Gabriel Lewis turns up the heat on his dream.
In 2017, 19-year-old Oklahoman Gabriel Lewis rose from fast food anonymity to television fame with his performance on season eight of the hit show “MasterChef.” His authenticity and ingenuity won over audiences watching at home, as well as celebrity judges Gordon Ramsey and Aarón Sánchez.
On the show, Lewis was able to work closely with Ramsey, whom he has watched and been inspired by since he was 9 years old. When Lewis was cut from the show in seventh place, Ramsey offered to send him to culinary school, saying, “It’s very rare we see such raw talent come through this competition. You’ve got the potential to be huge in this industry — you just need the right training.” Lewis chose to attend Johnson and Wales University Denver, but the arrival of the pandemic sent everyone home. That didn’t stop Lewis from continuing to work and learn. He created his own website with recipes and instructional videos for home cooks, which blossomed into his own cookbook releasing July 14, We Got Food at Home.
The burgeoning cook operates as a private chef under his own business and has worked for several brands and celebrities, including Sylvester Stallone. Lewis also works with local organizations, such as Loveworks Leadership, to create pop-up cooking classes and five-course dinners.
But Lewis didn’t start with a formal background in cooking. Before he competed on season eight and later season 12 of “Master-Chef,” he grew up in the kitchens of his “three matriarchs” — his mother, Lisa, his aunt Gertrude and his grandmother Valerie. The youngest of four siblings, Lewis spent much of his free time in his family kitchen experimenting with flavor combinations and the art of food preparation. Here, he learned that food is an expression of love and care, as well as innovation and creativity.
“I love seeing the look on the face of my clients when the food hits their table,” he said. “Cooking for people is caring for them.” He’s been exploring new tastes and recipes recently. Lewis said that he has been interested in going back to his roots but with innovative twists. “I’ve recently done a karaage chicken and waffles: crisp cornbread waffles, togarashi-spiced karaage chicken, tare syrup and roasted miso corn butter.”
Lewis’ hands already bear scars, which delineate his culinary journey. “If you want to learn from a chef, you watch their hands; you can learn the most from a chef’s hands,” he said. He has been able to watch and learn from the hands of several of his role models, such as Gordon Ramsey and Cat Cora, as well as his own family members.
His advice to young people with a dream in this career? “Don’t listen to the naysayers. Start by taking one ingredient, such as chicken, and learn to cook it every way that you can. Believe in yourself.”