Louise Leonard

Louise Leonard, 40, a Waterford native, is a contestant on ABC’s “The Taste.” She is competing against 15 other cooks for a chance at the $100,000 grand prize.

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A chef with Waterford ties could win $100,000 tonight as she showcases Wisconsin flavor on national television. 

Louise Leonard, 40, is one of four culinarians who will vie for the prize and recognition in the season finale of ABC’s competitive cooking show “The Taste,” starting at 7 p.m.

Although she has lived in numerous places around the country since she moved out of Wisconsin in her early 20s, Leonard said she grows more proud of her roots as time goes on and wanted that pride to show in her television appearance.

“I wanted to represent Wisconsin,” she said. “I was like ‘I’m making a schnitzel — I’m from Milwaukee,’ ” she added as she described an earlier episode.

Leonard grew up in Waterford, got a degree in journalism and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin and worked at WITI-TV in Milwaukee for a year.

However, she said she eventually could not resist the urge to “get out of Dodge” and try bigger cities, moving to New York City and now living in Los Angeles.

Since then, she has worked as a private chef and food stylist, which gave her the opportunity to set up food for television and learn about the industry from behind the camera.

Even with experience, she said cooking in front of the camera brings new stresses.

“At the end of the day, you’re not just cooking to win a competition, you’re also trying to entertain America,” she said.

She said she stayed calm by telling herself “OK, it’s just another day at the office; I just happen to be on the other side of the camera.”

She said her daily life and work has changed little so far as a result of being on the show, and she only signed her first autograph Tuesday night for a drive-through attendant on the back of a greasy receipt while at what she described as the “Kopp’s of L.A.”

However, she said the competition has forced her to reflect on her culinary identity and how she wants to move forward as a chef.

“It has made me come up with my life mission statement,” she said. “Even if you win ... it’s not like you’re retiring with $100,000... it’s what you make of it beyond that.”

Leonard said she, another finalist and their friends will watch the finale from a bar in West Hollywood, adding that the finale will be a “nail-biter.”


HOW TO WATCH

WHAT: Season 2 finale “The Taste”

WHO: Waterford native faces three other cooks in final competition for $100,000 prize

WHEN: 7 tonight on ABC (Channel 12)

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