Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was just 21 years old and living in Caracas, Venezuela, when I suffered a bullet wound to the spinal cord paralyzed from the waist down and unable to use my left arm, I decided to move to the US to begin the tough journey to recovery. Thankfully, I’m a really positive person, and a fighter by nature. I managed to regain the use of my arm and I decided to start a new career in design and construction, founding my own business in Miami.
What made you decide to go on MasterChef Latino?
I always loved to cook since my earliest memories, always helping my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. However, as I got older I began to understand the romanticism of cooking, that cooking is a true expression of love. Travel also inspired me. From a young age I was fortunate enough to start travelling, getting exposure to Spanish, Italian and French cooking and this really ignited my curiosity for flavors and ingredients. And I started experimenting to replicate what I was experiencing.
What finally brought me to where I am today as a cook was becoming paralyzed. When you lose the use of a part of your body it is said that other parts of you become more sensitive and intuitive. I found this to be particularly true when it came to taste and smell. I was always drawn to the smell of the kitchen but today the aromas and creativity of the kitchen really move me and is integral to who I have become.
I have worked hard at cooking over the years but with cooking you never stop learning. On MasterChef I am growing as a cook and continuing to learn from my mentors and my fellow contestants. However, the reason I entered MasterChef and one of the reasons I continue to push myself is so I can inspire people who are in the same situation as me to keep growing and learning and never stop experiencing what life has to offer.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
The moment when I got shot was obviously devastating for me but it was very difficult for my family. So, as critical as it was for me to get moving, a large part of my motivation was driven by not wanting to see my family hurting. So, I dug really deep and got moving again. Finding that kind of strength was difficult but once you find it, no one can take it away from you. So, I use what I gained in that deeply tragic point in my life to power myself through all the challenges of my life. Win or lose, I will always push my hardest and strive to do my best and I think that is all any of us can do.
What was the most stand out moment for you?
When Miriam (Abuela) was saved from elimination. We had become so close and I knew I was responsible for her being in the elimination and I wanted to save her no matter what. When she made it through I was so happy and so relieved in that moment. I must say that MasterChef has been great at inclusion from making the studio wheelchair access to giving everyone of all ages and sexual orientation a chance at going for the title of MasterChef Latino.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from the judges?
Benito as my mentor has really made me a better cook. I share his love and appreciation for fresh ingredients and the way he uses them is inspiring to me.
What would you consider to be your signature dish?
My Bolognese sauce.
What is one thing you think everyone should know how to cook?
I think learning how to make a good soup is essential, it is the basis for learning other essential cooking techniques like how to make a stock, making a stew or how to blend the flavors of different ingredients. And because it is food for the soul.
What’s next for you?
I entered MasterChef Latino to improve my cooking but also to inspire others that are in a similar place to where I was when I became paralyzed – to inspire, even if it is just one person, to keep going. I have realized over time that the only limits we have are the ones we put in front of ourselves. Also, that to get where you want to, you simply have to do things your way, which is why I am setting up the Do It Your Way platform to help inspire others. I would also like to travel and cook perhaps have my own show sharing what I love about food from around the world.
Tell me a fun fact about yourself?
I like to race my car. My car is modified with hand controls so I am able to drive it and on occasion I take it down to Homestead to race.
What are you watching on TV these days?
Big Little Lies and Blue Planet II
Anything else you want to share?
After coming out of my 18-year marriage, I had reached a crossroads in my life. I needed to rediscover myself and find my way forward again. I had heard about the Camino De Santiago also known as ‘The Way’ or the ‘The Way of St James’ and that going on this 800km journey across Spain can be a life changing experience. For abled bodied people this is a grueling challenge but no one had completed ‘The Way’ unassisted in a wheelchair. But off I went, armed only with my unmodified chair and a GoPro. This ancient route took me over the Pyrenees mountains and across the vast and changing landscape of Spain. The Spanish people were so kind and hospitable to me, welcoming me into their homes and inviting me to dine and experience truly local Spanish cooking. It is difficult to articulate how important this was to keep me going during one of the most challenging journeys of my life.
I completed ‘The Way’ in 28 days and created my documentary ‘Did It My Way,’ which chronicles this journey and tells the story of the people I met and the challenges I faced.