MasterChef has been the craziest, most stressful, most intense, yet most amazing experience of my life thus far. Even though we had long sixteen-hour days of being on set, even though we had dozens of sleepless fitful nights, even though we all developed some sort of addiction or anxiety due to the stress of not knowing what would happen each day, even though we all had trouble adjusting back to our “normal” lives once the show was over; this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To the family I made at MasterChef. I know I speak for many of us contestants not only from this season but from previous seasons as well when I say the kinship I’ve formed from being on the show means more to me than any prize. I’ve said it countless times before, and I’ll say it again: having met all these folks from such different walks of life than mine; with different ideals than mine; from different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures than mine; and to have us all bond over such a simple yet universal thing such as food are the most wonderful gifts I can take away from this experience. It continually proves my strong belief that food brings all people together. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Libya or the U.S., gay or heterosexual, Catholic or Muslim, Republican or Democrat, eighty or eight years of age, man or woman–you can sit together and share in a meal and be consumed with love and respect for one another. Everyone in this world needs food for sustenance, and when it tastes divine and reflects a person’s heritage or region, it’s even more beautiful. That is why, above all else, I love food so much–food has the supernatural ability to bring two unlikely human beings together. And MasterChef is utter proof of that phenomenon. These people I’ve met on the show have become my foodie family for life. It is impossible not to love and bond with those who went through the same physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding experiences as me; those whom I ate, drank, cooked, used the bathroom, conversed, napped, played games, changed clothes, did laundry, cried and laughed with day in and day out; those whom I spent twenty hours a day with less the four hours spent isolated in my own hotel room at night; those who were there by my side through the thick and thin of it while my ties from the routines, comforts, and friends and family from home were severed for the whole of sixty-plus days. It was culinary boot camp, and I am grateful for the relationships I’ve formed with the other contestants. Believe me when I say that these mean more to me than the monetary prize, the cookbook deal, the title. I share this title of MasterChef with all those who cooked alongside me in that kitchen.
To the people I’ve reached all over the world. Over the past few months as “MasterChef” unfolded on small screens across America, I’ve received a plethora of mail from people wanting to share their stories with me. There is the teenager who found the courage to try out for her high school soccer team. There are the parents of a child with vision or hearing impairment or paraplegia who now believe their child can achieve something great in life in spite of hard circumstances. There is the newly widowed, the recovering alcoholic or addict, the cancer patient, the unemployed, and the prison inmate who feel inspired to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and demand higher standards for themselves and their future. There is the starving artist who decided not to compromise his passion for theater, film, literature, art. There is the young man who was shunned by his community because of his recent admission of his sexual orientation who found hope and saw light at the end of the dark, dark tunnel. There is the twelve-year-old who wants to pursue culinary school despite others telling her there is no way she can do it because she is autistic or blind. All these people have reached out to tell me that my story has given them some sort of hope. Yes, I hear “you’re such an inspiration” all the time, and sometimes I worry about being patronized or becoming jaded. But when I sit back and think about the impact I’ve had on each individual who took the time out to write or tweet me, and then I think about all the hundreds or thousands more whom I’ve touched but who have not communicated with me to tell me so, and then I’m overwhelmed with such inexplicable joy and humility. There is greater purpose to all this, and I have faith that my story and ability to affect others stretch beyond MasterChef. MasterChef is just a stepping stone to what I can and hope to do for this world in my lifetime. I used to pray that if I could just influence one or two people with the story of my struggles, then I would feel fulfilled and acknowledge that my pain and suffering happened for a reason. But the fact that I now know I’ve touched so many more than just one or two…well, I can only say the blessings are seven hundred-fold. I am beginning to understand why my life unfolded in the way it did, and for that, I would not change a thing.
Excerpt published with permission. The full blog post can be found here: http://www.theblindcook.com/thoughts-on-winning-masterchef-usa-2012/