A year for the history books.

At least my history book ;-).

Some notable things that happened this year, many of which you may be familiar with already. But it’s a good reminded for me to see just how much this past year changed me as a person with all the shenanigans it threw at me.

  1. I withdrew from Texas A&M just a few days before classes started (people were already moving in!). It was one of the scariest moments of my life. I had spent virtually my whole life preparing for a path that I was now going to deviate from. At this point I hadn’t been officially cast for the top 100 yet. What if I didn’t make it? What was I going to do then? Granted, I had the option of returning to the university in the fall, but still, the thought of potentially wasting a semester of time when I had just finished the previous semester on a high note scared me. It was the first of many big decisions that I would have to make where I had to weigh the numerous pros and intimidating cons very carefully.
  2. I came to terms with my sexuality. I started coming out to close friends in 2011, and throughout the fall semester there was a lot of soul searching and conversations with God about my sexuality and how I should handle it. In the end, I felt like God was blessing me to embrace all parts of my identity, including my sexuality, and by the beginning of 2012, I was comfortable enough to identify myself as “gay”, even though I was still only “out” to a few close friends.
  3. I took a memorable road trip with the one and only Ben Starr to Atlanta, GA for a psych evaluation and more interviews related to the casting process. Before you ask, yes that was the closest location to Austin that they had for this MANDATORY test/interview.  Tanya (one of the top 18, @MC3Tanya on both FB and Twitter) was originally supposed to join us, but made plans to fly to San Francisco at the last minute to visit some friends along the way. We shared our life stories, he helped calm my nerves, we ate chicken and waffles twice, stayed in a charming boutique hotel, finished my test/interview in an hour (the drive was almost 30 hours roundtrip, btw), stopped in Baton Rouge for a Cajun FEAST with Cory, one of his good friends, dropped me off back home in Austin, and thus, an amazing friendship was formed.
  4. I basically hid from my friends for a semester. Not wanting to spark any suspicious questions about what I was doing in Austin when I was supposed to be in College Station, I stayed home for the most part. Even going to the grocery store was nerve racking, so I either went during school hours or on the weekends. That way, if I was spotted at least I could give the “oh I’m home for the weekend” excuse.
  5. I got cast for MasterChef! When the call finally came from the casting team, I was so elated, even though I had been borderline EXPECTING it at this point. It was probably due to the fact that part of me refused to believe that I had jumped through all these hoops and withdrawn from school for nothing. Soon my flight and hotel info was emailed to me, I started packing, and steeled myself for #6.
  6. I came out to my parents. At that point, I had already become quite comfortable stating the fact that I was gay to people that I felt should hear it. The number of people that I was “out” to was nearing a dozen. Believe it or not, I didn’t go onto MasterChef with the explicit intention of talking about my sexuality, but I knew that it was something that would POTENTIALLY be discussed. I wanted to clear the air first with my parents just so I wouldn’t feel compelled to hide who I was if it was relevant. It just didn’t seem right for some story producers working for a TV show to know about my sexuality before my own parents did, even though I knew they weren’t going to take it well. So as we left the house that morning with my luggage in tow, I demanded to drive (since I had no idea what to expect…just in case), and on the way to the airport spilled the beans. Without going into detail, my dad’s response was about what I expected it to be. Nothing crazy, but most definitely not the outpouring of support I was hoping for.
  7. I participated in Season 3 of MasterChef, and made it to the top 16. Crazy things happened. The judges LOVED my dumplings. I came out to them on camera, and therefore to the world. I cried on national tv TWICE. I cooked for 200 marines, almost got flattened by a helicopter, and put cheese on an apple pie (I still stand by the idea, just not the execution :P). I met some of the most amazing people in the world who, far from being your typical backstabbing reality TV contestants, gave me the love and support I needed during this particularly tumultuous time in my life. I still remember Tanya standing up for me when a contestant that shall not be named made some homophobic remarks. I remember letting Felix giving me a lap dance and just giggling like mad at the looks on the other contestants’ faces. And one of the most heartwarming memories was having Christine pull me to the side after she heard my full story, and telling me “Hey, I live in Houston. If it gets bad at home with your parents or whatever, you can ALWAYS come crash at my place.” It was a mere 5 days earlier that we had exchanged our first words to each other. Without this kind of love and support from my MasterChef family, I would not be the person I am today.
  8. I started my journey in the culinary industry. After getting eliminated from MasterChef and recovering emotionally/moping at home for a few days, I started working in kitchens, starting out in a food truck owned by one of Tanya’s friends, then eventually staging at Barley Swine and Uchiko, working as a station cook at the Intel campus in South Austin, and finally as the a chef in a small Canadian restaurant. My growth has been immense, and I’m excited about what the future holds, though I know I still have a long way to go before achieving my ultimate dream of opening my own restaurant. You are all invited to the opening night when that happens ;-)
  9. I came out publicly, FINALLY, on May 9th, via Facebook. I coincided this post with the press release of the top 100 contestants, so to my friends it was a bit of a double whammy. The outpouring of love and support I got, both from new friends and from people I haven’t talked to in years, still warms my heart when I read it to this day.
  10. I moved out of my parents’ home and rented my own living space, effectively becoming financially independent, for the first time. Thanks Eddie! It provided a much needed respite from the constant tension between my parents and I.
  11. I bought my own car for the first time. As a “moving out of the house” gift, my parents helped pay for a big chunk of the first car I had titled to my name, a 2002 Honda Civic EX Coupe. The best part about it? Averaging 34 MPG combined city and highway driving!
  12. sold my car and my motorcycle (a 2003 Kawasaki Ninja 250) to prepare for my move to Canada, dealing with flaky buyers and navigating the roads of Craigslist with relative success.
  13. Had quite a few travel adventures, including jetting up to Boston to visit Anna and AJ, as well as taking two trips to Canada (one to scope out the place first and one to settle there for a few months). Spent the night in an airport for the first time (one of the worst nights ever, especially without reliable wi-fi). Met up for dinner with some “fans” for the first time, first with Kevin in LA and Greg in NY (Thanks guys!!).  Flew first class TWICE, once on a short Boston-JFK flight and another much longer flight from LAX-JFK. The difference is like eating at a Michelin starred restaurant vs McDonalds. How am I ever going to go back to flying coach :(. Haha, I kid.
  14. Spent two whole months in a foreign country for the first time! Befor you all go like “It’s Canada, they speak English, it’s not that bad.” Well, it is! Quebec the province is basically it’s own country, and especially in the small towns like the one I’m staying in, the VAST majority of the people are francophones. My social life has been virtually nonexistent thanks to the massive language barrier. My french is getting better, but it’s nowhere near “fluent” yet.
  15. Spent the holidays away from home for the first time.

Throughout this year, I’ve been through some really intense highs and really low lows. Socially it’s actually been quite tough, and I’ve grown distant with a lot of people I used to be buddies with, due to a) me being a hermit for a semester, b) people seeing me as a “celebrity” and being unapproachable, and c) discomfort with my sudden openness about my sexuality. Here’s hoping that in 2013, I will continue to grow both as a person and as a chef, to be able to show abounding love and grace to EVERYBODY, even those who hurt me, and for me to make lots of new friends while keeping in tough with the old. Oh, and hopefully find a boyfriend too ;-).



About Michael Chen

A contestant on season 3 of FOX's MasterChef! Tune in on June 4 and 5 at 9/8c to watch me compete in the top 100 home cooks in America!
This entry was posted in Austin, Fans, Jobs, MasterChef, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A year for the history books.

  1. Gregory Wright says:

    You’ll never forget this past year. It may well be your favorite year. For anyone who hasn’t met Michael, if he seems like a great guy from his posts, it’s because he really is. And he’s taller than you might think…

    • Michael Chen says:

      Haha I’m TALLER than you might think? Interesting…Thanks Greg! :)

      • Gregory Wright says:

        I had it in my head that you were shorter for some reason. Maybe you were hunched on TV or they shot you from above. Of course, I always thought Gordon Ramsey was shorter than me which he’s not, so what do I know?

  2. Anonymous says:

    A beautiful perspective on a year that you’ll look back on as one of the best and most important of your whole life, even if you’re unsure of that right now! It’s an honor to be your friend and be on your list of life events for this past year. I miss you!

  3. Jocelyn Lam says:

    You have some awesome stories that you should be proud of and use them as reminders if life gets crazy! I love cooking, and it’s been fun seeing what you and the other masterchef contenstants have been doing with it. Can’t wait to see what you’ll achieve next, keep us up to date!

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