In 2012, I plan to feature several successful people on this blog and on my website . Additionally, I'm writing my second book and you can expect even more helpful information for anyone involved in the military-to-civilian career transition. That said, I'd like to give you a taste of all the excitement in store for you next year!

We start things off with a very special guest Alejandra Schrader. Featured on FOX's hit TV Show MasterChef with Chef Gordon Ramsay, I met finalist Alejandra and her husband David recently while traveling on business. Alejandra continues to build a phenomenal career in the culinary world. This "Queen of Cuisine" has a passion for all things food! She also has some life experiences guaranteed to get the attention of Military Spouses.

Charles "Chazz" Pratt III (CP3): Many military people experienced the intensity and challenges of a Drill Sergeant. What was it like being on MasterChef with Chef Gordon Ramsay?

Alejandra Schrader (AS): I often say that MasterChef was somewhat like boot camp - a number of amateur people with limited skills and experience were given a series of challenges under rigorous conditions; the strong and passionate contenders prevailed and made the cut. Gordon Ramsay is definitely like a Drill Sergeant, one that sees the potential in you and pushes you to obtain the maximum potential. I must admit to be a little intimidated by him and his harsh personality at the beginning. But his advice helped me get better and better on the show and his high expectations always made me try my best and fight hard. I have a lot to thank Chef Ramsay and MasterChef.

CP3: You had a career in Architecture before pursuing your passion for cooking. What initially led you into the Architecture field?

AS: My father was an engineer and a developer in Venezuela. I had the opportunity to check out construction sites and read blueprints since I was a little girl. I always loved drawing and being creative so the design aspect of the process was the most appealing. Architecture was my first career choice!

CP3: How did it feel working in a job while having such a strong pull toward something else? Did you think about cooking all the time?

AS: I must start by saying that I enjoyed very much working in the field of Architecture. I did think about cooking during the day as I planned dinner menus for my husband and me each day! Even as a working professional, I always enjoyed cooking at home and entertaining family and friends. A weak economy and soft real estate market eventually left me unemployed in 2009, so it wasn't by choice that I looked for opportunities elsewhere (but I am glad I did).

CP3: Many of our Military Spouses struggle with going from job-to-job due to military moves. Yet, many of these same Military Spouses have a hobby or skill that could change their life and the lives of others. Since you've lived and continue to live your dream, what advice do you give to Military Spouses?

AS: As much as I've always loved to cook and enjoyed being in the kitchen, I never thought that it would turn into a second career. I am so grateful to have an additional set of skills learned at home, mostly making family dinners with my mother and helping during weekends and holidays at my grandmothers' house. That passion grew, and so did my knowledge, as I incessantly watched foodie shows on TV. I spent a number of years and dollars in getting an education that I will always be proud to have. But, in my case, what used to be my hobby - cooking - has changed my life. It now allows me to work, to provide for myself, and to help my family when I can. Follow your dreams and pursue your passions!

CP3: How important is it to surround yourself with positive people who have your best interests in mind?

AS: Since I moved to the US, away from my family, I've always sought the mentorship in the professional and academic fields. I believe it is very important to surround yourself with experienced and knowledgeable people that believe in you and are willing to share advice and words of wisdom, when necessary. Gene Lai, the man who was my first boss during an internship in college and later my professional mentor in Architecture, also grew to be my friend and father figure. He also walked me at my wedding since my own father had passed away. Relationships like this can be crucial for a person's personal and career lives! Currently, my business mentors are Chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken from Border Grill and Bravo's "Top Chef Masters".

We'll hear lots more from this interview with Alejandra on the USAA Military Spouse Community GOING CIVILIAN Blog in 2012! Until then, she has a tasty recipe for you to try! Also, check out some links to some other things that might interest you.


Alejandra Schrader's Recipe for Pearl barley cakes with spinach and parmesan. Chive ricotta: