Jason Blackwell ('07) started his professional culinary journey after taking a cooking class in Italy.
He enjoyed the hands-on experience so much that once he returned to Texas, he decided to take a chance and go to culinary school.
Now with over 10 years of experience, Blackwell is the head chef of his own catering business Chef's Knife Catering, where he whips up brunch foods, Cajun dishes and five-star meals for events in the DFW area.
His hard work and dedication led him to compete against three other chefs on Food Network's number one cooking competition series Chopped in May -- winning the title of Chopped Champion, along with a $10,000 prize, after a four-round competition.
"Being on the show was amazing but bringing home the win and showing there are cowboys in Dallas was the best feeling in the world," Blackwell says.
Before Blackwell came to UNT, he gained an interest in law through watching different shows like Law and Order and Murder, She Wrote.
When he decided to attend UNT in 2002 to pursue a degree in criminal justice, he had hopes of becoming a lawyer as a way to fight for those in his community.
"As an African American man, I felt like I could do more for my culture," Blackwell says. "By obtaining a degree and going to law school, I wanted to help my people as well as help myself."
During his time at UNT, he was involved in numerous organizations on campus. To this day, Blackwell is still involved with the Zeta Beta chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, Fraternity Inc. where he served as the president at one point. He also served as the vice president of UNT's NAACP and was involved with the Progressive Black Students Organization.
In 2007, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice but decided to take a different direction after college. Blackwell took up photography right after graduation and has been working in the field actively for almost 20 years. After shooting a wedding in Paris, he took a little vacation and enjoyed the taste and flavors of Italy that reminded him of how much food meant to him during his upbringing.
"My uncle was a chef, so I grew up in a household in which food was everything," Blackwell says.
Once he came back, Blackwell made the decision to pursue a culinary arts degree from El Centro College in Dallas. As a student, he learned all about the culinary and hospitality business and even earned second place in a chef's competition. The skills that he obtained led him to opportunities and achievements that were thought to be unimaginable.
As a professional chef, Blackwell is no stranger to Food Network. In June 2017, he was a contestant on another hit cooking competition called Cutthroat Kitchen. Competing on a big platform like Chopped was something that he always wanted to do as a chef but never thought would be possible.
After receiving a message from a producer via Instagram asking him to be on the show, he took the chance and began to practice and study to compete in a "Chuck Wagon Cook-Off." In this episode, Blackwell and three other chefs from Texas created rustic chuckwagon dishes in a time crunch.
"I knew they were going to give us some type of beef, so I studied every part of the cow," Blackwell says. "With Chopped, you don't know what you're going to get until you open the basket."
He hopes to show others like himself, especially his children, that dreams can come true.
"Culinary arts has been a driving force for me," Blackwell says. "It's been a good journey; I have no complaints."