Chef Michael Silverstein
Uncovering the Food Heroes Making a Difference Through Cooking - SNACC's Food Hero Series
Where did you grow up?
I grew up outside of Washington, D.C. in Olney, Maryland
Where do you live now?
Where do you work?/What do you do?
I run my own business as a full-time food media creator and cookbook author
What inspired you to pursue a career in cooking, and how has your passion for food evolved over time?
From a very young age, I was quite fascinated by the food industry. In fact, I got my first job at 13 years old working in the back of an Italian restaurant. The sights, the sounds, and the smells of that kitchen changed me, and I knew from that moment I wanted to be a chef.
Can you share with us a memorable experience you’ve had in the kitchen or in your career?
One day, I’m sitting at home working at my desk, and I get a phone call from an unknown number from “Los Angeles, California”. I answer and a woman kindly says, “Hi, is Michael there? I work for Gordon Ramsay. He would like you to come cook for him in New York City this weekend.” Once I was able to catch my breath, I quickly said yes! I was filled with as much excitement as confusion. I was terrified. What if I mess up? What if he doesn’t like my food? But I had to believe in myself and swing for the fences. I packed my things and drove to New York to give myself a chance at a dream. And I’m glad I did. The culinary team tasted my dish and said, “Michael, you knocked this out of the park.”, and at the moment my life had changed forever. Had I not gambled on myself or taken the uncomfortable route, I would have missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a lesson that I remind myself of every day.
What is your signature dish and what inspired you to create it?
I would say my crab cakes are my signature dish, though it’s hard to pick just one. The crab cakes are the dish that got me on MasterChef, and Gordon Ramsay called them “top 10 in the world”. And they really tell the story of who I am. Growing up in Maryland, I’d go crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay every summer, so it’s a nod to my life, my story, and my childhood.
What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing the food industry today, and what role do you see chefs playing in addressing the issue?
Simply put, about 1 in 3 people in the U.S. are prediabetic. And I was one of them. There is, in my opinion, a food crisis in the country that encourages an overconsumption of sugar and unhealthy foods, snacks, and sweet drinks that are making us sick. And yet, our culture teaches us from a young age that healthy foods are gross. That is just wrong! Eating healthier does not mean we have to give up our favorite foods, and as chefs, we have to work really hard to change this expectation. Healthy food can (and should!) be delicious, comforting, and filling. Eating better is very possible and does not require us to suffer through “diet foods” and kale chips. We, as chefs, have the power to create stunning foods that are better for us along the way. And I’ve dedicated my career to this work.
What is your proudest culinary accomplishment?
The moment in my career I am most proud of, is standing on the podium as a runner-up in the finale of MasterChef All-stars. Never in my wildest dream did I ever think that day would be possible that Gordon Ramsay would tell me that I “was born to cook” and that I would cook in front of millions of people on TV. I’m so proud of myself for that, and always will be.
If you want to learn more about this month's Food Hero, follow Chef Michael Silverstein on Instagram!