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Cincinnati native Courtney Brown starting at bottom on Fox's 'Next Level Chef'

Cincinnati native Courtney Brown is a 1991 graduate of Saint Ursula Academy.
Michael Becker
Fox Broadcasting
Cincinnati native Courtney Brown is a 1991 graduate of Saint Ursula Academy.

St. Ursula Academy graduate last to be picked in Gordon Ramsay's new show airing 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

UPDATE NOON JAN. 11: Cincinnati native Courtney Brown certainly didn't wow the Next Level Chef judges with her chicken tenders.

She was the last of the 15 contestants picked when chefs Gordon Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais selected their teams on the Jan. 5 episode.

"To have been picked last, I'm going to cook my ass off every single day," Brown said after joining Blias' team.

On the next show, at 9 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 12, the 15 competitors prepare an Italian dinner, and one of them goes home. Here is the Fox description for the "Infinite Pastabilities" episode:

"Gordon Ramsay, Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais challenge their teams to create a delicious Italian dinner! Each team is randomly assigned to a kitchen where they will need to prove that they can create magic in any environment, even when the odds are stacked against them. The best dish will keep one entire team safe from elimination, but one contestant will be sent home with their dreams up in flames in the all-new “Infinite Pastabilities” episode of Next Level Chef airing Wednesday, Jan. 12 (9-10 p.m. ET/PT) on Fox."

ORIGINAL POST DEC.29, 2021: Self-taught chef Courtney Brown wanted to turn up the heat on her culinary career so she's competing on Gordon Ramsay's Next Level Chef, premiering Sunday after Fox's NFL doubleheader (8 p.m., Channel 19).

"It will change my life. I look at this as a blessing," says Brown, 49, who has lived in Atlanta for 21 years.

"It was an absolutely amazing experience cooking for chef Ramsay, chef (Nyesha) Arrington and chef (Richard) Blais. It was an out-of-body experience."

The 1997 University of Cincinnati information systems graduate first worked in IT for Procter & Gamble, General Electric and Coca-Cola. When she was laid off at Coke's Atlanta headquarters in 2005, she paid the bills by baking and preparing meals for friends.

"I always cooked, but I didn't know I could make a living out of it. I always cooked to relieve stress," says Brown, who is spending the holidays at her mother's home in Springdale.

Chef Gordan Ramsay watches Courtney Brown preparing a dish on "Next Level Chef."
Courtesy Fox Broadcasting
Chef Gordan Ramsay watches Courtney Brown preparing a dish on "Next Level Chef."

Her ChefCourtneyBrown businessinitially provided chef services, cooking lessons and meal prep to anyone for any occasion. Through a series of referrals, she transitioned into a private chef and baker for professional athletes, coaches, entertainers and families. Her clients have included NBA stars Kevin Garnett, Kyle Lowry, Trae Young and Onyeka Okongwu; NBA coaches Chauncey Billups and Tyronn Lue; former Bengals and Bills linebacker Preston Brown; Major League Baseball outfielder Dexter Fowler; and Adidas.

Next Level Chef casting directors asked Brown to apply for the show last winter. Fox publicists say Ramsay puts contestants through "a one-of-a-kind culinary gauntlet … in the next evolution in cooking competitions."

Brown makes her national TV debut with 14 other contestants whose experience range from social media chefs and food truck operators to home cooks. They taped the shows in the unique three-level TV kitchen studio in September.

"The basement level is a bare-bones kitchen, with very out-of-date appliances. It's like your first college apartment," she says. "The middle level is an adequate kitchen. The top level is a state-of-the-art kitchen for a Michelin chef," she says.

Why three levels?

"As you watch the show, you understand why we're placed on different levels," she says.

The ingredients on each level "will match the environment," because "Ramsay believes the true test of a great chef is not only what they can do in the best of circumstances, but what kind of magic they can create in the worst," according to Fox publicity.

Brown says she learned a lot from the three TV show mentors and her fellow contestants.

"I'm not a classically trained chef. I learned from going to the school of YouTube, the school of life. So I asked a lot of questions. I took a lot of notes," she says.

Brown came home from Atlanta Dec. 18 to spend the holidays with her family. She "grew up between Roselawn and Evanston." Her mother lives in Springdale; her grandmother lives in Walnut Hills.

Since she's a professional in the food industry, I had to ask the question I pose to Cincinnati natives who have moved away from here: What Queen City food do you crave the most?

"Frisch's, LaRosa's, Buskin's, Skyline," she says instantly. "And of course, some Grippos."

Brown is planning a Sunday night viewing party for family and friends. She heads home to Atlanta Monday, and will have another viewing party there Wednesday, Jan. 5, when Next Level Chef premieres in its time period (9 p.m., Fox).

The TV exposure may provide a boost for that TV show concept she was pitching to networks and studios earlier this year, during the interview process for Next Level Chef. She would produce – but not appear in – an "athlete- and entertainer-related" show, she says.

Competing on a national TV show? Producing her own TV series? That's not what Brown envisioned for herself watching mothers driving station wagons picking up their daughters in Saint Ursula Academy's driveway in Walnut Hills.

"I wanted to get married, get a station wagon and have five kids. But that didn't happen," she says with a laugh.

"I tell people to dream bigger than your biggest dreams. Anything is possible, even bigger than your biggest dreams."

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.