A Post-Masterchef Perspective

I have just spent the past 5 hours reading a fraction of the 949 tweets, 549 emails, and 1752 Facebook messages that have been posted in the 300 minutes since MasterChef finished airing on the East Coast.  (Update, as of 11pm August 10, about 24 hours after the show has ended, my email inbox has over 7000 emails in it.)

Before tonight, I believe I have successfully responded to everyone who has reached out to me on the internet.  That’s important to me.  If someone has taken the time to email me, it’s my obligation to respond personally.

Bear with me.  7000 messages may take me a few days!

But there are some things I feel the need to share with everyone.  The fact that I’ve received 7000 messages in the 24 hours since I was eliminated on MasterChef is important.

Let me start by saying that I ABHOR reality television.  It’s stupendously ironic that I decided to be on it.  (My friends will never forgive me!)  But I truly believe that Reality TV brings out the worst in good people.  I can, without hesitation, say that I’d move next door to Christian Collins and be quite happy to grow old as his best friend.  Christian is a GOOD man.  But millions of people hate him now, which is unwarranted and  unjust.

I went on Reality TV to prove that a contestant can have dignity, generosity, integrity, and a love for his fellow contestants, and STILL be interesting to watch.  And the fact that I’ve had such an overwhelming response from the MasterChef audience proves exactly that.

In the past two months, I have recieved emails from homeless people, from teenage girls suffering from eating disorders, from parents who lost children in the terrorist attacks in Norway, from rape victims who hadn’t told another living soul about their attack, from people with terminal cancer who have preciously numbered days.  And in the past two months I have received emails from teenagers who, in a suicidal moment, found inspiration from a moment on MasterChef, and from 11 year olds practicing molecular gastronomy for their science projects, and from children who want grow up to elevate dignity in developing countries by elevating the level of food that is provided by humanitarian efforts, and from retired octogenarians who had never learned to cook but were inspired by the show to start learning after 80 years, and from single moms who had been feeding their kids fast food every night of the week who have been inspired by MasterChef to get in the kitchen, instead, and make them something with her own two hands.  And this doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Cooking may be a chore for some people.  It may be a rare escape for others.  It may be a salary for some.  It may terrify others.  But cooking is the most powerful ritual we share, as humans.  This has been made evident to me by the fact that I can be presented with a box of ingredients, and a camera records me cooking it, and then hundreds of people pour out their soul to me in emails after watching it.

I learned many things on MasterChef.  First and foremost, I gained the friendship of dozens of incredibly talented people.  As an adult, the “lifelong friendship” phenomenon grows increasingly scarce.  It’s hard to make new friends who love and understand you the way your family does, and the way your friends who’ve known you since you were a kid do.  I suddenly found myself in a room with 100 nervous contestants, listing to lectures about how we were the finest home cooks in the country…and some of those 100 I grew very, very close to.  Renee, Donna, Risa, Seby, Pauline, Shawn, Christine Wendell, Kayla and Kala, Michelle.  These are names you don’t know, which is sad, because they each had a unique culinary brilliance, and in the two weeks we were all together filming the first “signature dish” portion of MasterChef, we became so close.

Then there were 18.  And the pressure quadrupled.  And we all became that much closer.  You each saw carefully crafted characters, selectively drawn from the hours and hours of footage from people like Max and Christian and Esther and Suzy…who attracted so much criticism, but who are each delightful, adorable people.  (And I’m not just saying that to be nice.)  Never forget that when you watch TV, you are watching caricatures.  Do you REALLY think Joe Bastianich would have a loving wife and kids who adore him, if all he was was someone who attacked and complained about everything?  People are never one-dimensional.  Don’t think you can sum up a person based on how they are edited on a TV show.

The relationships I have developed with my fellow 18 finalists have changed the spectrum of my life.  In the short months since the filming of MasterChef wrapped, I’ve been to NY and LA to visit friends from the show, and I’ve entertained no less than 6 in my own home.

MasterChef not only changed us by bringing important, dear, new friends into our lives.  It changed our lives.  Many of the top 100 have left their former careers to pursue their own individual culinary passions.  I plan to highlight some of these new ventures in my blog in the coming weeks.

MasterChef has been a potent inspiration for not only the 100 semi finalists, but for the audience as well.  I’ve received emails from literally hundreds of people who have set foot in the kitchen for the very first time, inspired by the show.

I don’t know where my MasterChef experience will ultimately lead me.  I hope I can spend a few years working in television, but only in a capacity that helps people and builds them up.  You can help me do this by staying in touch.  Email me.  Tell me what you’re up to.  Visit my site and read my blog to see what I’ve been up to.  Tell your friends about me.  If you have a brilliant TV show idea, email it to me.  The more a network discovers that we have formed a community, the more interest they will have in representing us.

I do hope, one day, to achieve my dream of opening a sustainable guest farm, cafe, and microbrewery in Hawaii.  Then I can welcome guests from all over the world who want to share in the joys of food, family, and the earth.  You can read more about it by clicking MY DREAM at the top of your screen.

But for now, it’s my hope that I can share with you a few quick things that I feel everyone on the planet should understand:

*Our planet is beautiful.  Get OUTSIDE and see it.  Sleep in a hammock.  Watch the sunset.  See the Grand Canyon.  (Or better yet, Grand Gulch.)  Take a farm road rather than a freeway.  Go off the beaten path.

*Our planet is fragile.  Recycle.  Compost.  These things don’t require much more effort than tossing something in the trash.  But if we will ALL do it, we’ll make a huge difference.

*Know where your meat comes from.  A life is taken each time you sit down to eat meat.  Respect that.  Understand the conditions that many industrially-raised meat animals endure.  Every living creature on earth deserves a life of dignity.  And while I’m no vegetarian, I believe that a meat animal can live a happy, fulfilled life, before it fulfills its purpose on the food chain.  Knowing where your meat comes from will make you choose better sources of meat.  Not only does it taste better, it lived better.

*Know where your fruits and veggies come from.  That lettuce you’re eating may have been driven 1500 miles from an industrial farm to land on your dinner plate, when a family farmer 50 miles away is struggling to sell his lettuce.  Ask your grocer to label his produce with its origin.  Tell him you want to see more local crops in the store.  The market gets what the market asks for.  And if the market demands local, it will get local.  This will rebuild our local economies, which are the backbone of America.

*Know WHEN your fruits and veggies come from.  Ever eat a peach in January?  Not only was it expensive, it had no taste.  Because it was picked green in another hemisphere and put on a boat to a port, and trucked hundreds of miles to land in your grocery store.  Eat seasonally.  Look FORWARD to the local peach harvest in July, when peaches are cheapest because they traveled the shortest distance to get from the tree to your mouth.  Then look forward to it for another 11 months until it comes again.

*Support local restaurants, especially ones that support local farms.  Get out of the chains, and get into the family-run places.  The food is fresher.  It has more soul.  And the money stays in your community.

*Investigate local co-ops that buy from local farms.  These are also called CSA’s, or Community Supported Agriculture.  This is a way to get local, organic produce for CHEAPER than what it costs in the grocery store, while supporting local family-run organic farms.  (It’s often cheaper even than buying non-organic produce from the grocery store.)  Check http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ to get started.

*And finally…  Cook.  Restaurants are great.  Without them, chefs wouldn’t have jobs!  But there is no meal better than the one you cook yourself for people you love.  Even if you set the kitchen on fire (which I’ve done), or end up with a blackened, burnt mess (which I’ve done), the laughter and joy you and your family and friends will share is worth more than a meal at the finest restaurant in the world.  (Which, coincidentally, closed last week.  Sorry, folks!)

Thank you for sharing this MasterChef journey with me.  It was only the first step of something far more important to come.  Stick with me!  I’ll try to make sure you never regret it!

As for tonight…I am BURIED in love, from every angle.  This is an incredible thing to feel.  Everyone in the world should feel this loved at least once.  It is a life-changing experience.

2 Responses to A Post-Masterchef Perspective

  1. Hey Ben!
    I had never watched MC until I stayed w/ my son last week. I am currently going through the earlier seasons and found your blog after finishing your season. I was so impressed w/ you and your kindness and respect for others. Thank you for your insight; it made me take a step back and think about the opinions I formed about each contestant based on just the televised portion.

  2. Hey Ben,
    I love the insight into MasterChef and reality TV. My wife and I just finished watching season two and loved your “character” that they created. But in some ways, I feel like they nailed you pretty well. We always commented on how you seemed to be caring and that everyone (the remaining contestants) were going to be sad to see you go. You became one of our favorites as the show progressed. Thanks for your part and the insight.

    I still feel like your cooking was great and the cooking on the show was awesome! Rock on!

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