Go with the flow

Trying yoga for the first time can be an intimidating experience. But that misses the point of this ancient practice that combines stretching, breath … and peace

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Yoga instructor Petri Brill strikes a pose at her studio YogaSport, which provides beginners’ classes for the uninitiated. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer

Some do it for their mind, some do it for their body, some do it for both. But all yoga students have one thing in common: Making the first step and taking up the practice. And while this age-old combination of stretching and breathing is meant to calm the mind and strengthen the muscles, a maiden voyage into a posterior-lifting position like downward-facing dog in a room full of strangers can send one’s heart racing. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

“People new to yoga should remember that everyone in class was a beginner at one point,” says Petri Brill, manager of YogaSport Dallas on Lemmon Avenue. “Yoga is a journey, not a destination. There is no perfect practice or perfect yogi or perfect yoga body. I think people worry about they’ll look [or] feel foolish in their first down-dog [and] that they’ll be judged. Our [yoga] community is diverse, encouraging and accepting: no judgment here!”

Mary Pierce Armstrong, who teaches at MarYoga, agrees that you should always look inward. “Yoga will come to meet you no matter where you are starting from. As long as you take the breath and the breaks you need, you will be doing awesome.”

For Wendy Moore, a 44-year-old yoga newbie, has taken these words of wisdom to the mat — literally. Moore recently completed her second MarYoga class as part of her new year regime. Any inhibitions she had about the experience were dispelled during her first visit.

“[I was] concerned about my general lack of bendy-ness, and not knowing where to put what arm and leg,” she says, “but if you look around you will figure out where your limbs are supposed to be by what others are doing.” Moore has continued to work on poses between classes with some slight variations mimicked by “what her cats are able to do.”

Keith Murray, a 37-year-old registered nurse, tried yoga for the first time more than eight years ago and was immediately hooked. He was taking classes three times a week before long. “I was a little intimidated about the whole thing at first,” he says, “but after my first couple of sessions my intimidation grew into excitement.”

A busy work schedule has kept Murray from his regular routine over the years, but he is trying to change that. “I still maintain a crazy life and work routine, but building yoga back into my life has really helped me to find balance again.”

According to yoga teacher Jennifer Lawson of SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing, it’s not just busy schedules and bundled nerves that keep people from the practice of yoga; it’s also our cultural fixation on success. “There tends to be so much emphasis on achievement and perfection that many of us are becoming accustomed to playing it safe in order to avoid the possibility of shame.”

Lawson recommends coming together as a group in a class with experienced and inexperienced yogis to create an environment that emphasizes the experience and process of yoga and not the destination or end result.

For Anisha Mandol, a 42-year-old business development manager who has been practicing yoga for about two years, these words ring true. “Once you understand your expectation from practicing, no one else’s matters. The benefits of yoga are fluid and dynamic, and each person has their own unique experience. Own yours,” she says.

And so it would seem that just as the journey of a million miles begins with one step, the journey toward a yoga-filled life begins with a single stretch on the matt (and maybe a little Namaste for good measure).

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SAY NAMASTE: WHERE TO GET YOUR YOGA FIX

Options are plentiful for the budding yogi looking for a class. Get your stretch on at these studios in and around the gayborhood. You can also find information on their class offerings and schedules on their websites.

Yoga Sport Dallas
4140 Lemmon Ave, Suite 280
214-520-YOGA
YogaSportDallas.com

SYNC Yoga & Wellbeing
611 N. Bishop Ave.
214-843-3372
SyncDallas.com

MarYoga at Chi Studio
807 Fletcher St.
ChiDallas.com

Sunstone Yoga
2907 Routh St. (and other locations)
214-764-2119
SunstoneYoga.com

Gaia Flow Yoga Uptown
3000 Blackburn St., Suite 140B
214-235-1153
GaiaFlowYoga.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

The good, the bad & the ‘A-List’

These arts, cultural & sports stories defined gay Dallas in 2011

FASHIONS AND FORWARD  |  The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA, above, was a highlight of the arts scene in 2011, while Dirk Nowitzki’s performance in the NBA playoffs gave the Mavs their first-ever — and much deserved — world title. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

FASHIONS AND FORWARD | The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA, above, was a highlight of the arts scene in 2011, while Dirk Nowitzki’s performance in the NBA playoffs gave the Mavs their first-ever — and much deserved — world title. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

A lot of eyes were focused on Dallas nationally in 2011 — for good and bad — but much of what made the city a fun place last year has specific queer appeal. CULTURE The rise of the reality TV star. 2011 was the year Dallas made a big splash across everyone’s television sets — and it had nothing to do with who shot J.R. (although that’s pending). From the culinary to the conniving, queer Dallasites were big on the small screen. On the positive side were generally good portrayals of gay Texans. Leslie Ezelle almost made it all the way in The Next Design Star, while The Cake Guys’ Chad Fitzgerald is still in contention on TLC’s The Next Great Baker. Lewisville’s Ben Starr was a standout on MasterChef. On the web, Andy Stark, Debbie Forth and Brent Paxton made strides with Internet shows Bear It All, LezBeProud and The Dallas Life,respectively.

‘A’ to Z  |  ‘The A-LIst: Dallas,’ above, had its detractors, but some reality TV stars from Big D, like Chad Fitzgerald, Leslie Ezelle and Ben Starr, represented us well.

‘A’ to Z | ‘The A-LIst: Dallas,’ above, had its detractors, but some reality TV stars from Big D, like Chad Fitzgerald, Leslie Ezelle and Ben Starr, represented us well.

There were downsides, though. Drew Ginsburg served as the token gay on Bravo’s teeth-clenching Most Eligible: Dallas, and the women on Big Rich Texas seemed a bit clichéd. But none were more polarizing than the cast of Logo’s The A-List: Dallas. Whether people loved or hated it, the six 20somethings (five gays, one girl) reflected stereotypes that made people cringe. Gaultier makes Dallas his runway. The Dallas Museum of Art scored a coup, thanks to couture. The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk not only featured the work of the famed designer, but was presented the designs in an innovative manner. Nothing about it was stuffy. Seeing his iconic designs in person is almost a religious experience — especially when its Madonna’s cone bra. Gaultier reminded us that art is more than paintings on a wall. (A close runner-up: The Caravaggio exhibit in Fort Worth.) The Return of Razzle Dazzle. ­­There was speculation whether Razzle Dazzle could actually renew itself after a near-decade lull, but the five-day spectacular was a hallmark during National Pride Month in June, organized by the Cedar Springs Merchant Association. The event started slowly with the wine walk but ramped up to the main event street party headlined by rapper Cazwell. Folding in the MetroBall with Deborah Cox, the dazzle had returned with high-profile entertainment and more than 10,000 in attendance on the final night. A Gathering pulled it together. TITAS executive director Charles Santos took on the daunting task of producing A Gathering, a collective of area performance arts companies, commemorating 30 years of AIDS. Groups such as the Dallas Opera, Turtle Creek Chorale and Dallas Theater Center donated their time for this one-of-a-kind show with all proceeds benefiting Dallas’ leading AIDS services organizations. And it was worth it. A stirring night of song, dance and art culminated in an approximate 1,000 in attendance and $60,000 raised for local charities. Bravo, indeed. The Bronx closed after 35 years. Cedar Springs isn’t short on its institutions, but when it lost The Bronx, the gayborhood felt a real loss. For more than three decades, the restaurant was home to many Sunday brunches and date nights in the community. We were introduced to Stephan Pyles there, and ultimately, we just always figured on it being there as part of the fabric of the Strip. A sister company to the neighboring Warwick Melrose bought the property with rumors of expansion. But as yet, the restaurant stands steadfast in its place as a reminder of all those memories that happened within its walls and on its plates.  The Omni changed the Dallas skyline. In November, The Omni Dallas hotel opened the doors to its 23-story structure and waited to fill it’s 1,000 rooms to Dallas visitors and staycationers. Connected to the Dallas Convention Center, the ultra-modern hotel is expected to increase the city’s convention business which has the Dallas Visitors and Conventions Bureau salivating — as they should. The hotel brought modern flair to a booming Downtown and inside was no different. With quality eateries and a healthy collection of art, including some by gay artists Cathey Miller and Ted Kincaid, the Omni quickly became a go-to spot for those even from Dallas. SPORTS The Super Bowl came to town. Although seeing the Cowboys make Super Bowl XLV would have been nice for locals, the event itself caused a major stir, both good and bad. Ticketing issues caused a commotion with some disgruntled buyers and Jerry Jones got a bad rap for some disorganization surrounding the game. But the world’s eyes were on North Texas as not only the game was of a galactic measure, but the celebs were too. From Kardashians to Ke$ha to Kevin Costner, parties and concerts flooded the city and the streets. The gays even got in on the action. Despite crummy weather, the Super Street Party was billed as the “world’s first ever gay Super Bowl party.” The ice and snow had cleared out and the gays came out, (and went back in to the warmer clubs) to get their football on. The XLV Party at the Cotton Bowl included a misguided gay night with acts such as Village People, Lady Bunny and Cazwell that was ultimately canceled. The Mavericks won big. The Mavs are like the boyfriend you can’t let go of because you see how much potential there is despite his shortcomings. After making the playoffs with some just-misses, the team pulled through to win against championship rivals, Miami Heat, who beat them in 2006. In June, the team cooled the Heat in six games, taking home its first NBA Championship, with Dirk Nowitzki appropriately being named MVP. The Rangers gave us faith. Pro sports ruled big in these parts. The Mavericks got us in the mood for championships and the Texas Rangers almost pulled off a victory in the World Series. With a strong and consistent showing for the season, the Rangers went on to defend their AL West Division pennant. Hopes were high as they handily defeated the Detroit Tigers in game six, but lost the in the seventh game. Although it was a crushing loss, the Texas Rangers proved why we need to stand by our men.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

For the 4th time in 2 months, a pedestrian was struck last week on the Cedar Springs strip

A 72-year-old pedestrian was struck in the crosswalk on Cedar Springs Road at Knight Street at about 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 22. He was taken to Parkland Hospital and released on Christmas Day.

Lyle Bainbridge said he was crossing the street in the crosswalk and vehicles had stopped in both directions, when a motorist sped around the stopped vehicles and hit him.

He said he was thrown and his head landed in the gutter just inches from the car that hit him.

The driver of that vehicle stopped and told Bainbridge that he was delivering pizzas and was on his cell phone talking to the owner of his store. Bainbridge said the man was apologetic and in tears when he got out of his car.

Bainbridge has a broken collar bone. Doctors detected heart defibrillation problems that may have been a result of the accident. He said he had not been diagnosed previously with heart problems.

Bainbridge, who is from California, is in Dallas for the holidays house-sitting for a friend.

This is the fourth time a pedestrian has been hit on Cedar Springs Road in two months and the third time near this same location.

On Nov. 25, Edward Lee King, 61, was struck by a driver and killed crossing Cedar Springs Knight Street. Wayne Priest, 55, was killed by a hit-and-run driver near Cedar Springs and Reagan Street on Nov. 3.

A 10-year-old girl was hit on Dec. 10 near Knight Street. Her injuries were not life-threatening.

After the earlier accidents, Councilwoman Angela Hunt asked city staff to looks at ways to make the area safer for pedestrians.

Bainbridge said he wanted to call awareness to his accident to push the city to take action. He said that there should be stop signs at the intersection if not traffic lights.

“It takes something drastic happening before they’ll do something,” he said.

When he learned about the previous accidents at the intersection, he said he wondered how many more people will be hit before the city makes safety in this area a priority.

It was unclear whether the driver who hit Bainbridge received a citation. Sr. Cpl. Melinda Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Dallas Police Department, said an accident report was not yet available.

—  David Taffet

SEX… in a fashion

The DMA’s exhibit on the fashions of Jean Paul Gaultier exudes sex appeal with a big dose of flamboyance

Fashion-1

DRESSED TO KILL IT | Gay fashion pioneer Jean Paul Gaultier oversees his own exhibit (Below) as an Animatronic mannequin, a fascinating technology that only accentuates the brilliance of the designs. (Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

 

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

For a man best known for creating the Valkyrie-like conical breastplate that shot Madonna into the pop culture stratosphere, Jean Paul Gaultier is a surprisingly humble person. While he’s clearly delighted to have his fashions on display — as they are at the Dallas Museum of Art in the traveling exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, which runs through February — he makes one thing plain: He does not consider fashion “art.”

“My work is not art,” he says flatly. “My job is to make clothes that have to be worn. My role is not to create in the abstract but to be inspired by the needs and desires of the people. So I am in service to that. Art is art — it is a personal vision of the artist.” He pauses, then adds with a smile, “My collections are my babies, though.”

While the designer himself may not consider his work product “art” in an academic sense, there are probably few who would agree with him. More so than most fashion designers, Jean Paul Gaultier’s style is instantly recognizable, even without seeing the label.

He almost single-handedly moved the bustier from the boudoir to the arena stage, cladding Madonna in a corset for her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, immediately making legends of them both.

It’s not just brassieres, but lace bodysuits, silk leotards, men in skirts — Gaultier takes fashion rules and sets them on their heads, turning out wearable art (there, we said it) that is both old-fashioned, even classical, and futuristic — but always oozing sex.

“My love for fashion belongs to the fact I saw a movie from the 1940s when I was 12,” he says. “In the movie, they did a beautiful description of couture.” (Now, when he works with a film director — as he did recently with Pedro Almodovar on The Skin I Live In, or Luc Besson on several films — “it is like I return to that [moment]”.)

But really, the germ of his style was started by what a pre-teen Jean Paul found in his grandmother’s wardrobe.

“I was fascinated by the whole world of my grandmother’s closet — it was beautiful and different,” he says. “It was underwear that could be worn as outerwear. I stole my ideas from her.”

Though not just her. Gaultier was inspired by television, by old movies, by showgirls — anything that offered a view of beauty he could re-imagine on the runway.

“My definition of beauty — there’s not one type. Beauty is beauty — you can find it in different places,” he says.

It’s a keystone not only of his design style, but of the DMA’s astonishingly exciting exhibit. (Anyone who doesn’t think a Gaultier gown deserves formal museum treatment obviously hasn’t seen the show.) In just a handful of rooms, we move from camp to punk — with many, many visits to edgy haute couture.

In the first gallery, visitors are introduced to Gaultier himself, talking about his fashions via a quasi-Animatronic mannequin that captures his actual face and voice, projected with unnerving authenticity. That happens with a lot of the mannequins, some of whom seem to look back, even judge you. (One Mohawk’d man in tights and a codpiece seemed to be flirting with me; I bet he does that with all the boys.) Lanky sailor boys in striped Apaché T-shirts look as if they leaped from a Tom of Finland drawing; that cone bra is also unmistakable.

Walk further, and the second room oozes the dark romance of a bordello, approximating (with its window-like display cases) the red-light district of Amsterdam. “I think when you exit this room, they should give you a cigarette,” I told another patron. She didn’t disagree.

Another room shows the movement of the pieces, sort of, with a moving catwalk that is like a time machine of Gaultier runway fashions, including representative designs from his famous Men in Skirts that took MOMA by storm some years ago. That’s only the most obvious example of the genderbending that is a Gaultier hallmark — and a central theme of the sexual forthrightness of the DMA’s exhibit.

“Androgyny is part of the thing that interests me,” he says, “that moment when the young can pass to adolescence [and] their beauty is between feminine and masculine at the same time. I use it to show in reality how [both sexes] can assume [the identity of the other sex]. In Scotland, you will see me in kilts and they are very masculine — it’s not feminine to wear a skirt [in that context].”

That, Gaultier says, is the essence of freedom, showing that “men can cry just as well as women can fight.”

And this exhibit shows that a designer can be an artist with a bold sense of sex — even if he doesn’t think so.

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

Visit DallasVoice. com/ category/ Photos to see more of the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the DMA.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

GLBT Broadway pre-show chat at ‘Hair’ tonight

‘Hair’ raising experience

How gay is the musical Hair? Find out at this special performance as the Lexus Broadway series presents GLBT Broadway in Hamon Hall. The pre-show event features Dallas Voice LifeStyle Editor Arnold Wayne Jones discussing issues of gender identity and sexuality within the counterculture musical.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7 p.m.  $30–$150. ATTPAC.org.

—  Rich Lopez

‘Tempest:’ You, us

Kevin Moriarty is a director who embraces the full spectacle of Shakespeare, and while you can disagree with his decisions sometimes, you have to respect his commitment. He likes elements we might consider by-products of the Elizabethan Age, its Hey-Nonny-Nonnyisms: Interludes of courtly ballets and minstrel-strummed songs, arresting, fourth-wall-violating asides to the audience, expository speechifying — everything Chekhov and Ibsen and a host of others steered away from.

But he’s also a director who appreciates contemporary stagecraft: Reconfiguring the structure of plays, emphasizing the astonishing pageantry of an evening at the theater — sometimes taking us out of the play, but often with grandeur. The balance isn’t always an easy one, but it can take your breath away.

There are several such gasp-inducing moments in his staging of The Tempest, starting with the opening scene, set on an airplane instead of a boat. As the wizard Prospero (Chamblee Ferguson, pictured left), like Desmond from Lost, rips the jet from the sky, the stage instantly transforms into a barren wasteland, as stark and beautiful as any set the Dallas Theater Center has ever produced. There are trap doors and bits of magic and flying fairies. It will make you say, “Wow.”

But there are also the many edits. Yes, some of the talkiness is removed, but also some of the scope. And keeping it without an intermission leaves one’s butt castigated by those Wyly seats for nearly two hours.

This Tempest feels more like a series of vignettes than a single story: The comic relief, the sappy romance, the political intrigue, the long-stewing recriminations, bracketed by Ferguson’s Ahab-like Prospero. At first, he’s a vengeful terrorist and hypocritical zookeeper, enslaving his island’s native fauna, the ethereal Ariel (lithe, white-eyed Hunter Ryan Herdicka, pictured right) and its Orc-ish Caliban (Joe Nemmers, delivering us Quasimodo of the mud with poignancy and humor). Then Prospero changes gears, softening and showing mercy, moved by his daughter Miranda’s love for his enemy’s son.

The Tempest is problematic Shakespeare, neither comedy nor history nor classically tragic, but a romance with obscure motivations (how quickly Prospero’s mind is changed by Miranda’s capricious libido, when her suffering for two decades went unnoticed) made more obscure in this version — Prospero seems more like ringmaster than protagonist. Ah, well: The Bard was a better poet than playwright, so let’s give credit to Moriarty for taking this Tempest out of the teapot.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Wyly Theatre, 2401 Flora St. Through Oct. 9. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Son of a beach

A family vacation proves unexpectedly gay as Myrtle Beach, S.C., gets Pride

RAINBOW TOUR | Nearly 200 beachcombers — including the author (dark green, just right of center) — stepped away from the surf and gathered in a field to form a human rainbow flag.

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

The trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., had more to do with a family reunion than finding a good destination for gay travelers. After all, Myrtle Beach is a pretty lazy, conservative town in the perennial Red State, one where teenaged spring breakers and families gather to enjoy the warm surf and the resort-town appeal of seafood and beachcombing and overpriced cocktails. Queer travelers can hit one of the three gay bars, all within blocks of each other — Club Traxx, Time Out! and the Rainbow House (a lesbian club).

But the weekend I arrived , just by coincidence, it turned out to be Gay Pride.

Keep in mind, the gay community in Myrtle Beach is small, so “Gay Days,” plural, felt more like Gay Day, singular: One major event and then life as usual in Coastal Carolina.

The major event, though, was an ambitious one: Gathering members of the LGBT community and their allies to form a “human rainbow flag:” People signed up to wear a pastel-colored T-shirt and arrange themselves in the traditional configuration. A few others wore black, forming the flagpole.

The entire event was threatened by showers late Friday and early Saturday, but despite a slightly muddy field, nearly 200 people turned out, huddled closely on a muggy afternoon, while a photographer flew above in a helicopter.

Numbers weren’t uniform; there were too many reds and too few purples; but the effect was one of a flag waving in the breeze.

In order to do the shoot, members faced each other before bending forward to allow the broad field of their shirts to form the colors. Directly across from me stood Elke Kennedy, a resident of Greenville in the Upstate. Elke and her husband established SeansLastWish.org, raising awareness of anti-gay violence, after their gay son was beaten to death and his killer spent less than a year in jail.

Elke spoke at a rally following the photoshoot, and dozens in attendance listened to her recount her  son’s harrowing attack and death before two drag queens performed and a DJ spun dance hits. People started to file out after a while, off to the beach, or the clubs, or even the boardwalk, where the Texas Star-like Skywheel gives great views of the beach … and sits next door to the campily named souvenir shop the Gay Dolphin.

The latter was always may favorite place when I was growing up; you’d think my parents would have caught on sooner.

Click here for additional photos.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Applause: Broadgay at Winspear

Lexus series adds queer event to upcoming season of musicals

What’s gay about ‘Jersey Boys’? The GLBT Broadway subscriber series at the Winspear will tell you.

The Lexus Broadway Series offers a muscular lineup of shows that feature classic stories and contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. But they go one step further in the 2011-12 season with the stage equivalent of special edition DVDs, featuring enhanced performances and pre-show engagements for subscribers — including its gay patrons.

Dallas Voice Life+Style Editor Arnold Wayne Jones will host a conversation every second-week Tuesday about 45 minutes before each show. The series, called GLBT Broadway, will highlight the appeal for queer audiences for the shows in the series. The discussion will touch on issues of gender identity and sexuality in regards to the show and the teams behind them. Some — such as the season lead-off, Hair — might be easier to analyze from a gay perspective than, say, Jersey Boys, but that’s part of the fun of the series.

The season starts with Hair, which won the Tony in 2009 for best musical revival. Youth in 1960s America are all about peace, love and understanding — including nudity and homosexuality — in this iconic musical. Sept. 20–Oct. 2.

The epic Les Miserables follows with a new 25th anniversary production. Dec. 20–Jan. 1.

Best musical Tony winner In the Heights details the immigrant experience as characters find a new life in their new country. March 13–25.

Alt-rockers Green Day went Broadway with American Idiot, touted as a mashup of a rock concert and staged musical. May 8–20.

The season concludes with Jersey Boys and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Classic hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” tell the tale of this well-accomplished music group from the ‘50s. June 12–July 15.

Other subscriber series include Broadway University, hosted by SMU theater professor Kevin Hofeditz which will explore themes of the show and its place in theater history (every second Saturday matinee) and Broadway Uncorked (every second-week Wednesday), where an expert sommelier will host a wine tasting based on the show. We wonder what American Idiot’s wine will be.

— Rich Lopez

For more information on the Lexus Broadway Series and its enhanced performances, visit ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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.

…………………….

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