SPOILER ALERT: And the winner of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is ….

… the lesbian! Christina, right — a 32-year-old lesbian chef from Philadelphia — won the grand prize of Hell’s Kitchen Monday night, and it was no mere title. As winner, she receives a salary of $250,000 to serve as head chef at host Gordon Ramsay’s new Paris Las Vegas restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Steak. She defeated straight guy Justin, left, in the finale. (There must be something in the air, too  — an hour after Christina won Hell’s Kitchen, blind home cook Christine won MasterChef.)

It’s great whenever an openly gay person wins a competition where being gay has nothing to do with the competition — and that was the case here. Indeed, the fact her girlfriend kissed her after the win, and was her “family” at the big reveal (along with her mom) is really what equality is all about. And the fact it happened on Fox is kinda neat.

This is nothing new, though. Heather, the winner of Season 2, carried on an apparent showmance with Dallas chef Rachel Brown. But it’s always good to see. Especially in an election year.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas’ Leslie Ezelle booted from ‘Design Star’

This hasn’t been a good few weeks for Dallas’ gay reality contestants. Two weeks ago, Lewisville’s Ben Starr almost made it to the final of MasterChef, having to settle instead for the praise of host Gordon Ramsay. Then Monday night, Leslie Ezelle — the breast cancer survivor and local interior decorator we profiled in July — was one of two contestants eliminated from HGTV’s Design Star. But Ezelle is taking it in stride: Rather than sulk, she invited some of her friends over to a viewing party to watch her get eliminated.

Why share your loss with the public? After surviving six cancer surgeries, Ezelle felt it was only fair to let her four children and stepchildren know you can’t succeed unless you try. And it gave her another chance to make her case for Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure on Oct. 15.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Local ‘MasterChef’ contestant Ben Starr booted

Ben Starr started off last night’s episode of MasterChef in a high — he won his first “mystery box” challenge, which gave him a leg-up in the elimination challenge: In re-creating one of host Gordon Ramsay’s signature dishes, he both chose the venison and was given the opportunity to ask Ramsay questions about how to prepare it.

Didn’t help. Starr virtually boiled the meat in a 200-degree butter broth, rather than slowly poaching it before a final seer. The resulting product was a gray mess that god Starr eliminated, finishing No. 5.

The nicest thing about the elimination was the sincere way Ramsay broke the news, saying he fully expected Starr to make it to the top 2, and commenting on his personal fondness for Starr.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Master of HIS domain

Ben Starr, the recently out Dallas cheftestant on Fox’s ‘MasterChef,’ camps it up on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition series

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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MASTERCHEF
Airs Tuesdays on Fox (Ch. 4) at 8 p.m.

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When Lewisville-based travel writer Ben Starr auditioned for Fox’s MasterChef, he doubted they’d be interested in his style of home cooking. But not only did he make the cut, he’s been one of the more memorable cheftestants — just this week, he had the judge’s favorite dish.

The series is only halfway through, but for Starr, it’s already made a huge difference in his life: It forced him to come out to his parents just last month. We talked to him about the experience and his favorite meals.

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You’ve been struggling since you wowed the judges at your audition. The audition kinda set me up to expect that I would do well in the competition, but we spun pretty quickly into an emphasis on gourmet cuisine, which is not my thing at all. My street tacos were a little bit spiffy, and I am extremely well traveled, but I tend to eat peasant food even when I travel. I was seeing all these people around me making restaurant quality cuisine and trying to compete on their level. Nice to make a good ol’ catfish in a skillet.

What was the hardest challenge for you? The biggest challenge has definitely been psychological. I’m competitive by nature and I want to feel like I’m competition, but I was surrounded by chefs that were a little more connected to the Food Network that I am. They’d use words like umami [a Japanese word for a savory flavor] and I had to go look it up. There was a common lexicon among the contestants about what these famous chefs I’ve never heard of are doing in their restaurants. I felt like an idiot stumbling around in the dark. That started to leak into my cooking and I began to question, “Is this sophisticated enough? Is this even sophisticated?” The episode this week was a turning point. I felt like for the first time I’m back in my own element.

You certainly have made an impression with your outfits. I don’t wear those hats at home, though I do wear an apron, just for practicality. But [the show] has started this storytelling legacy — people expect me to wear them when they come over. My mom made me the pumpkin hat and apron. Actually, she made me five or six pairs to wear. That’s why you always see a different one on me each episode. I was going through them.

Was wearing them part of a conscious effort to stand during the auditions? I am fairly myself, though I had to set myself apart that wasn’t just about food. I needed to be someone [the judges] remember when they go home at night. That’s why I talked about my rural upbringing, because I thought it would generate a memory.

Had you watched the show before? Did you know what to expect? I don’t watch much TV, but this is not my first time being on TV, which is ironic because I abhor reality television —it brings out the worst in our culture. But I did Rachael Ray’s So You Think You Can Cook in 2007. The audience there was much more caring and nurturing than the machine on MasterChef, but I was a little bit prepared for the frank judgment.

I did not watch the first season of MasterChef, but my friend Karen Rutherford said, “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t audition [for season 2].” So I watched them all on Hulu. I just sweated my way through them. I knew how intense and stressful it is to cook on TV, and saw how brutal Joe Bastianich and Gordon Ramsay were with the contestants. I thought: Screw this. Then a few weeks passed and the terror faded [and I went through the lengthy audition process]. It was a lot of work — the most difficult full-time job I’ve ever had that doesn’t pay.

What’s your favorite kind of cuisine? While my DNA wants to say Mexican food — I had it in the womb six times a week — I am most intrigued by Thai food. It is so complex, yet so much of it is cooked on the street in a tiny little cart. From the richest to the poorest, everybody eats on the street.

How about a favorite meal? One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was in Egypt on New Year’s Eve in 2001. I spent it on Mount Sinai and hiked eight miles back down to the car for the drive back to our resort. [The driver] fell asleep at the wheel and we plummeted into a canyon. Eventually a camel train of Bedouins came by the bottom of this canyon. They took us onto the camels and rode four or five miles to their camp. All the women came out, killed a goat and started cooking while the men tried to pull our car out of the canyon.

It was a humble meal — just a goat stew and some flat bread — but the flavors were really intense and felt they came right out of the desert. I could not even communicate with these people who live in abject poverty, but still they were willing to kill one of their last goats and throw a big feast for us because it’s in their nature to be hospitable. I realized it was important to me to use food to nurture people in my life — I could never be a chef and be in the back. I need to be with the people. My partner is one of the main reasons I cook — we’ve been together eight years and I want to marry him one day.

Did you plan to be “the gay guy” on the show? When I was on [Rachael Ray] it was not addressed and I didn’t talk about it openly. At that point my family didn’t know I was gay — in fact, I didn’t come out to my parents until about five weeks ago. They were totally shell-shocked — they didn’t have a clue.

Maybe mom should have guessed since she made you all those hats. Ha! Maybe.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Attention, design stars and master chefs: Get ready for your reality TV close-up this weekend

Gordon Ramsay

Dallas and reality TV have a big time date this weekend. Two shows are coming to town in search of their next big stars.

First, interior designers and decorators take note. HGTV’s Design Star is having an open casting call on Sunday. They are looking for “someone with a creative point of view, the ability to execute under pressure and a sparkling personality. All level of expertise are welcome — from professional designers and architects to at home ‘do-it yourselfers.’” If you have a portfolio,they recommend bringing it. Plus, a couple of photos of yourself. And if you do really well, then go on to win, be sure and grant us the first interview. The casting call will be held at Westin Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr. from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, go here.

Second, for the non-chef chef, Fox brings its nationwide search “for the best home cooks in America” to Dallas casting for the next season of Master Chef. If you make a mean mac-and-cheese from scratch, you have two options: call me for dinner or head to the casting all weekend. If you make the show, Gordon Ramsay, above, might make you cry, but if you win, then it’s all worth it. Just be prepared going in. The casting website says the following is required for open calls:

    • Your completed application• A current photo of yourself

    • A photo of your plated dish

    • Your one plated dish to impress us!

    • Please plan to be at the auditions all day. We suggest bringing snacks and water. Be comfortable and be yourself!

Got it? Good. The casting call happens at Le Cordon Bleu, 11830 Webb Chapel Road. Saturday from 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

And if you make both casting calls, then we just don’t like you for being so talented. But good luck anyway.

—  Rich Lopez

Did Chef Gordon Ramsay’s harsh criticism drive Oak Cliff’s Rachel Brown to suicide in 2007?

Rachel Brown

More than three years ago we published this short story about the apparent suicide of Rachel Brown, an Oak Cliff-based personal chef who’d been a contestant on the Fox reality show Hell’s Kitchen.

This Tuesday, we noticed that for some strange reason, our story about Brown’s death was experiencing a remarkable surge in online readership (with now more than 3,000 page views in the last two days). When we looked into it, we discovered that the main “entry source” for recent readers of the story is the Google search phrase, “Rachel Brown Hell’s Kitchen.” But why, we wondered, is everyone all of a sudden searching this? Well, for one thing the new season of Hell’s Kitchen began last week. But a much bigger factor has surely been this story from CBS News, prompted by the recent suicide of another cooking show contestant:

Joseph Cerniglia, 39, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., apparently leaped to his death yesterday from the George Washington Bridge, the New York Post reported. The owner of a restaurant in suburban New York, Cerniglia had appeared in 2007 on “Kitchen Nightmares,” a show that subjected struggling restaurateurs to harsh criticism from English foodie Gordon Ramsay.

In 2007, 41-year-old Rachel Brown reportedly shot herself to death after appearing on “Hell’s Kitchen,” another show that featured Ramsay.

Ramsay is famously tough on contestants.

“Your business is about to f – - king swim down the Hudson,” Ramsay told Cerniglia, the married father of three, according to the Daily Mail.

Does that kind of talk drive people to kill themselves?

Probably not, says the former president of the American Academy of Suicidology, Dr. Robert Yufit.

“My guess is that both of these people had major problems before appearing on the show,” Yufit told CBS News. “I would almost bet that the show itself should not be held responsible. I would say say that the show might have tripped off something else that was going on in their lives.

—  John Wright