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Central Benton Little Rock
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MasterChef Finalist Jennifer Maune


Jennifer Maune is having a banner year. The broadcast journalist, event planner and nonprofit manager turned lifestyle blogger and home chef made her prime-time TV debut this fall as a cast member on MasterChef: United Tastes of America and now and forevermore gets to wear the title of MasterChef Finalist.

Jennifer and I visited last week, and she shared some insider tips and what’s coming next as she spreads the word about the food scene in Arkansas through her showmanship, culinary skills and new opportunities.

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

Well, it all begins with my grandmother, as do many of my dreams. She was a mom of five, and I got to spend my summers and extra time with her when my parents needed childcare. She hosted all our holiday gatherings and was just the best cook. I tried to learn from her even though she never used a recipe. But that helped me learn about food flavors, and when I first became a wife, I just wanted to put yummy, beautiful food on the table.

Later, I started sharing the recipes I used in everyday life on my blog, and people started following me. A big turning point was when a follower made a tart from my blog with her daughter and sent me the pictures. My mission of helping people live beautiful lives in everyday spaces became tangible.

I feel like I found myself at 40. I came into my passions and calling of gathering people around the table for milestones and celebrations while creating beautiful spaces where they live.”

What qualified you to take on MasterChef?

As my blog and media business has grown, I wanted a basis to be qualified for recipe development, so I enrolled for a Technical Certificate in Culinary Arts through Pulaski Tech in Little Rock. It’s a 30-hour program, so 6-7 classes, and I knew it would give me the knowledge and scientific basis for recipe development. But, I enjoyed it so much that I stayed for my associate degree in Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts, both 60-hour programs.

How did studying in that program prepare you for this experience?

The Culinary Arts program taught me many technical skills needed for this competition: sauces, cutting, and even just the support of professors. We could take a notebook to have some recipes with us, and there were cookbooks around that I could study. But, my professors have been a wealth of support in this whole process with menu ideas and connections as I continue my career.

What was a day of filming like?

LONG. We would get a call sheet under our hotel door the night before that told us if we were filming the next day, when to be ready and what to wear. Then, we would film for 12-14 hours.

I was away from my family for eight weeks. It was a big sacrifice, and I had lots of support. But it gave me a national platform to share my faith, build connections in the culinary world and learn so much about all that is to come for my business with flavor preparation and running a kitchen. Oh, and we always had a mean game of Uno going at any given time. If I found myself pacing, we’d just pull out the Uno cards!

Any memorable moments you can share from the show?

Every episode has a backstory or extra things you never see. I really did have a sweet relationship with Reagan. She was from New Orleans and her cooking style was so different from mine, but our hearts connected, and she encouraged me.

In the audition episode, there was a moment in the hall where we were lining up, and everyone’s families were coming in, and a producer pulled me aside. He told me he realized that I didn’t know that one of my children had arrived in Los Angeles but tested positive for COVID-19, and they were all quarantined and wouldn’t get to be on the show with me. It was heavy, and Reagan saw me and immediately came over and said, “No, no, no, we are going to get it together.” And she prayed for me and my family, which started a pre-show tradition for us.

I’m super proud of my winning apple cake. It was a family recipe, and as a pastry chef, it was such a special moment to win immunity. I was also proud of my Banana Split Cake. You didn’t see much of it in the replication episode, but it was perfect, maybe even better than the example!

Any other big moments from the show that we don’t see?

One that stands out is The Wall Challenge. Wayne had immunity and paired Reagan and me, thinking he was putting us both in a bind since we have such different styles – my fine dining training and her big personality and deep New Orleans flavors.

After they assigned us, they pulled us off-set and separated us, and we couldn’t talk again until we got into the pantry. I knew she was allergic to fish and would not consider that an option, so I just started thinking about what she would be comfortable with that we could do in the time given. I thought of scallops and asparagus and knew she’d love grits.

When you see us in the pantry talking about our plan, we reveal that we came up with the same menu. So, our planning time focused on plating and finishing our dish to look the same. Everyone on the show knew that I am partially deaf, so I knew this would be my biggest challenge. My station was near the plates, so everyone was running by, and I just could not hear anything she was saying at the end, but we used our time in the pantry to plan, and those final moments were not a catastrophe.

What new opportunities are on the horizon for you?

MasterChef has already started changing our lives. So many things that I thought were on the horizon are now happening. I’m working on a cookbook to release in 2024. I’ve curated seasonal collections for home decor. I’m finalizing a line of seasonings that are available for pre-order now. I have gel kitchen mats in partnership with GelPro that William Sonoma just picked up to sell in their stores; they are beautiful, and everyone loves them.

I am planning a concept for a farm-to-table elevated breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant, along with a pastry shop in Little Rock and Benton, and I have investors ready to make my dreams a reality. It’s all happening fast, and I’m just trying to be in the moment and enjoy every part. And still, be present daily for my six children and our life in Little Rock! Arkansas has been amazing. The support last week during the finale and filling a room with 150 of my biggest supporters is something I’ll never forget.

Where can people find you to continue to follow your journey?

Jennifer Mauneblog

SocialsInstagram | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter | TikTok | YouTube

As a bonus, Jennifer shared one of her winning recipes with us that pairs perfectly with her fall Apple Sangria.

Jennifer Maune’s Apple Cake


  • 3 cups chopped apples (Peel, core and chop pieces dime-size)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 4 oz butter (1 stick), softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 8 oz cream cheese softened
  • 4 oz butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare a 10×15 jellyroll pan by spraying with baking spray, and line with parchment paper.


  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a large bowl.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  • Scrape down bowl and add sugar, mix until combined.
  • Add eggs one at a time and mix on medium speed until well combined.
  • Slowly add flour mixture, mix until well combined.
  • Scape down bowl and add buttermilk and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until fully combined.
  • Fold in chopped apples and nuts with a spatula.
  • Spray a 10 x 15 jellyroll pan (a regular baking sheet with a lip all the way round), and line with parchment paper.
  • Distribute thin layer of cake mixture evenly across the pan.
  • Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The cake is done when it bounces back from a light finger press on top in the center or when a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of the apple cake comes out clean.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes and cut individual cakes out with a 3-inch round cutter.

Cream Cheese Brown Sugar Icing:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, cream butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  2. Scape down bowl and add brown sugar, salt and vanilla. Mix until combined.
  3. Slowly add powdered sugar. Once all has been added, turn mixer to high speed and mix for 3 minutes until light and fluffy. If icing appears too soft and does not hold its form, add more powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.

Assembling apple cakes:

Transfer icing to a piping bag with a 1M open star tip. Pipe dollops of icing on the bottom cake layer. Carefully place the top layer of cake on top, pressing down lightly. Finish by piping dollops of icing on top.

All pictures shared by Jennifer Maune and used with permission from Fox Studios.

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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