Cooking Up a Storm
There’s Ina, Paula, Rachael, Giada ... and Jennifer.
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In case you haven’t heard, Wilmington’s Jennifer Behm is America’s MasterChef. Seven million viewers watched her take that title last summer on “MasterChef,” a wildly popular Fox reality TV series that pits amateur cooks against each other. Behm, a Realtor and former beauty pageant winner, beat out thousands who applied to the show. Her Delaware fans, at least the hundreds who packed five rooms at the Columbus Inn the night of the finale, were exhilarated but not surprised when she won the $250,000 cash prize.
“Jen isn’t exactly normal,” says Theresa Vallier-Thomas, a home stager in Wilmington who has known Behm for years. “Ask her to bring something to a tailgating party, and she’ll whip up truffle mac and cheese and homemade sangria—red and white.”
Behm is smart and spirited, and has the kind of presence that jumps off the screen and into your gut. The tall blonde with the booming laugh and wide smile is a tough cookie who’s soft on the inside. She’ll talk smack with anyone, but slam her food and she’ll well up like a kid who dropped her ice cream cone.
If contestants on “MasterChef” can’t take the heat, they’re blasted out of the kitchen. They leave the Hollywood studio dejected, hoping the doors don’t hit them on the way out. Behm’s tough skin and competitive streak proved invaluable.
“I was always an athlete,” she says. “Crazy hours and hard work were no big deal. The work ethic was ingrained.”
Be it stamina, talent or pot luck, Behm has become an international personality. With the quarter mil in hand and contacts most chefs would kill for, she’s positioned for a lucrative career. The question is not if Delaware will lose its newest star, but when.
Television is an image business, but cute won’t cut it on “MasterChef.” Talent counts for something on cooking shows, and, according to a recent Harris Poll, 50 percent of adults in the United States watch them. Discerning viewers, baby boomers mostly, are cooking at home more than ever. They rely on celebrity chefs to guide them in the kitchen and have the cash to spend on gadgets bearing chefs’ names. That’s how food stars build empires—not by cooking, but by selling stuff. Think Giada De Laurentiis’ brand at Target, Rachael Ray’s network TV gig, magazine and product line, and numerous contraptions from Bobby Flay and Paula Deen. Ray, the highest-paid food star in the country, has an estimated net worth of $60 million, according to Forbes.
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