After getting my call to have a VIP audition on Master Chef, I was so excited for the opportunity of $250,000 and my own cookbook. I immediately put together a dish in my head, Roasted Tomato Soup with a Balsamic Vegetable, Prosciutto, and Pancetta sandwich with a whipped basil goat cheese spread. Winter always reminds me of one of my favorite childhood meals – tomato soup and BLT. So I thought this would be a fun play on the meal.

Friday night, we had friends and even some neighbors, whom we had never met, to have a trial tasting of my dish. After slow roasting the tomatoes, and 3 bottles of wine, we started eating. It was fabulous. The combination of salty pig and warm, rich tomato soup brought me back to memories of my brother and I coming in from a long hard day of playing Secret Agent in the street, only to find my favorite dinner already waiting on the table. Yes, we did watch a lot of James Bond movies as kids, and it’s a really fun game, so keep your comments to yourself. Anyways, I was sure this dish would show my culinary know-how, and also had a great story to accompany it.

Yesterday I woke up and started cooking again. I made a nice parmesan crisp to accompany the soup, and roasted the vegetables. I packaged everything meticulously, and separately, trying to prevent breaking, or smashing of any kind. With a freshly shaved face, an ironed shirt, and a shit-eating grin on my face, we made our way to the Art Institute.

Upon entering the room, I was greeted with over-bubbly TV types. The kind of people that jar you out of expectations of what a normal conversation with a sane person should be like. I went through the rigmarole of taking pictures, waving to the camera, and filling out the remaining forms. While I was waiting for my turn, I listened to stories of people traveling hundreds of miles for this opportunity, and how they had to cook in a crappy budget motel. Yeah. I drove 20 minutes and didn’t struggle any hardships on the way. This isn’t boding well for me already.

They called my name with 11 others as a VIP group. We were lead in to a separate hallway like cows being lead to slaughter. In the hallway, another jarring-social-norms personality loudly announced, “Alright this is your time to shine! Make sure we know who you are – if you’re the bitch, if you’re the funny guy, if you’re the single mom – be outspoken, be noticed!” I don’t normally cuss on my blog, but give me a fucking break. I felt like I was at a middle school mixer, awkwardly awaiting a social interaction that I didn’t really want. Wasn’t anyone here because they love to cook and feed people tasty meals?

Somewhere between the producer trying to amp us up with her rally cry, and some douche bag breaking out into song to get noticed, I realized that I might not be cut out for reality TV. But I kept smiling, because I love food. And I love watching people enjoy food that I prepared for them.

We finally got to enter the room where we would be presenting our food. This is what I was excited for. We had three minutes to put together our dishes, when they said start, we all frantically unpacked what we had worked on for hours. I was actually the last to finish plating, because I had kept all of the components separate. We were going to be interviewed by three different people – two food experts and one assistant producer. The first critic came over to my dish. She flipped over the top piece of bread on my sandwich and poked the vegetables with her fork. I think she was trying to see if they were over-cooked. She then dipped her fork into my soup for a tiny taste. I saw a big grin spread across her face followed by what seemed like a paragraph of writing on my review sheet.

She asked, “How did you prepare the soup?’

I replied,” I slow roasted the tomatoes with sage, thyme, garlic powder, salt, pepper and sugar. I sautéed garlic and onions in pancetta fat, added stock and the slow roasted tomatoes. Brought it to a boil, reduced to a simmer, and took my stick blender to it. I then added balsamic vinegar, chili flakes, heavy cream, basil, and parmesan.”

She grinned, “It’s positively wonderful.”

Woohoo! That was my first time being professionally reviewed by a “food expert”. I was elated to see her so pleased with my food. After a brief chat with the assistant casting producer, and a nod of approval from the 2nd food expert this leg of the race had come to an end. They then had the people who were moving on line up, as the others had to exit the building. My name was called and I lined up with a few other selected individuals.

We entered a room and were sat down. As we all shared toothy smiles and stories of what just happened, we had another assistant casting producer pass out food knowledge tests. I flew through the questions with ease, as they were laughable at best. I’m not really sure what their thinking was there. We then were informed we would be going into a different room to meet with more casting producers. This was the time to show our personalities. They called my name with four others, and we lined up and were lead into another room to be judged.

I was the fourth person to be interviewed. After listening to the first three peoples stories, I knew I was screwed. Here’s how their stories went.

Person 1 – Mother of three who flew into Denver today with her dish packed in her luggage. She frantically made it from DIA to casting in the nick-of-time. Great.

Person 2 – Divorced out-of-work father of two who now runs a Non-profit. Shit.

Person 3 – A middle aged woman whose near-terminal trip to the hospital brought her and her estranged husband together. Fuck!

The interview panel came to me.

One asked, “Clayton, who are you and what do you do”

I replied, “I’m Clayton Warwick, happily married to my best friend, 27 years old. I am an Account Manager at a local advertising agency.”

Cutting me off they asked, “It says here you’re a food blogger, tell us about that”

I replied, “I write a blog trying to get people to eat at independent restaurants versus going to chains, and also cook using local ingredients”

They cut me off once again and said “It was nice meeting you, thank you.”

As we walked out of the Ellis Island of Master Chef Casting, I mentally confirmed the fact that I was hosed. I battled in my mind what I could have said to make a better impression. I could have expressed hardships I’ve overcome as a way to play on the emotions of the judges. Then I remembered I’m not a manipulative douche bag.

So I didn’t make it any further than that, and to be honest, I was relieved. While I love food, having people enjoy my food, and introducing people to new flavors and experiences, reality TV isn’t for me. I don’t have a sob story, and while I have suffered hardships, I don’t feel that people need to know that. Simply put, that doesn’t affect my cooking. I cook because I love it. I love having a beautifully prepared meal on the table for my amazing wife when she gets home from work. I love having friends over – drinking too much wine, laughing, and enjoying their company over a plate of something I created. I love planning and cooking Christmas eve dinner, and seeing the beaming smiles of the people I love most as I plate their 3rd, 4th, and 5th courses.

Food to me is my gift to the people I love. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, or routing for me to get to the next round. I want people to enjoy my food because I love to have them enjoy it. I love writing this blog, because it’s an extension of that passion. I want you to feel that same love that I share with the ones closest to me. Thanks for reading, I greatly appreciate it. Stay tuned for more recipes and restaurant reviews.


  • Tyler Whitesides

    This is a great experience for you and I am grateful I got to try that dish. It was amazing and you have a gift Clayton! Keep cooking and I will most assuredly keep eating it. Congratulations buddy!

  • Indie Eats

    Thanks Tyler. It was great having you over.

  • No, I Don’t Want To Hear Your Sob Story « Teepoo's Scribbles

    [...] The other day I was watching an episode of Chopped on the Food Network and throughout the competition, one competitor kept bringing up his recently deceased father. The judges also found this appropriate. They said lines like “Oh my, he cooks so well even though his father died recently.”. Then he ended up winning. Why on earth is this necessary information to share?. Does it make him a better cook? Maybe his tears are magic salts. I don’t even remember any of his food, only his dead father. Maybe this sort of story is cute the first time, but it really isn’t once you start to notice it again and again. Even the dude’s opposing chef thought it was odd. It also makes you question the nature of these competitions. I had a food blogger friend who tried out for Masterchef but got rejected solely because his sob story wasn’t good enough. You can read about his adventures here. [...]