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

Drawing Dallas

Newly HIV-positive, fashion student Trevail Anderson doesn’t let his status deter him from his dreams

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Name and age:  Trevail Anderson, 23

Spotted at:  Union Jack

Occupation:  Fashion design student

This gorgeous Gemini who originally hails from Shreveport, La., has made Dallas his home for the last three years. His Creole heritage is a gumbo of nationalities, including French, Caribbean and Dominican, all simmering together in one tall, sexy frame.

Always the fashion: Creatively blessed with a talent for fashion and design, he’s a senior at Wade College, and his skills have garnered him the 2011 Dallas Market Center’s Career Day competition grand prize. He takes the accolades in stride.He has interned with local designer Nicolas Villalba; Valentino is his fashion hero. Trevail plans to orchestrate and design his own line of women’s wear and read-to-wear fashions. Most recently, his designs appeared in the Urban Jungle fashion show held at Station 4.

Catwalk: With his exotic features and streamlined body, modeling is natural for Trevail, and he has been involved in numerous assignments. Cooking is another of his outlets, an interest instilled in him by his grandmother; Creole dishes, of course, are a favorite. He enjoys exploring the Farmer’s Market as well as his own garden.

Out and about: Trevail has always acknowledged his sexuality. “I came out straight out of the womb!” he jokes.

Favorite quote: “Work hard and play hard. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Flawless: This past April, Trevail commemorated his one year anniversary of being HIV-positive. He wants to set an example for those who are poz so they will not to let anything hinder them from making their dreams a reality. He describes himself as a diamond that has been cut by pain. We consider him flawless.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Trinity River Plays’ tonight at the Wyly

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

DEETS: The Trinity River Plays, Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Anti-gay Rep. Sally Kern: ‘What I think doesn’t matter. What the Bible says is what counts’

Anti-gay Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern and Democratic opponent Brittany Novotny, a transgender woman, appeared on KFOR’s Flash Point over the weekend (video above). Novotny says on her website she wanted to have a town hall forum where she and Kern could address issues of concern to House District 84 residents, but Kern wouldn’t agree to the format. So instead they went on Flash Point. The clip is worth watching in its entirety, but here’s a snippet:

HOST: Do you have a problem with Brittany’s lifestyle, somebody who’s transitioned from a man to a woman through surgical and medicinal means?

KERN: “Well that’s a great question and I have to answer it like this with another question. As Christians are we supposed to believe and obey the Bible?  The Bible says in Psalm 139, it says God created us, he formed us in our mother’s womb, and we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. And so what I think doesn’t matter. It’s what the Bible says is what counts, and that’s what I try to live my life by. But you know the Bible also says God loves every one one of us, has a purpose and a plan for every one of us, forgives each one of us if we come to him and humbly ask his forgiveness. I can’t judge anyone’s heart and have never tried to do that, although I’ve been accused of that. But you know, it’s not the norm, I’ll just say that.”

The race between Novotny and Kern was also featured in The New York Times over the weekend, in an article about transgender candidates across the country:

Not that gender issues have not been raised in some campaigns. In the Oklahoma House race, Ms. Novotny — who had a sex change operation in 2007 — shrugged off a recent e-mail from Charlie Meadows, the chairman of a conservative political action committee, which referred to her as an “it.”

“That’s just the typical politics I would expect out of that side,” she said. “And frankly it’s what voters are tired of.”

Read the full New York Times article by going here.

—  John Wright