A month or so ago, I got the following email: “My name is Debbie and my son and I have recently been watching MasterChef. We are addicted to the show and have loved you from Day 1. My son is 6 1/2 and is a super bright, funny, loving little boy. He has a wonderful sense about people that I have often found to be spot on. From the first big challenge, you were his absolute favorite. Every episode that we watch when there is a team challenge, Ivan cheers loudly for whichever team that YOU are on! He thinks that you hung the moon and stars. I have never seen him like this before; it’s so adorable.
“Well, tonight we watched the episode where you went home. I was getting a little teary eyed watching you hug the judges and figured that my sweet, soft-hearted son would also be pretty upset, but I had NO idea…He bawled his eyes out!!!! He usually handles himself fairly well, even when in trouble and does not typically have huge emotional outbursts, so this really took me by surprise. It took several minutes for him to calm down enough for me to talk to him. I tried to explain to him that you may not have “won” but that you did not “lose” in any way! I tried to tell him that your dream was so much closer now and talked to him about how beautifully you conducted yourself (like the opposite of some of the other competitors). Finally, I told him that we live in the same state and that maybe one day we would get to eat a meal that “Ben cooked”. His eyes widened, so I continued and told him that you might be on facebook and that I would try to find you. I asked him if he would like for me to try to write to you and he finally started to smile and wipe his tears away.
“Well, I hope you do not think that this is too weird for a complete stranger to be writing you these things, but I just had to. Not only because my son is my world and I would do anything for him, but because you are worth trying to get in touch with! You were so amazing to watch on the show. While many of the others complained and groaned and talked about the other contestants, you smiled and offered hugs and pats on the back and took your critiques like a man. If it is not too much to ask, I would be forever grateful if you would write a note to my son or something. Maybe a birthday card in January for his 7th birthday? I know that he would absolutely be thrilled and cherish it. Like I said before, he has NEVER acted this way about anyone, especially someone that he has never even met! He just loves you! Thank you for being such a great example of a truly lovely human being to not only a huge television audience, but also to one very loving little boy.”
Well, of course, that email got me bawling and really tugged at my heartstrings. Since I’d had such an amazing experience meeting a young fan the last time I was in Austin (the incredible aspiring young chef Maggie), I decided I had to tell Ivan’s mom that I’d be happy to cook dinner for them the next time I was in town.
MasterChef auditions were in Austin on November 19 and I had to be in town to do some TV appearances, so she and I planned the dinner in secret. Ivan had no idea!
I put on my MasterChef coat and one of my hats and knocked on his door…he was a little in shock when he opened it! Ivan was SUCH a sweet kid, he was so excited that he practically hugged me and tugged on my arm for a full hour or so while I cooked. I wanted to make a menu that he could appreciate, and his mom told me that he loved pineapple, mac n cheese, veggies, and chicken. So we start off by making pineapple steaks in caramelized coconut milk, sugar, and cinnamon. Then we made our own mustard from scratch (which he loves) and we turned it into a honey mustard dipping sauce for the oven-fried chicken strips we made. And our side dish was macaroni and cheese with cauliflower in it…with a little bacon and roasted poblano pepper thrown in for the adults to appreciate.
After dinner, Ivan’s mom Debbie served her special pumpkin pie for dessert, and it was DELICIOUS! Then Ivan gave me a present…some wonderful kitchen gadgets that I didn’t yet own, and a couple of VERY cute Christmas ornaments…a miniature colander and a miniature grater. It was a fantastic night with wonderful people, and I can’t wait to spend more time with Ivan and his family next time I’m in Austin! I also got to introduce them to Maggie’s family the next day, and Maggie and Ivan got along famously. Ivan helped me perform my BBQ sauce demonstration on Sunday at BBQ Outfitters…video coming soon.
In the meantime, check out the big surprise moment: