November 21, 2017  

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Southern Miss, MasterChef Alumna Katie Dixon Still Living a Dream

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Southern Miss alumna and MasterChef finalist Katie Dixon is working with the State of Mississippi teaching children how to live healthier lives. (Submitted photo)

“Like a dream,” that’s how University of Southern Mississippi alumna Katie Dixon describes her experience as a finalist on Season 7 of the Fox television series, “MasterChef.”

As a wife, mother of two, and businesswoman preparing for the opening of the Birdhouse Café, her new restaurant in west Hattiesburg, as well as additional new ventures, it is easy for Dixon to feel like she has still yet to wake up.

“I can’t believe it, but we recently started construction on the Birdhouse,” she said. “It is going to be amazing. I want to create a healthier culture in our state, and I will also be teaching cooking classes to children and adults.

“I love making barbeque sauces and seasonings that are going to be in some stores—big things are coming,” she added. I’m working on a food truck, and I’m working with the state of Mississippi on the Uproot Campaign where we go in and teach children how to live healthier lives.”

Dixon brings lessons learned both as a marketing student at Southern Miss and from MasterChef into her businesses and the kitchen.

“My professors were amazing. I still keep in touch with (former marketing professor) Dr. (Bill) Smith,” said Dixon, who graduated from Southern Miss in 2005. “He just retired, but he has opened so many doors not only for me, but also for my little sister Molly.

“He said, ‘You will do well in sales if you meet the need of your customer—not your own need, but the need of your customer.’ I always remember that.”

As a Southern Miss student, Dixon was also a cheerleader and a member of Kappa Delta Sorority.

“Thinking back about my days at USM just brings a smile to my face,” she said. “It’s grown so much, but to me the heart and soul of USM is still the same. The people there love the students and the faculty, and to me, that’s just the Southern roots shining through.”

More recently, Dixon gained fame as a finalist on “MasterChef,” and while she ultimately did not win the competition, that experience and exposure has allowed her to continue to pursue her passion for promoting healthy lifestyles.

“People ask, ‘Was it stressful?’” said Dixon about the “MasterChef” experience.“ I think it was stressful for the 19 other competitors, but for me, I was cooking every day. I was doing what I absolutely love. I had someone cleaning the dishes for me. I didn’t have all the responsibilities that I do back at home. I was able to enjoy the experience. I remember each time we walked in those double doors, it was just like I was living in a dream.”

There, she interacted with some of the top chefs in the world, including Gordon Ramsey.

“I describe him as similar to an athletic coach who drives you to do your best,” Dixon said. “They’re hard on you, but they expect a lot out of you. It’s all to create something more beautiful and something better, and that’s Gordon’s personality. He pushes hard when he knows you have more to give, and he believes in you.

“He laughs a lot, and he’s very family oriented,” Dixon continued. “When you’re watching the show, you don’t get to experience what I was able to truly experience from the show, which is hours in the kitchen with Gordon. I’m at my cutting board, and he’s just carrying on conversation. He knows about (my daughters) Stevee Kate and Risi, and (my husband) Todd. He knows about my family. He knows about Hattiesburg. He knows that I want to create a healthy culture in the state of Mississippi. And that’s the Gordon Ramsey who knows about us, about USM, about my life back here.”

While Dixon is looking forward to the Birdhouse Café opening in early October, she says she’s also looking forward to another Southern Miss football season and tailgating.

“I love to use as many local foods as possible,” she said. “I get so excited when I think about tailgating and getting to bring food to everyone there. It’s something that I enjoy getting to do. I like to use fresh foods and lots of color, so one of my most favorite things when it’s still hot, is to make a barbequed shrimp that’s still really Southern, but I put a healthy spin on it. Watermelon is also amazing right now. I love to make a little watermelon and barbequed shrimp salad.”

And when she’s back on the Hattiesburg campus, she says she’s reminded of a campus and people who provided her with support and guidance.

“Without USM, I would not be where I am today,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the confidence my teachers instilled in me, the creativity that I was given through being a cheerleader and being in Panhellenic and serving on boards. My teachers believed in me, and that’s not something you get everywhere. To me, USM is a future, it’s friendships, and it’s a loving atmosphere. It’s family.”

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