Things were looking up for the long-haired, bearded 27-year-old when he won the elimination test with his white chocolate, passion fruit turnovers with blueberry mint sauce. Although he admitted that sweets aren't his forte, Nelson took a risk with the mystery box ingredients that were selected by the children of the celebrity judges.
Nelson should have advanced to the Top 4 — he had immunity — but an impressive display of foodie prowess by the other four contestants during the pressure test compelled judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich not to disqualify any of the budding chefs. Ultimately, raw chicken served during a luncheon hosted by Paula Deen and a runny but tasty panna cotta in the individual challenge were the slip-ups that sent this happy gent back home.
In Houston, Nelson is an employee at Apple store in Highland Village and runs his own business as the co-owner of Bravado Spice Company. He regularly hosts pop up dinners through another venture he calls Brave Kitchen Project and organizes a series of late night parties that lauds local entrepreneurs.
And he's back to his daily grind in Houston. CultureMap spoke with the amicable chef on the phone shortly after he finished a shift at the Apple store.
CultureMap: Raw chicken? It seems like you were handed a free pass when chicken was selected as your protein for the last show's luncheon challenge.
James Nelson: The sheer size of the chicken, coupled with the time we had to prepare, did me in. Only one came back raw, so my dish wasn't a complete failure. But the one that came back — sucked. Otherwise I was happy with the dish. The guests were happy with the dish, and that's what mattered to me.
CM: If you could relive one moment of the show, what would it be?
"Was this the last time I'll be on television? Probably not. I may have something else in the works — or not."
JN: I'd love to do the restaurant takeover team challenge again. Now that I've been home and done some pop up dinners, I'm addicted to the speed, being slammed with so many tickets, to see how fast I can get out amazing food — there's a rush feeling that comes from being in that situation. Given the opportunity I would do it again in a second.
CM: If you could redo anything on the show, what would that be?
JN: I would love to get another stab at Graham Elliot's panna cotta. I put the dessert into the blast chiller five minutes into challenge and into the fridge after that — and it still didn't set. What people saw on television wasn't exactly how things went down. The judges loved the flavor, though, but it did need 10 or 15 more minutes to reach the right consistency. There just wasn't enough time. What else is new?
CM: How hard are the challenges? Do you get any guidance? Are you given recipes?
JN: You don't get recipes. Sometimes they give you an instructional sheet for some of the more challenging tests, but it's really like being thrown to the wolves. For the most part, it's up to you to figure things out. You have to trust your palate and your instincts.
CM: There were lots of memorable personalities on the show. Will you keep in touch with any of them? Did you make any friends?
JN: I keep in touch with Bri (Brianna Kozior) and Eddie (Eddie Jackson). I communicate with them a lot. Eddie was in town last weekend and we hung out. I also keep in touch with Jordan (Jordan Roots) and Jonny (Jonathan Blanchard). They are great guys. I considered them all buddies.
CM: Would you consider auditioning for another cooking competition? Perhaps Hell's Kitchen?
JN: I probably won't do another cooking competition again. I achieved what I wanted on MasterChef. While I didn't win, I went farther than I ever thought I would.
Was this the last time I'll be on television? Probably not. I may have something else in the works — or not. Right now it's all about Houston, about Bravado Spice and about organizing pop up dinners.
CM: Are you saying that there's a television show being produced?
JN: I cannot confirm that there's a spin off show featuring me in anyway. There could be a foundation being laid out for something like that — or not. You never know.
CM: Now that you are back working at Apple, how do you balance your techie life with your culinary career?
JN: It's a weird duality being in both fields. I am the kind of person who can't sit still. I can't just have one job. I'll stay at Apple until I end up being consumed by Bravado and my other projects.