Trays of blackberry whiskey shots circled the upstairs event space at The Alley last Wednesday night in celebration of another successful dish cooked by Capt. Jamie Hough on Season 10 of "MasterChef."
The Pawley's Island fisherman-turned-reality show contestant was wearing a signature chef's jacket — it read "Capt. Jamie Hough, The Chef Redneck" sewn in red thread by the pocket — reminiscent of the one seen on the TV screen when he was standing next to Gordon Ramsay.
In Charleston, he was throwing a watch party dinner for friends, family and those interested in trying some of his food in real life versus viewing it on the screen each week.
"Nothing is gluten-free," Captain Jamie assured attendees as he pointed to the dishes he had made for the evening: truffle lobster mac 'n' cheese, Lowcountry shrimp 'n' grits, smoked Peruvian chicken tacos, turnip and greens gratin, and from-scratch smoked peach cobbler.
As the rave reviews rolled in from the judges on screen for his Episode 18 hoecakes with lemony blue crab, duck and smoked pork belly, the captain turned to his friends at The Alley, held up his shot with a cheer and downed it.
That was his final episode on Season 10 of "MasterChef" before being eliminated for some grainy sausage that he owes partly to an un-chilled meat grinder (the metal parts need to be cold for one to function properly) and for not getting his gravy on the plate in time. He finished in ninth place.
"It was my time, what can I say," Hough says. "I take away from it all the positive stuff I can. It was ultimately my fault."
Captain Jamie got his nickname during his days as a fisherman and the captain of Redfish Mafia Charters in Charleston. He grew up on Pawley's Island and then moved to downtown Charleston in 1995 to study biology and psychology at the College of Charleston. He waited tables to help pay tuition and borrowed a jonboat from home for weekend excursions. He spent summers as a mate on boats at the world-famous Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada, Fla., before launching his own charter business in the Lowcountry.
While fishing was always his passion, so was eating — especially Lowcountry cuisine.
"I like to eat a lot, and the cooking segued into the eating pretty well," Hough says with a laugh.
He became a master at brisket, Boston butts and ribs. He learned how to prepare the garlic crabs his grandma made for him growing up. He tried his hand at a variety of fish dishes and crab casseroles. He came to love entertaining, inviting friends over weekly, sometimes more often, for food, drinks and camaraderie. He especially liked how it brought everyone together.
"Food sees no race, no religion, no politics, no nothing," Hough says. "Everybody on the planet has to eat, so we may as well do it together."
Hough applied to "MasterChef" on a whim at 1 a.m. after a couple of cocktails. Then he got the call, and, weeks later, was whizzed out to California with little communication to the outside world allowed. He gave up six weeks of work on the boat in Charleston (what he estimates would have generated $25,000).
But, he says, it was entirely worth it.
On the show, he was the "fish guy." Hough talked about his love for the Lowcountry and his nonprofit organization, Southeast Rescue and Relief, where he rescues people stranded or displaced by hurricanes by boat. If he had won the $250,000 first place prize, the money would've gone toward a food truck so he could better serve people in need on the road during disasters, he says.
Hough confirms that the show was not scripted. And Gordon Ramsay wasn't a total jerk.
"He never yelled at me on the show, but also I’m not an idiot," Hough says.
Hough says he's been getting more than 500 followers a week on Instagram from the show. He expects it to slow now that he's been chopped, but hopes that the attention will turn back to his nonprofit in time for hurricane season.
During Hurricane Harvey in 2017, he pulled 180 people and two dogs out of flooded houses during four days in Houston. With donations, he bought food and cooked for thousands of families and emergency workers at shelters.
"I don't think I've ever met anyone who's worked as hard as him," says Hough's friend Wesley Wilson, who adds that the fisherman "took him under his wing" when he attended The Citadel. "If he only had a penny, he'd give it to you."
Overall, Hough finished ahead of 13 other Charleston-based "MasterChef" contestants (nicknamed the "Chucktown Throwdown"), who were eliminated during the competition's early rounds. One of those other Charleston contestants was Hough's now-good friend Ari Goodstein, who was there Wednesday night at The Alley helping him cook.
Goodstein, who grew up on Johns Island but didn't meet Hough until the show, says Hough is one of the best people he's ever met; in a few minutes, he felt like he had known him his whole life. Because of that bond, the two are seeking a way to go into business together in Charleston.
"The dream is to open a restaurant, and we've been talking about maybe opening one together," Goodstein says. "Something that promotes the local community and speaks to our crazy, very Southern redneck food that has this weird, elevated twist. Let’s have smoked brisket and macaroons, y’all, or as Jamie would say 'MUH-CHRONES.' "