Neighborhood Block Parties Inspire MasterChef

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Katrina Kozar, an administrative assistant at UW-Milwaukee, is like many Heights’ residents: She loves block parties, having dinner at Meritage, and fixing food for friends and family. And now her passion for cooking is known across the country, thanks to her participation this summer on Fox TV’s “MasterChef.”
As of mid-August, Katrina was one of the seven amateur chefs still on the reality show, which was shot earlier in the year. With a public relations professional monitoring the conversation to be sure no secrets were revealed, I talked to Katrina about her experience in the spotlight. Responses have been edited for space.
Master Chef 1What’s your connection to the Heights?
I lived in the area just south of the neighborhood on 59th & Vliet for seven years, but I recently bought a house around 56th & Lloyd.  I’ll go back to the old block this year for our big block party and food competition.
How would you describe your kitchen in your new house?
When I walked in, the first thing I saw was the kitchen. It’s much bigger than I had before – it has a gas stove, lot of counter space. The sink looks out into the backyard. I was cooking off a 1970s oven in the past.
What neighborhood restaurants do you go to?
I was just at Meritage last week. I love Highland Café –Sandy Murphy hosted a viewing party for me in July – and her Cold Spoons Gelato. The Wonder Bar – I met my boyfriend there! Of course there’s McBob’s and I shop at Viet Hoa on North Ave.
What was the best part of the MasterChef competition?
To be chosen as a contestant. A small number make it, and I was humbled and grateful to be involved. I’ve learned about myself – how to manage stress and pressure, and believing in yourself even if you screw up. I met some amazing people who will be lifelong friends. You all love one thing, and you’re all closet foodies, and it’s a competition – that’s hard. Our season had great camaraderie, but we were competitive when we had to be. You can see we cared about each other.
What was the worst part?
Being away from loved ones, especially my boyfriend and other friends. And the stress of it. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, every day, for long hours.
What’s next?
I’m thinking about writing recipes and doing more cooking demos. I’m also thinking about expanding my horizons into other businesses that incorporate food – maybe be part of a test kitchen, but not open a restaurant – maybe a consultant.

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