About Ben

Hi, there!  I’m Ben.  You probably saw me on Fox’s MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay.  I assume that, because you found this page, you’d like to know a bit more about my background…so here goes!

Gordon Ramsay playfully strangles Ben Starr behind the scenes on MasterChef

Gordon playfully strangles me the night I get eliminated from MasterChef

I was born in San Antonio, Texas on July 14…that’s Bastille Day for those of you who know French history, and it’s also the anniversary of the day Billy the Kid was gunned down by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Lincoln, New Mexico.

I grew up in Abilene, Texas, which is a relatively small city about 3 hours west of Dallas, basically in the middle of nowhere.  I lived on what you might consider to be a small farm, surrounded by sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens.

I started learning to cook at age 4 when I took an interest in the way my grandmother, Meemaw, was making toast in the oven.  (We were too poor to own a toaster oven, especially when the main oven did the exact same thing.)  I demanded that she teach me, so she took out a loaf of stale bread and a stick of margarine (don’t ever eat margarine, by the way, it’s all trans fat) and she set me to practicing.  About an hour later she was walking by the kitchen when she heard me bragging to myself, “Who ever heard of a 4-year-old making toast?”

Ben Starr in Spooky Gulch Slot in Utah

In the depths of Spooky Gulch, hidden deep in Utah's canyon lands

I like to think I’m a little more humble about my cooking these days, but I have learned a lot since I was four.  Both my grandmothers and my mom were housewives and cooked 3 meals a day, so by the time I left for college, I was pretty skilled in the delicate art of Southern cooking.  After a few years of college, I accidentally stumbled into a job as a travel agent and started roaming the world.  But I found it more fulfilling to stay with local families, rather than in hotels, and this is how I learned to cook a variety of foods from other cultures.

To date, I’ve tromped across more than 40 countries on all 7 continents.  I’ve crawled through water-filled caves into tiny chambers filled with skeletons in Central America.  I’ve frolicked with tens of thousands of penguins and swam in hot springs with elephant seals in Antarctica.  I’ve been in car wrecks on the Sinai peninsula and been rescued by Bedouins on camelback.  In 2007 I appeared four times on The Rachael Ray Show, in the summer of 2009 I appeared on season 1 of HGTV’s All American Handyman with Mike Holmes, and in the summer of 2011 I appeared on the season 2 of Fox’s MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay.  I grow my own vegetables and fruit.  I brew my own beer and wine.  I cure meat and make aged cheeses. And I have a flock of free range chickens in my suburban back yard.  Hiking, canoeing, and caving (cave exploring or “spelunking”) are my hobbies.  I reside in Lewisville, Texas, (a suburb of Dallas) with my partner of 11+ years.

Ben Starr Giant Pumpkin Signature Ingredient

Hugging my favorite ingredient at a rural festival near Seattle

I am extremely concerned about our country’s move toward industrialized agriculture and nation-wide distribution over the past 30 years.  I am a die-hard fan of local family farms which sell to local grocery stores, rather than having your arugula trucked 1,500 miles from California’s central valley…of eating foods seasonally (you don’t need fresh peaches or asparagus in February, people, they’re being shipped all the way from Chile!)…of bolstering our local economies by supporting local family farms rather than massive industrial farms 10 states over…moving away from the “Certified Organic” logo which has become utterly corrupted by powerful mega-farm lobbies and is out of the reach of most family farms and certainly no longer means organic…focusing on sustainability and good animal and land husbandry rather than obsessing over the term “organic.”  I am deeply disturbed that this generation of children (and, in fact, virtually all city dwellers of any age) have little or no connection to the food chain and are suspicious of anything that does not come wrapped in a box to be microwaved or received through the window of a fast-food chain.  I can’t be distilled into the common conceptions of a “tree hugger” or a “hippie.”  I am the new generation of concerned individual who realizes that we can’t keep producing food the way we’re doing it without eventually poisoning ourselves and our children and our planet.

My dream is to open a small, sustainable, off-grid guest farm on the Big Island of Hawaii where people can come and learn where their food comes from, see how meat animals can be raised with care and respect, see how easy it is to leave the grid and produce your own electricity and water practically for free, and to enjoy eating the freshest food and drinking the most delicious microbrew they’ve ever had.  Click here for more info, if you’d like to get involved.

I am the wealthiest person I know.  Not from money, for I have almost none of that.  My life is rich because I have the most fascinating and devoted friends, fans, and family of anyone I know.  Without them, I’m nothing.

Ben Starr and his backyard flock of urban chickens

92 Responses to About Ben

  1. Hey! I am rewatching Masterchef Season 2 and you are one of my all-time favorite contestants on the show! I love your personality and positive attitude! I saw on your “about” page that you lived in Abilene, TX. I recently moved to Abilene because my husband got moved to Dyess. (We’re originally from the Maryland-Washington DC area.) I’m actually teaching at Abilene High School. Small world!

  2. Happy early birthday!

  3. So happy I discovered your blog, huge fan of yours, my idol alongside Gordon Ramsay

  4. Hi Ben. You were my fave contestant in masterchef season 2, which im suprisingly watching now (the episode with the tomatosup and grilled cheese sandwich, you were in bottom 3, but you got through, YAY) I love your hats and also I love cooking amd travelling too, hawaii is really great

  5. I read on your blog about making your own fridge for aging meat and cheese. Are there recipes you use that you have just, you know, laying around? (I skipped over the electrical wiring section, oops). How expensive is it to do without having your own pigs or livestock? I live on the border of Detroit (Redford),MI. We do have eastern market which is great for local stuff. But chickens and pigs aren’t exactly plentiful in our backyards. Right now I’m reading everything possible on charcuterie and beer and wine making (reading is the best I’ve got right now because I have epilepsy and don’t drive, among other stuff). I just want to know it all

    • Amanda, I use the recipes in the books Charcuterie and Salumi, both by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Regarding where to get meat to cure, a quick search on Craigslist or localharvest.org should point you to farmers outside the Detroit area who raise their own meat animals on a small scale. Also, the ethnic markets like you mentioned are wonderful places to get larger cuts of meat. Seek out a traditional butcher (they are rapidly vanishing, but I’m sure there are still a handful in Detroit) and tell them you want to find whole pig legs. But if you’re starting small, things like pork jowls and loins are pretty easy to find even in regular grocery stores. Just remember that the quality of the animal makes a HUGE difference in the final product with charcuterie, since you’re, in essence, concentrating the flavor of the meat. Storebought industrially raised pork will not be nearly as delicious as a heritage breed, like red wattle hogs, raised on acorns and milk! So practice a few times on cheaper industrial meat from the grocery store, and once you’re confident in your skills, it’s worth searching out a small farm that raises heritage hogs. If you have trouble, seek out a Detroit restaurant that does their charcuterie in-house, and ask the chef where he gets his meat so that you can do the same!

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