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

WATCH: More video of LGBT advocates speaking at Dallas County Commissioners Court

In the video above are Annemarie St. John, Tori Van Fleet and Cece Cox. In the video below are Elizabeth Lopez, Patti Fink and Stephen Sprinkle. To watch the other six speakers, go here.

—  John Wright

Fahari’s lecture series brings in Kenyon Farrow tonight

Ushering in a new queer agenda
Kenyon Farrow is a man the LGBT community needs to get to know and the Fahari Arts Institute is doing just that with its (Queer)note Lecture Series. Farrow comes to speak to Dallas in the presentation Moving Toward a True Black Queer Liberation

DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 7 p.m. FahariArtsInstitute.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Weekly Best Bets

Saturday 04.16

No, the jacket won’t make you look fat
DIFFA’s back in a big way this weekend. The event promises to be off-the-charts fabulous, but we can’t wait to see the designer jean jackets. Pretty much our eyes are set on this cotton candy fur-sleeved one. Almost makes us want winter to come back quick. Oh, and we feel sorry for the person who bids against us. You’ve been warned.

DEETS: Hilton Anatole, 2201 Stemmons Freeway. 6 p.m. $300. DIFFADallas.org.

 

Sunday 04.17

Dog days are just beginning
You think you know what your dog thinks and says? You will when you head to the 5th Annual Dog Bowl. Sipping pools, dog games and the Cotton Bowl as the largest dog park for them to run around in will make them happy as clams. And give you some good karma in the doggie-verse.

DEETS: Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park. 1 p.m. Free. FairPark.org.

 

Thursday 04.21

Ushering in a new queer agenda
Kenyon Farrow is a man the LGBT community needs to get to know and the Fahari Arts Institute is doing just that with its (Queer)note Lecture Series. Farrow comes to speak to Dallas in the presentation Moving Toward a True Black Queer Liberation

DEETS: South Dallas Cultural Center, 3400 S. Fitzhugh Ave. 7 p.m. FahariArtsInstitute.org.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Maryland Senate kills gender identity bill; anti-gay hate crime at UNC

Quinn Matney was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime at the University of North Carolina.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. For a third straight week, LGBT advocates plan to speak during the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s meeting today and call on commissioners to add transgender employees to the county’s nondiscrimination policy. Last month, commissioners voted to add sexual orientation but not gender identity to the policy. The Commissioners Court meets at 9 a.m. in the County Administration Building, 411 Elm St.

2. The Maryland Senate on Monday voted to kill a measure that would have protected transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and credit — but not public accommodations. The vote marks the second major disappointment this year for LGBT advocates in Maryland, where the House thwarted a marriage equality bill last month.

3. A University of North Carolina freshman says he was attacked and severely burned in an anti-gay hate crime on the school’s campus last week. The UNC administration, which failed to notify students until a week after the attack occurred, now says it plans to report the incident as an anti-gay hate crime to the federal government.

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

CCGLA surveys candidates, sets meet-and-greet events

As municipal elections approach, the Collin County Gay & Lesbian Alliance has sent an online survey to city council, school board and mayoral candidates in Allen, Frisco, Plano and McKinney, and “meet-and-greet” sessions for candidates are planned in Frisco, Plano and McKinney in April.

The organization will also create and distribute a voters’ guide.

The Plano “meet-and-greet” will be held on Friday, April 8, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at a private residence. For more information, go online to CCGLA.org.

Results of CCGLA’s candidate surveys will be posted on the CCGLA website prior to each event. The events are informal, non-partisan, and all candidates are invited.

Oak Cliff Earth Day to feature vendors, info booths and more

Oak Cliff Earth Day, which has become the largest all-volunteer-run Earth Day since it started five years ago, will be held on Sunday, April 17, from noon to 5 p.m. at Lake Cliff Park, located at the intersection of Colorado Street and Zang Boulevard in Oak Cliff.

There is no charge to attend the event, which will include art, food, plants and other environmentally-friendly products available for purchase.

There will also be educational booths on topics such as how to save energy and clean up the environment, along with locally-grown honey, animals to adopt and native plants for gardens.

Parking at the park is limited, however, free parking is available at Methodist Hospital, in Lot 10 only, located at 1400 S. Beckley Ave. across from the hospital entrance on Beckley Ave. Methodist Hospital is providing a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the event.

Participants are also encouraged to take DART to the event or walk or ride a bicycle. There are a number of bike racks, funded by Oak Cliff Earth Day, at the park.

Mayoral candidates to speak Sunday on animal issues in Dallas

Dallas’ mayoral candidates will participate in a forum on animal issues in the city of Dallas on Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. at the Central Dallas Library, 1515 Young St., in downtown Dallas. The Metroplex Animal Coalition is sponsoring the forum, with is free and open to the public. Journalist Larry Powell with Urban Animal magazine will moderate.

The mayoral candidates are former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Councilman Ron Natinsky, real estate consultant Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and Dallas homeless czar.

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

—  John Wright

Sarah Palin to Give First Post-Shooting Interview to Sean Hannity, Will Speak at Gun Club Convention

Palin

Sarah Palin know where she's safe:

"An executive at Fox News Channel said that Ms. Palin would appear on the program of the conservative host Sean Hannity, and that the interview was scheduled to run through several commercial breaks. The announcement came on Thursday, another day when Ms. Palin was figuring prominently in the discussion surrounding the Tucson shooting rampage, for her video statement about the shootings that she released Wednesday morning to stinging reviews from liberals and even some Republicans.

Ms. Palin is a paid Fox contributor, but she has been laying low on the network in the wake of the shooting. Her agreement to sit for an interview comes as even some Republicans have urged her to put herself out there for questions amid the criticism she is facing."

And she'll also speak in front of a gun club later this month.

The poster up top is one that has popped up in San Francisco, by street artist Eddie Colla.


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Gay Vets Speak on DADT Repeal Victory

Today’s momentous victory would not have been possible without the help of veteran advocates from across the country.   They told their stories, contacted lawmakers and traveled the country to keep up the heat on repeal.

Today, after the president signed into law the historic bill that begins the process of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”  two veteran advocates who spent the past year working with HRC stopped by our offices to record a special thank you message:

SPANISH LANGUAGE VIDEO


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Women’s Soccer Coach, Players Speak Out

LISA HOWE X390 (BELMONTBRUINS.COM) | ADVOCATE.COMLisa Howe, the former women’s soccer coach at Belmont University, and members of the team discussed her departure after revealing that she is a lesbian.
Advocate.com: Daily News

—  admin

Virginia Veterans Speak Out for Repeal

The following is from HRC Field Organizer Sarah Showalter:

On Wednesday, Virginia veterans called on Senators Webb and Warner to vote in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at a community forum at the Five Points Community Farm Market in Norfolk. The forum followed the release of the Pentagon’s study, which shows that the majority of our military service members have no problem with gays and lesbians serving openly.

Veteran Gary Crouse shared his story of having to hide his identity during his time in the Navy.  “As a free society, asking someone to hide who they are is ridiculous.”  He said that repeal of the law will make the military stronger, by allowing LGB service members to concentrate on their jobs without worrying about being fired.  Fellow United States Navy veteran, David Crandall, spoke about his experience as a part of the human resources team that added 50 women to his crew. “The military has historically led the country on integration of minorities of race and gender. This is no different. It needs to be done now.” Speakers at the forum stressed that during combat situations they never cared about the sexual orientation of the person next to them.  They only cared that everyone knew how to do the job.  These stories from veterans, along with the positive results of the study, show that the time for repeal is now.

If you are a family member of a veteran or active duty service member from Virginia, please call Senator Webb’s office today at 202-224-4024 and ask him to put aside politics and pass the National Defense Authorization Act with language that repeals “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

To get involved in our DADT efforts in Virginia, please call Sarah Showalter at 804-283-5435 or email me at sarah.showalter@hrc.org. Time is short. We need your help.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin