The grand prize on ‘MasterChef,’ Fox’s culinary competition for amateur home cooks, is $250,000 and a cookbook deal. But for Yonkers investment director Christine Silverstein, the show’s greatest reward has been the opportunity to heal after tragedy.
We recently caught up with the creative cook — healthy Italian food is her specialty — as her ‘MasterChef’ journey unfolds Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Fox.
Q: Why did you decide to try out for ‘MasterChef?’
A: My ‘MasterChef’ journey is centered around dealing with my best friend Lauren Zaleski’s recent passing and embarking on a culinary journey to honor her. Her unexpected passing left me completely devastated. It shattered my world. I was struggling to get through it, and the pain was crippling. I knew that doing something to honor her would help me feel better.
One day, I came across Lauren’s last letter to me. In it, she reminded me to do something that scared me, because the most growth comes when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. And she lived these words. She lived her life so fully and fearlessly. When I saw the ‘MasterChef’ tryouts months later, I knew I found that “something.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that tryout would be the beginning of a remarkable journey, one that would feed my intense passion for cooking and help me find the inner strength needed to push through the pain and begin healing. I wasn’t just cooking to win, I was cooking to heal.
Q: Going from a viewer to a contestant on ‘MasterChef,’ was the experience just like you thought it would be or much different?
A: It was everything I expected it to be in terms of intensity and the competition. It was like culinary boot camp and though at times it was challenging, I welcomed the challenge. Working hard to cultivate an inner passion is one of the most rewarding experiences one can have.
Q: What are your thoughts on the judges? Is Gordon Ramsay as intimidating as he seems to be?
A: The judges are incredible. Naturally, I was nervous initially to be in the presence of such culinary super humans. They are each amazing in their own right and I think that brings a good dimension to the show and the guidance they provide us. Chef Ramsay has high standards and he wants you to meet them. Rising to the occasion can be scary, but as I know well, growth doesn’t come from staying comfortable.
Q: Is cooking something you would like to do professionally? Or would you like to keep your passion and your work life separate?
A: This experience has definitely given me the validation that one day my passion and career can meet and what an amazing day that will be!
Q: Do your family and friends in Yonkers watch and root for you every week?
A: I have a big Italian family in many areas of the New York Metro area. They are all very excited and tune in every Monday night.
Q: What are some of you favorite restaurants in the area?
Q: Now that’s a tough one because there are so many great ones and I’m always on the hunt for amazing food finds! But, Tarry Lodge (in Port Chester) is a go-to of mine. They have a guanciale egg pizza that is the perfect fix to a bad day.
Q: How would you describe your approach to cooking?
A: I’m definitely not a recipe-focused cook. I add ingredients as I go (a pinch here, a dash there) then taste and adjust. My cooking style is hearty, but healthy evolved Italian food.
Q: What’s your favorite dish to prepare and why?
A: So many come to mind. It depends on the season, but I love braising meats, particularly osso buco or veal shoulder, and making fresh pasta. There’s something about building flavors and slowly cooking something over the course of the entire day that is soothing to me. here is rarely any left over, but if there is, I use it to build the filling of fresh pasta. I don’t like to waste food, especially good food.
Follow Christine on Twitter at @MC5Christine and chat with her during Monday night’s episode, airing 8 p.m. on Fox.