By Sammi Turano

Tell me about yourself.
Simply put I am a dad to the greatest son ever, Holden who has changed my life for the better. I am calm, cool, and collected because of this little dude as he has made me a better person. Fiancé, to the most beautiful woman I have laid my eyes on, Beth. She gets me excited to live as a family and to work as a team together. Marketing Director for an incredible company in Helicon with a truly special team and mentor in the greatest boss I have ever had. Friend, Son, and brother while admiring life, appreciating this moment in time, and sharing it with the greatest city I could live in, Tampa!

What made you decide to audition for MasterChef?
At a family dinner, my brother in law said to me, "Jeff, all you need to do is show up in Orlando. I did all of your paperwork because I believe in you. I signed you up for MasterChef." It was in that moment that life changed for me. After many months of paperwork and processes, I embarked on becoming a contestant on season 8 of MasterChef on FOX. It has been an incredible journey that I am forever humbled and changed from such a wonderful experience. Having someone believe in you is an incredible feeling so I pledged to everyone that I wouldn’t let them down!

What was the experience like?
A once in a lifetime moment because it’s not often opportunities like this come your way! Yes, it was tough because I just had my son Holden and here I go to live out this journey in California for ‘X’ amount of time with a set of people that you are forced to live and work with all day, every day that you get to know more everyday. We complimented each other to fill in the missing voids from our personal lives to make it easier and always hung out as a group. This is a special bond that to this day, not one day goes by without someone talking to someone and I find that to be very special that cements this moment in time.

What are some highlights from the experience?
I am not about the self-gain through this process as it has been extremely humbling to have been afforded a nice bit of attention but that insignia means a whole lot to others. I find a lot of joy being vessel for my community and sharing this journey with them. Every week, I host a watch party at Fodder & Shine and the outpouring of love and support for a new charity every week highlighted has been incredible. We have been able to raise thousands of dollars for incredible non-profits in the Tampa Bay area making a true impact so this feeling has been the greatest use of this MasterChef journey. At one particular watch party, being able to tell Camila, a 6-year-old little girl battling end stage renal disease, that my watch party with the support of the community connecting small and large businesses collectively with the general public in attendance would make her dreams of going to Disney World come true was incredible! By far one of the greatest accomplishments extending into anything I have ever done as a man!

What were some of your biggest challenges?
Desserts, haha. To me desserts are boring as you cannot enjoy the process, the experience. It’s a whole "let’s measure out everything and combine just to wait". That’s boring. I love being able to cook and to enjoy the flavors, tasting as I go and really sharing in that moment. Getting lost in flavors and having the opportunity to add as a I go, correct as needed, or just enjoy what I intended. Baking to me doesn’t provide me that same joy so those have definitely been areas of opportunities for me but I still believe in my cannoli, maybe not the cupcake but the cannoli was only the victim of being ahead of its time.

What is your signature dish?
Definitely a coconut cupcake!....Actually, far from it lol! I really love to cook my take on Adult Mac & Cheese. I fold in lobster, shrimp, and grab meat, with about 5 different cheeses grinded from their blocks which creates this luxurious, ooey gooey, and decadent companion to an incredible Rib Eye steak! That on a plate and I am in heaven!

What is one dish you want to learn how to make?
Molecular gastronomy. I think it would be so much fun to play around with science and cooking. Some may argue that statement contradicts my feelings on baking as that could be said to be pure science as well but there are so many more technical innovations from the scientific disciplines and the usage of awesome toys in the kitchen that would really allow me to geek out and be a kid and have some fun!

What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I am truly excited to be a part of this year’s class of Leadership Tampa Bay. I have strong aspiration to take on a larger civic and potentially political role shaping our future and community. Leadership Tampa Bay is a comprehensive leadership program designed to better prepare a diverse group of community, government, business and nonprofit leaders to work collaboratively in addressing regional issues. The program is designed to provide a unique learning experience for emerging and existing leaders through an intensive nine-month program that trains, empowers and supports leaders so they can affect positive community change in the region. I am humbled to be in the company of such leaders within their respective industries and am excited to contribute to the growth plan of Tampa Bay!

What are you watching on TV these days?
I watch it all. A little Food Network some Simpsons to Jeopardy to CBS Sunday Morning to the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to Planet Earth to CNN. I will casually flip through something and try to find something to enjoy. I haven’t cut the cord just yet so I still have traditional options in addition to the plethora of streaming alternatives so the possibilities are endless!

Anything else you want to tell America?
It’s very easy to see me as the villain of the show because I am not afraid to wear my passion and heart on my sleeve for the whole world to see. However, watch closely and listen as I am the first person to celebrate someone else with either a physical or verbal encouragement. Sure, I am critical to myself included. I am intense and driven to always give 110% to anything I do, but what sometimes gets overlooked is that I took none of that experience in vain. Being a businessman, I went into it as a job and my job was to compete because the reality of life is that I just had a baby who was born 2 months prior and a fiancé who is raising our son while I was competing in the MasterChef kitchen. I am human and that feeling of not physically being there for them weighed on me and certainly not being able to emotionally be there for Beth was even heavier at times. I missed them dearly and wrote in a journal everyday about the experience because it was so unique and powerful. I came to appreciate my fiancé so much more as a woman and mother from deep reflection knowing the sacrifices she had to overcome while I was living journey out. From putting her career on hold, to her body, time for herself, time to enjoy with friends and family, for me not being able to have me provide a second set of hands to help, to not being able to hold or kiss my family for the time I was out there with a brand-new family was intense and sometimes emotional. At times, it fueled my desire and others making it very hard. So it is easy for some to sit behind their screens and say they don’t like me or my attitude or whatever across social media and the web but before you do that, think before you write because as cliché as it may come across it is true; you’ll never know or even appreciate the behind the scenes of the true story so while it easier to pass judgement on some, lay off because everyone has a story, just take the time to read it!

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