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Local 'MasterChef' contestant big winner in elimination

Standing before the judges on “MasterChef,” 19-year-old Putnam City North graduate Gabriel Lewis was afraid his number was up.

"I was really upset with myself because I knew the ingredient had gotten the best of me,” Lewis said in a Monday phone interview.

Then chef/host Gordon Ramsay delivered the bad news, "Gabriel, I'm sorry bud."

But before Lewis even had time to stomp his foot, the fiery television chef continued: "You may be going back to Oklahoma tonight, but you're not going back to be a fast-food server.

"Young man it's very rare we see such raw talent that's got amazing potential come through this competition. You've got the potential to be huge in this industry. You just need the right training. So I am personally gonna send you to culinary school.

"I'll pay the tuition, full time. And I don't want you worrying about mum and dad, because I'm taking of  that."

Ramsay asked Lewis if he would accept Ramsay's offer, to which he answered: "Hell yes, chef." 

Then came this from chef/judge Aaron Sanchez, who owns Johnny Sanchez locations in Baltimore and New Orleans:  

"After that, I want you to leave Oklahoma and come to New Orleans. I'm prepared to offer you a restaurant in one of my restaurants."

When asked if he accepted this offer, Lewis again accepted.

By the time chef/judge Christina Tosi asked Lewis how he felt, emotion had taken hold.

"All I've wanted to do is learn and cook," he began but by the time he said "I couldn't be happier" the words barely broke through his tears.

Gabriel Lewis’s reality television career was over, but his career was only getting started.

When I talked to him Monday, Lewis was calling from Denver where he’s now enrolled in Johnson & Wales on Ramsay’s dime. And his other benefactor is keeping tabs.

“I talked to chef Aaron just last week,” Lewis said. “He just wanted to make sure I was happy and everything was on track for me to come to New Orleans when I’m done.”

To earn this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Lewis participated in what he described as "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," assuring me the tasks were as hard or harder than they look on television.

Gabriel said his age put him in a disadvantage in experience, his fellow contestants took good care of him.

"I could tell they were kinda pulling for me, but not to beat them. He said his strategy was simple: take each challenge one at a time. Concentrate on executing the task and move along a step at a time.

"Top 15, top 10 … My goal was to make top 5."

He came painfully close to that goal, but the prize he won exceeded it. Outside of winning the grand prize, Lewis couldn’t have asked for more.

Lewis said he's always loved to cook, but it was two years at the School of Culinary Arts at Francis Tuttle that cemented his career path.

"Francis Tuttle helped me find my passion," the 2015 grad said. "It game me the confidence to chase my dream."

As for the overall "MasterChef" experience, Lewis said, "I got exactly what I came for."

"MasterChef is in its eighth season.  The winner will take home $250,000, and a cookbook deal. The competition continues tonight at 7 p.m. on Fox.

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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›