Local talent Tommy Walton is moving in a whole new direction these days.
After teaching at the Art Institute in Chicago for years and becoming a leader in fashion, there is something fresh on his plate. He is now on the hit reality series Masterchef on Fox, starring Gordon Ramsay, Graham Eliot and new judge Christina Tosi. On the show there are many challenges as contestants compete for $250,000, their own cookbook and a Masterchef trophy.
Walton sat down with Nunn to talk about longtime partner Roger Price, his Creole roots and cooking on Masterchef.
Windy City Times: Hi, Tommy. Are you originally from Chicago?
Tommy Walton: Chicago is my home but I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. My family is from there and New Orleans. There are still many family members living in the South. When I was 12 years old, we moved to London. That is when I started my international life.
I have always considered Chicago as my home because we based our business here. I have been selling clothes in Chicago for the past 25 years. I was the first winner of the Marshall Field's Designer of Distinction Award. Recently I won the Fashion Next at the Chicago History Museum. I'm the only living designer in Chicago that was commissioned to do a collection for the Chicago History Museum. I am lifetime honorary member of the Costume Council. The last designer was Halston in 1968.
WCT: That's a huge honor!
TW: Isn't that cool? I have been waffling back and forth between fashion and food and TVedu-tainment," as I like to call it!
WCT: Have you always liked cooking?
TW: I was always interested in cooking because I came from a family of Creole women who were always at the stove. My grandmother was a homemaker and a midwife. We had a gigantic garden so my mother was always busy canning and preserving things. I grew up making apple butter. That was one of my first memories. There was always an element of cooking and being connected to the farm. That was just part of me.
As a child I would watch Sesame Street and right after that was Julia Child. I just watched it by default because it was on TV. I learned all of this stuff subliminally. When I was eight years old I made stuffed cabbage. That was my first dinner I made for my family. I've always been cooking.
WCT: What is your background?
TW: My family is Creole. My family speaks French. Most people in Chicago think I am Puerto Rican. My students think I am Korean because I am always making Korean food. I'm a Heinz 57. I belong to everybody!
WCT: You are 53 years old?
TW: I am and I was born in 1962, when sex was dirty and the air was still clean!
WCT: Did you land on Masterchef after an open casting call?
TW: They do have an open casting call where people can go to a cattle call, but I was cast differently. My husband Rogerwe have been together for 30 years so he is the one that actually gets to eat all of the cookingfilled out the form that was online. I had no idea that there was such a thing.
When Roger mentioned it, I thought I would never do it. I wouldn't leave my students at the Art Institute over something like that. My classes are booked two years in advance. Then I got home and had a telephone call from them [saying] they're coming to Chicago and [that I should] bring a dish. I gave it a shot. I made salmon three ways, with wild vegetables using fashionable colors. At the audition I was number 267 and, that day, I met the producers. They put me straight through. The next week I had a screen test. It was really fast for me.
WCT: How was the experience?
TW: It is truly a life-changing experience. Every day it can be a lot of work with social media. I could occupy myself about six hours a day just to keep up. I didn't have Twitter or Instagram before, and now it is an explosion of volcanic proportions! I have fans from all over the place. It is just a miracle.
WCT: Where do think this reality series will lead you now?
TW: I've always been interested in doing something artistic. I am multifaceted disco-ball kind of a person. Masterchef was my way of polishing that one side that I had already. I've been really successful in fashion and education. The Art Institute promotes interdisciplinary studies so it is a blending of things like sculpture, fashion and performance.
I want to do something that is not just a restaurant but I would like to be the host of a high-concept performance art/restaurant space, like a supper club or cabaret. I could be the master of ceremonies. It could evolve and change monthly; perhaps, one night there will be a guest chef like Graham Elliott or some of my Masterchef brothers and sisters. I just recently had some of the Masterchef Junior cast members come visit me, and they are unbelievable.
Children are really responding to me as fans so children's programming might be in the future. One of my little fans dresses like me and another uses my phrase, "I'm fierce, fabulous and 53!"
I would like to have my own show, where I am the gay Creole Martha Stewart mixing food, art, fashion and travel. That is what I am all about.
See what's cooking with Tommy Walton on Masterchef Wednesdays on Fox. Visit Tommy Walton's Caviar Club on Facebook for more.