Tag Archives: children

MasterChef Where Are They Now: Sharone Hakman

It’s been 3 years since we first saw this strapping young man blow away Gordon, Graham, and Joe on the premier season of MasterChef.  I think most of us first noticed him for his good looks.  (When gathering photos of him for this blog entry from Google Images, the most common 3 searches for Sharone are “Sharone Hakman married,” “Sharone Hakman shirtless,” and “Sharone Hackman wife.”  Everyone wants a piece of this guy!)

I’m gonna be honest and say that watching Sharone’s performance on Season 1 ALMOST convinced me to wimp out on the auditions.  Most folks who followed Season 1 believed he was probably the most formidably talented contender, and I was intimidated as all heck watching him cook.  Despite the fact that Whitney Miller took the win over runner-up David Miller in the finals, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to compete on Season 2 if there was a contestant as talented as Sharone.  (There was…Christian Collins AND Adrien Nieto.)

Because I live in my head sometimes, even after the filming of my season was over and I had connected with many Season 1 folks, it wasn’t until Sharone reached out to ME that I felt comfortable talking to him.  And it turns out, he’s the nicest guy ever.  So today, on Father’s Day, I’d like to share with you all an update on this MasterChef father of 2 boys (the youngest of which has just recently arrived!)

Sharone and his stunning wife Monica still reside in Los Angeles with their two wonderful boys, and since MasterChef, Sharone’s entire life is given over to food and family.  You may remember that Sharone left a job as a financial planner to be on MasterChef.  And he never went back.  That takes some guts, and a LOT of trust from your spouse, especially when planning a growing family.  Financial planners certainly don’t suffer (though they may sweat when the market goes wonky), and leaving that kind of stability for an uncertain future in the world of food…I can imagine there were probably some stressful moments at home.  (A MasterChef producer told me that if she had a dollar for every marriage that was ended over reality TV shows she has produced, she could retire.)

But Sharone is no average cookie.  He has built a strong brand on the BBQ sauce he introduced to us on Season 1: HAKS sauce.  In fact, the other day I was walking through Central Market in Dallas and someone was doing a demonstration with Sharone’s sauces.  (I LOVE the Thai chile tamarind, I could smear it all over my body.)  These sauces are really extraordinary with explosive flavor, infinite complexity, and a truly masterful balance of sweet/savory/acid.  If you’d like to try some, chances are you can get it wherever you are in the US.  Vons, the Safeway family, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, Pavilions, and Central Market all carry HAKS sauces.  That’s a pretty impressive roster, and I would imagine this probably makes Sharone the single most commercially successful contestant to come from the MasterChef US brand.

While Sharone tries to spend as much time as he possibly can at home with his wife and boys, he’s certainly not invisible from the LA food scene.  Together with Season 1 contestant Mike Kim, Sharone did a big fundraiser for breast cancer, and he works closely with the American Heart Association on fundraising projects.  He appears regularly on LA television, and has a cooking show that is being broadcast in Asia via Fox International Networks.  He even appeared as himself on an HSBC commercial:

Sharone has a “residency” at Umamicatessen, a massive LA complex similar to Bastianich’s Eataly in Manhattan.  Saturday nights in June and July (2013) you can learn and taste all about the sophisticated side of barbeque in his “BBQ Elevated” series, but space is extremely limited for these intimate classes.  Call 213-413-8626 for reservations.

I like asking MC survivors what their suggestions are to passionate home cooks who would like to be on MasterChef, and Sharone’s answer was enlightening, and probably even more appropriate for current seasons than for his own:

“Be yourself and continue on your journey in a positive light, regardless of where you are going.”

It’s so easy for people to allow their lives to be ruined in the aftermath of a reality TV show like MasterChef.  But that’s a choice, as Sharone so eloquently states.  You are not defined by MasterChef, no matter what happened to you on the show, no matter how you were portrayed.  You are defined how you choose to define yourself.  And whether you head back to the corporate world, or leave it all to bake cookies for a living, expect nothing but the best, and that’s exactly what will happen.

When I asked Sharone how MasterChef changed his life, his answer was simple:

“What I took away from MC was confirmation that this is what I want to be doing.”

And while that sounds like a simple affirmation, I can tell you based upon watching it time and again, walking away from your established life to plot a new course is NOT easy.  Especially if you have a family.  At least one marriage was broken up in the top 18 on my season.  (And only a few contestants were married.)  Many people, even folks from the top 100, left the security and stability of their former careers to forge new paths in the culinary world…which is NOT known for being as profitable as…oh, say…financial planning.

My hat’s off to Sharone for having the courage to realize his dream and follow it.  And double hats off to Monica for trusting him during what must have been a scary transition.

Sharon is the model MasterChef success story.  On this Father’s Day I wish him and his family nothing but the best, and hopefully we get to meet this summer when I’m in LA!  Check out Sharone’s stunning website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Animals are Meat: A Follow Up

It’s now been about 24 hours since I posted the photo on Facebook of a free-ranging rooster from a chicken farm near Dallas that I was about to dispatch to become part of the menu at FRANK this weekend.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined what a magical 24 hours it would be.

Many, many nerves were touched on both ends of the spectrum.  And while it was certainly stressful to moderate the conversation on Facebook and here on my site, I feel SO overwhelmed with joy that this debate was able to take place.  (And I certainly hope it continues.)

The comments kept (and keep) coming, but among the most striking are the comments from parents who said they brought up the subject over dinner with their children.  Childhood is most definitely the time to begin having this conversation.  Adults who were born in the city and were never exposed to the origins of food as children end up being the kind of person described here by a fan in a comment on yesterday’s blog:

I had the occasion to meet a guy once with whom I ended up ranting about how much I love growing my own vegetables/fruit and how much I wished I had more then a balcony’s worth of shaded growing area (that’s all I got right now as a college student). This was his response: “You want to grow your own food? Isn’t that dangerous? How do you know if you don’t mess up and end up poisoning yourself? Why on Earth would you grow your own food?!?” Part of the reason why I became such a huge fan of yours is because it’s amazing to know that other people who love growing their own food exist in the modern world.

Education neighborhood children about chickens, 1 year before the neighborhood pressured the city to take them from me

Those of us who grew up on farms naturally have that connection to our food’s source.  But you don’t have to have grown up on a farm to have it.  And you can help your kids have it by participating in community garden programs (which they even have in inner city Manhattan); taking your kids to state fairs and walking them through the animal barns and explaining to them that ALL the animals in those barns are loved pets of other kids their age, and will be turned into meat after the fair to nourish people’s bodies; encouraging your grade schoolers to participate in the 4-H program and your high schoolers to participate in the FFA program.  Even if your kids live in an apartment in the inner city, these programs will give them the opportunity to raise crops and even animals at an off-site location sponsored by their schools.

I am so thrilled that I’ve been given the voice to be able to reach more people than just the ones in my immediate circle of family and friends.  This conversation was so dynamic, and it’s obvious by the charged emotions on both ends that people were really thinking and struggling with the concept.  These are the kind of conversations that are incredibly positive and constructive, and really make people sit down and THINK for a moment.

I wanted to end with an email that was sent to me by a very dear friend after reading the Facebook threads and my blog post:

I heard through the grapevine that people were giving you a tough time about your chicken-killing rampage. I thought I would share my own story, considering the fact that the first time I ever saw a live chicken up close was when I lived with you and Christian during those four years in Dallas, and for one whole year we raised chickens from the egg right up to their departure (either by natural death, moving to a nearby farm, or being made into dinner).

From left: A Buff Orphington brown egg, an Araucana green egg, and a Rhode Island Red speckled brown egg

I also remember when we discovered that one of our sweet chickens, who we lovingly referred to as CP, was a rooster! As I recall, where we lived in Texas there was an ordinance against owning roosters because they are loud. So what do we do with him? Well, for me, what we did was we turned him into a learning experience. We decided to have him for dinner!

My mother tells me very interesting stories about how her grandmother would kill chickens by grabbing them by the neck and twirling them in the air until their heads pop off, and then their bodies would run around the yard until they fall over. I must admit, the thought was not appealing, still I knew that this was something that was important to see because of all the great points you brought up in your blog post.

So we did it. We all gathered very ceremoniously around CP (except for Christian, who wouldn’t have had the heart to actually let any of us go through with it… the big softy), and we chopped off his head. It was fast and he didn’t suffer. To be honest, I thought I would be mortified… but I wasn’t at all. I knew for a fact he had had a really great life eating in our organic garden, climbing trees, bossing the other lady chickens around. If he had been in a factory, he wouldn’t have lived nearly as long or as happily.

By the way, he was delicious.

His body was treated with absolute respect, and we even buried his poor little head so Christian would never find it… I believe it’s currently under concrete, so that’s definitely never going to happen.

What did I take away from this experience? I finally learned where my food came from, and that lesson sticks with me today. Even now, when I make food or go out to eat, if there is meat I eat every last bite of it. If I am too full, tough, I go ahead and at least power through the meat before I give up on the rest of the vegetables/noodles.

So, let other people say what they will. I lived with you for four years and know how you treated every one of our ladies. In fact, I think you cuddled with them more than you actually spent time with the rest of us! Also, I don’t recall ever hearing of any other farmer giving their chickens bananas or other tasty treats on a regular basis. These are not things someone who disrespects animals would do.

Furthermore, I have never met another human being that cried so many times during the movie, March of the Penguins, so I’m not sure how anyone could possible fathom you as anything but an animal lover.

If there is one thing that you are, Ben Starr, you are consistent in what you say and what you believe about food, and I’m happy to say that my own cooking adventures (both living with you and in the years since) are peppered with your “teachings.”

Thank you, T.  That’s such an eloquent letter.  What he neglected to tell you is that my best friend’s 14-year-old sister felt strongly convicted that SHE needed to be the one to slaughter CP.  We sat down and had a long talk with her, and she said that, after meeting my chickens, she couldn’t in good conscience eat another bite of chicken unless she was willing to kill one herself.  She was incredibly nervous when the time came, but she did it.  And I turned CP into Chicken Parmigiana (his namesake) and she ate him.  The next night at dinner, she talked for 2 hours with her family about the experience, and it has stuck with her to this day.

Before MasterChef, I only had the opportunity to share this type of knowledge and experience with those in my immediate circle.  But thanks to MasterChef, I can now share it with thousands of amazing fans who can join in this incredible dialogue.  Cooking, for me, is about far more than the final plate, and whether or not it can please a master like Gordon Ramsay.  Since the day I was born, I was steeped in the story of food BEFORE it enters the kitchen.  And, to me, being a part of the entire journey of food from dirt to plate makes the experience endlessly rich.

I cannot look at this photo without crying. These were my ladies (with CP, the white rooster in the middle, who, soon after this photo, graced our dinner table.) I love them ALL to this day.