, makes you “become best friends with whoever you’re sitting next to that day.” He got close with people he probably would have never met otherwise, including Yachecia Holston, a minister from Michigan; and Reba Billingsley, a stay-at-home mom from Texas.
“But now we’re talking about our families. Now we’re going through this awesome experience that no one else has gone through, and we’re able to relate with each other on a real basis,” he says.
Asked if he had any advice for students at the College, Ceresani emphasizes the importance of remaining true to one’s identity and voice.
“It’s not easy and you’ve got to be who you are,” he says. “That’s a big thing in MasterChef especially, as well as in life.”
In addition, students should not pass over the chance for new experiences, no matter how scary or unlikely they may seem at the onset.
“You should take the opportunities when they present themselves, even if they are Everest opportunities,” he says.
You can watch Ceresani compete at 8 p.m. eastern time each Wednesday on your local Fox station. If he wins the competition, Ceresani will take home a $250,000 grand prize and a cookbook deal.