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Matthew Leeper

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FINALIST PROFILE

MATTHEW LEEPER

Age: 27

Occupation: Cook/Sushi Chef

Birthplace: O'Fallon, Ill.

Hometown: O'Fallon, Ill.

I was born March 6th, 1978 on Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. My father was an American serving his country in Vietnam when he met my mother on leave in Thailand. With a rebel spirit my mom would eventually marry my father and break tradition of her Northern Thai family. She would leave behind a large family of 3 sisters and 6 brothers to join my father on an adventure to see the world. My father wanted to do something different in his life so he enlisted in the Air Force to travel the world and leave his small town of Freeburg Illinois. During their travels my mom would work in the local NCO club as a bartender, even through most of my childhood. She would also take up jobs as a waitress and banquet server in different hotels and restaurants, eventually helping me get my first job as a busser and oyster shucker.

During our travels as a family we would live on the island of Crete in Greece, Aviano Italy, Germany, Missouri, Illinois, and Maryland, to name the few I can remember. We would also take frequent family trips across the world to other locations. Later in my life I personally would travel across the whole US for national and world karate competitions. I would also travel to a few more countries while I was enlisted in the Army as an Airborne Ranger, including Germany, Africa, and the Cayman Islands to name a few. The vast traveling and my family's love for food would eventually be the seed that would grow into my knowledge and love for food. During times in my life I would grow distant from my family, but in the end after starting a family of my own I would grow closer than I ever had in my life. I would learn more about family from my wife's large close-knit family and it would teach me what I was missing in my life.

It would be during my time in the Army I would really learn I loved food. After some complications with joint pains I was having from the heavy road marches and night time airfield jumps as a Ranger, I would have to leave my profession. My pride kept me from leaving the Rangers so when an opportunity to work in the Ranger dinning facility came up I took it. There I would work long hours, 10-16 every day for about 3 years. I would also meet Mark Morgan. He was a Sergeant who was competing for the Army culinary team. He had already won a culinary Olympic gold and numerous ACF gold medals when I met him. He would be a driving force that would push me to try my hardest to be better. It was his suggestion to go to culinary school. After extensive searching and my time in the service nearing an end, it seemed a logical idea. With probably too much partying time in the Army I decided to clean up my act and put my nose to the books. It was during my time in school I would join the culinary team, become co-president of the ice carving club and become a teaching assistant. I was on a mission to learn everything I possibly could about cooking while incorporating my past experiences.

In the end I didn't search to become a Chef, it has found me. My passion to achieve and to be the best at whatever I do comes from a series of unusual events lead by my family and those who I have met in my life. I want to be one of the best and to teach my passion to those to follow.