Chef Michael Silverstein garnered national attention when he competed in FOX‘s MasterChef season 10, and he’s been going strong since the show. Michael just released his first cookbook, New Keto Cooking, and took some time to talk with me about making the transition from TV to author, as well as the entertaining perils of culinary competition.
You can learn more about Michael in our interview below, and also get your copy of New Keto Cooking here. You can also check him out on his website and social media (YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook).
Brittany Frederick: When audiences met you on MasterChef, you were working in real estate. Was your success on the show what motivated you to cook full-time, or was it an idea you’d had before?
Michael Silverstein: It’s because of MasterChef and not directly in the way you might think in that, not that MasterChef gave me an automatic shift into my career, but it reignited my passion for cooking in a way that I had lost a few years earlier working in restaurants for most of my life. It’s hard, and I had burnt out; I’d lost my fire. At around 25, I said, “I’m done with this. I’m going to do real estate.” I also love designing houses and actually went to college studying architecture, strangely. I just wanted to try something else, get out of the restaurant industry and started flipping and designing houses.
MasterChef really just reminded me that cooking is my love, that cooking is my heart and soul. It brought a new fire back to that and reminded me that I really want to be back in the kitchen. MasterChef really re-sparked that passion in a completely new way and opened up my eyes to how I could use my cooking outside of the restaurant and really start writing and sharing my recipes with people all over the country and the world.
BF: Being in the room with some of the world’s best chefs, did you learn anything that you’ve been able to apply since?
MS: We learned some cooking, but they didn’t really give us time. It was a cooking competition in the truest sense. We showed up and we had to be ready to cook. What I really felt like I learned from that experience was a confidence around who I am and being on camera and really learning to share who I am in a public space. It really threw me for a loop because I was so prepared to cook and I got there and it was like all right, now I’ve got to learn how to look at a camera and talk while I cook, and be myself while I cook. I can’t just get in the zone and tune everything out. I actually have to be sharing my life and my story on camera.
It was so much more than just cooking. You also had to be able to do it all, talking to the camera while you’re cooking, while Gordon Ramsay’s screaming at you. It was really such a challenge in a new way. That really threw me for a loop, because I’m used to cooking. I’m not used to Gordon Ramsay in my face while I do it. (laughs) He’s actually, out of the kitchen, the nicest guy in the world, but he really does have a militant style about cooking and it’s really interesting to see that transition. People ask me all the time is that a character, that he’s yelling for TV? No. Even when the cameras weren’t rolling, when we’re in the kitchen, he’s Gordon Ramsay. But outside of the kitchen, that guy is such a sweetheart. I really feel lucky to kind of know him and see him as a mentor.
BF: But when MasterChef ends, there’s no automatic way forward or support system; the show is just over. How did you figure out how to build on that success?
MS: Even before I went to the show, I had had a small social media presence cooking my keto recipes, just developed a year before MasterChef. I went through a weight loss transformation and was actively, just as a passion project, sharing those keto recipes on Instagram. When I got out of the show, which of course finishes months before it actually goes on TV, I was like “You know what? This is my chance to really use this and help other people.” That’s when I decided I’m going to go ahead and pull time into sharing my keto recipes and making this really beyond just a passion project and turning it into my career. I’m so glad I did, because the show obviously gave me a larger platform and gave me the visibility I needed to grow my social media presence and really continue sharing and scaling up the audience for sharing these healthy recipes.
Now I feel like I have really had an impact on people’s lives. I get a tremendous amount of messages, emails, and responses about how my food has changed lives. It’s not just feeding people. The connection that I have to people all over the country and the world has been something that gives me so much life and continues to motivate me every day. Certainly MasterChef gave me a jumpstart on that just by having that many eyeballs with being on a national cooking show, but then immediately from there, I put in the work. I was working day and night writing recipes, teaching myself how to do food photography, teaching myself social media marketing, and really kind of putting on a lot of new hats and running with that. I knew that that was something I wanted to continue sharing. What I found is this really exciting way that I can still cook for people and still share my love for food with people, but virtually by writing recipes and sharing them online.
BF: How did you decide which recipes made it into New Keto Cooking?
MS: I actually wrote every recipe in the book, other than a couple recipes that were inspired by things my mom would make us growing up, some of those personal recipes. Most of the book I wrote just for the book, because I had already been putting out so much content on social media that I really started the book from scratch in every sense of the word.
It was a really fun journey because my publisher had approached me for the cookbook. I was just amazed by how much creative freedom they gave me and really allowed me to express myself and create recipes that were unique, that maybe aren’t things that everybody’s heard of. There’s so many keto books and healthy books that I find repeat recipes, kind of the standards—the meatball marinara, the chicken parmesan. I wanted to create a book that was really different and that’s a risk for a publisher.
I was really glad they let me do that and create a chef-inspired keto book that had recipes that really feel like restaurant food, but that anybody can make. It was a really cool process for me getting to be creative and express myself as a chef, while also creating food I know anybody would love.
BF: Where a chef is can also influence them, too. How did you end up in Austin? Has that culinary scene had any impact on your career?
MS: Kind of by accident. I actually came right after the show. My roommate that I lived with while filming in L.A. was from Austin. When I got off filming from the show, I came to visit for a weekend just for fun. Within 24 hours, I was like man, I’m in love with this city. The food scene is so exciting. It’s beautiful. The weather is like Southern California weather without Southern California prices. It just felt like home within a day.
It’s got one of the most exciting food scenes in the country. It’s really inspired by a fusion of very Texas Southern food and Mexican food. There’s so much inspiration here and you’ll find a couple of those influences through the book. I continue to get inspired as I live here more and more and get really into the Tex-Mex and the steak and the meat.
The other thing that’s surprising about Texas is the multiculturalism. There’s people from all over the world in Texas. Now, if you’ve been to Austin or Houston, Houston has one of the coolest Chinatowns in the country. It’s really interesting, the melting pot that is Texas now, so I continue to be inspired by that.
BF: Do you have favorite restaurants or types of food that you really love?
MS: I love Mom and Pop hole in the walls. I feel like the best food in the country is like a little Korean restaurant or that dumpling shop in Chinatown that you’re not even sure if you want to walk in to. That’s my favorite food in the world. I love traveling and so I love going to Asia and Mexico and stuff like that. The street food and the street market in Thailand, Asia, and China are so inspiring to me. Even when I travel in the US, I’m looking for that vibe.
Of course, I love going to a Michelin-starred restaurant; I’ve been to great restaurants, but you will not see me as happy as [in] a little Korean barbecue place in Koreatown, New York City, or something like that.
BF: Are there any parting words that you want to leave the audience with, especially if this is their first exposure to your work since MasterChef?
MS: I would love to just say follow my food and come follow me on social media. I do so many fun things every day on Instagram, TikTok, and all kinds of stuff, so follow along for great recipes.
The other thing I guess I would say is, because I’m so passionate about cooking keto, I get a lot of backlash from people who talk about keto negatively and say it’s dangerous. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions. I’m not here to preach any diet, but I will say that I don’t know if anybody can argue with me that we eat too much sugar. I can promise you that I make keto food that is better or as good as any regular diet, but it’s so much better for you.
You’re going to feel better, so I would say don’t worry so much about what you may read in the media. It’s such a cool lifestyle and a cool crowd that just really wants to make good decisions, so give it a chance.