He got his culinary start at KFC and in the Navy. Now this reality TV chef is opening a new restaurant in Kings Island

James Major, the new executive chef at Kings Island, is no stranger to cooking for large crowds.

The two-time winner of Food Network’s “Chopped” and contestant on Alton Brown’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Major previously served as an executive chef at Great American Ball Park and Funky’s Catering.

Under his leadership, Kings Island will open a new restaurant this year, Coney Bar B Que. The fast-casual dining location will offer various barbecue favorites.

Here are 5 things we learned about Major when he recently talked with us:

1. He’s an Ohio native

Major was born and raised in Cleveland, where he lived until he joined the Navy at 21 years old. He and his family, which includes two daughters, now live in Mason.

2. Cooking is an important tradition in his family

“I come from an Italian family and a Croatian family, which is Eastern European. I spent a lot of time at my grandmothers’ homes growing up, cooking alongside of them, and that had a lot to do with my career choice,” Major said.

Food surrounds all family events, he said.

“The best way to describe my family is when most people go on vacation, they figure out what they’re going to do, where they are going to go, and what adventures they are going to do for the day. We wake up in the morning and decide where we are going to eat,” Major said.

3. He honed his talents as a Navy cook and working at KFC

Major worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken as a cook for seven years.

“We made everything from scratch. It was the old days, and I was working for a family that owned it, so it wasn’t like a company store, it was a franchisee,” he said.

The family who owned the franchise took Major “under their wings,” he said.

But it was during his service in the Navy where Major says his professional cooking career began.

“When you have to live with the 700 men and women you cook for every day, you want to make sure that you put out a good meal,” he said.

“I was a captain’s cook when I was on board. When there was a new captain, I was always his cook. My last two years, I was the Watch Captain. I was in charge of the galley. I ran the bake shop. So, I learned a lot of basics in the military. I was also in Europe twice. I did two Mediterranean cruises, so I got to see a part of the world that I would have never gotten to see, otherwise. I also got to experience those foods and cultures, and flavors that I look for now.”

4. He’s appeared on two Food Network shows

Major is a two-time winner of Food Network’s “Chopped.” He was also a contestant on Alton Brown s “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

“For most chefs, it’s a dream come true to get to do that, and I got to do it three times,” he said.

His first appearance on “Chopped” was competing with chefs from other baseball ball parks.

5. His goal at Kings Island? Make sure guests leave with a smile.

“This is the first job I’ve ever had where there’s a roller coaster. Honestly, I’m excited I get to work in an amusement park. People are coming here to have a good time … Millions of people come here each year, and I get to be a part of that experience in this park, making sure that when our guests come here they have a great time, they enjoy themselves, they have great food, and that they leave here with a big smile on their face. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing every day this summer,” he said.

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