Food enthusiasts, set your DVRs to watch the new season of MasterChef on FOX Chicago. Chicago resident Kevin Tindellwho is openly gayis one of the newest contestants vying for Season Four's grand prize of $250,000 in the popular culinary television competition series that airs every Wednesday this summer.
Tindell made his first appearance on the May 22 episode as a hopeful and convinced "MasterChef" judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot to advance him to the next round's top 40 contestants. On this week's episode, Tindell cemented his position as one of the season's final 40 and vying to make the next cut on the May 29 show..
Tindell says he first dreamed of being a "master chef" while watching the show's first three seasons. The $250,000 cash prize would underwrite his dream of being a career changer and turning his culinary skills into event design. "I'd like to start an event planning business where food is the key," Tindell told the Windy City Times. "Food has to be the star. There may be decor and other elements that make an event, but it is really the food that brings people together."
The 52-year-old Chicagoan wears many hats in his daily activities. In addition to his newfound fame as a MasterChef contender, Tindell is an ordained pastor, social-justice activist, marriage-equality advocate and a married father of three. Tindell has been partnered to Assistant State's Attorney William Hall since 1996. They legally married July 4, 2010, in front of more than 1 million revelers on a float during the Toronto Pride Parade. Tindell and Hall are proud parents to three sonsCarter, Christian and Camranand four puppies. They live in University Village on the city's Near West Side.
Life as a family man inspires Tindell to be a "family-style" chef. "I like to cook and my family loves my cooking," he explained. "I enjoy cooking family-style meals for events such as graduations, celebrations and family game nights. Ultimately, I want to be the go-to family cook in Chicago."
Tindell also serves as the associate pastor and leader of the social justice ministries of the LGBT-affirming New Dimensions Chicago Church on the city's West Side under the guidance of Bishop Carlton Pearson, D.D. Pearson was the subject of a 2007 CNN story that reported the backlash he faced from members of his former Tulsa, OK megachurch as he changed his teachings to include acceptance of LGBT people.
Christian fundamentalists later criticized Pearson's appearance on CNN in 2010 to discuss Bishop Eddie Long, the Tulsa-area anti-gay televangelist accused of luring five young men into sexual relationships. "Homosexuals and homosexuality is not going away," said Pearson on CNN. "If every gay person in our church just left or those who have an orientation or preference or an inclination, or a fantasy … we wouldn't have a church." Pearson later relocated to Chicago.
"The [producers] found an angle for me as a pastor: I am taking care of my family and caring for the flock I serve [at church] with my cooking. I am always concerned about the welfare of others. My cooking speaks to that," Tindell reflected.
Tindell said that his August 2012 MasterChef audition in downtown Chicago was done "on a whim." Tindell said he arrived early at 6 a.m. to the casting call to get noticed. He prepared crawfish and corn chowder at the call. The dish pleased the producers and Chicago culinary tastemakers, and won him a spot to the televised audition to win over judges Ramsay, Bastianich and Elliot.
In his unaired audition to impress Ramsay and company, Tindell prepared catfish stew over creamy grits. The Chicago chef chose that dish to represent his preference of "East Coast-meets-Southern" cuisine specialty. "I like to twist my dishes around, such as doing catfish or tilapia over grits or black-eyed pea cakes instead of salmon cakes," said Tindell. "I love spicenot hot but savory. I use a lot of cumin, paprika, garlic powder and onions to bring out the flavor in the foods that I make."
"All the judges loved my flavoring," said Tindell on the judges' critiques of his dish. "They said the catfish was cooked perfectly and the broth was wonderful. The presentation was family-style. It wasn't restaurant quality, per se, but the flavors were exceptional. That's what won the judges over."
Despite the praises, one of the judges did not want to advance the Chicago pastor over a specific item.
"Graham [Elliott] said 'no' because I did not complete my sweet-potato hoecake that I was supposed to serve with the dish," Tindell said. "He loved my dish but [believed] the hoecake would have completed it."
Although Elliot almost ended Tindell's journey on MasterChef at the audition, Tindell explained his worry to impress Ramsay. "I think [Ramsay] was looking for restaurant-quality food but couldn't ignore the taste of my food," Tindell said. "I'm a family-style cook. I cook meals that you can put on the table where everyone may dig in."
Tindell is confident that he can win but is concerned about his family-style technique, adding, "I need to refine my plating. The judges felt my serving was heavy for restaurant quality."
Tindell becomes the latest gay Chicagoan to make his mark on the national culinary scene. Dale Levitski, of Top Chef fame, recently opened his restaurant Frog N' Snail in Lakeview. James Beard award winner Art Smith and celebrity chef Koren Grieveson have moved to the East Coast (although Smith has Table Fifty-Two here in Chicago) and continue to achieve national acclaim. "I [want] to follow in their footsteps, but as a family-style chef and bring cooking to the masses," said Tindell.
With an impressive following of more than 6 million weekly viewers, Fox, in May, extended MasterChef until 2015. The show airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m.