Raw foodie takes on FOX's MasterChef

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Helene Leeds of Baldwin, Maryland, became one of the top 15 contestants -- out of over 30000 applicants -- on Fox's hit TV show MasterChef. It was her Saffron Risotto with Burdock wrapped Scallops that became the talk of the show during week two, when judge Joe Bastianich tossed it into the trash and Gordon Ramsay referred to them as “baskets” that we first take notice of Helene. It’s this dish that pushed her into the bottom three, but she survived.

In week three Leeds co­mpeted in a crab challenge, but sadly she made just enough mistakes in her dish to prompt the judges to say "goodbye."
What we never see, or hear about, is Leed’s story.  She suffered a debilitating illness as a child, forcing her into a wheelchair and ultimately obesity. After countless doctors’ visits and research on her own, Leeds found the path to health and cured herself through diet. Now a raw foodie, Leed’s ultimate goal as a MasterChef participant was to share her knowledge of nutrition, but circumstances forced otherwise.
I had the chance to speak with Leeds about her experiences on the show:­
Laeticia Butler: What was your winning recipe that got you a place in the top 36?
Leeds: It was a raw vegan recipe. A medicinal mushroom aphrodisiac soup using Chaga and Reishi mushrooms, and a raw kale salad with mulberries and cocoa nibs.
LB:Can you explain the process of getting chosen as a participant on MasterChef?
Leeds: It was not knowing what to expect and being ready for anything. It was like entering the unknown where the field of possibility exists.
LB: The judges seemed like they disliked you from the beginning, did you sense this while on the show?
Leeds: I didn’t sense favoritism and there was rhyme and reason as to why they were judging and how they were judging. Although what they tried to show couldn’t have been appreciated or understood based on their culinary past.
LB: What was the hardest thing about being a contestant on MasterChef?
Leeds: Waiting. You have to wait a long time. Long hours, and not being able to care for my well-being.
LB: What is your favorite food?
Leeds: Reishi Mushrooms and other superfoods, especially raw chocolate.
LB: What was your mission in participating on the show?
Leeds: To be able to have a platform to share that being healthy is not being without, but celebrating the abundance of flavors available.
LB: Was it hard for you as a raw foodie to participate in the challenges?
Leeds: Yes, it was really hard and extremely difficult because the judges expected the star of the meal to be the protein and there wasn’t a Vitamix available so it limited my ability to make things like sauces. I felt like I didn’t have the tools that I needed. I really wanted to wow the judges but didn’t take the chance.
LB: What were your thoughts when you saw the animal parts such as the lamb head, etc.?
Leeds: My thoughts were, “oh my gosh!” It was so graphic, I was just shocked. Although, it was artfully laid out.
LB: How were you able to follow through with preparing a dish?
Leeds: I kept reminding myself that Chinese medicine has used organ meats as part of their healing diet for ages and it gave me motivation. It’s one of the medicinal cultures that I believe in strongly. You have to try the foods you are making, and it was disgusting. The odors were vile. The tongue was especially grotesque.
LB: So everyone wants to know, what happened with the crab challenge?
Leeds: Within 5 minutes of finding out whether I was assigned canned or live crab, I had to decide what I was going to make and which ingredients I was going to use. I never have had Dungeness crab. Being from Maryland, my mom told me that she would disown me if I stopped eating crabs, when I switched to a vegan diet. I thought a traditional crab soup would be the way to go, with a twist and new layers of flavors. I sautéed the shallots, steamed the crab in beer broth, grilled the corn, and used veggies that aren’t common in a crab soup, like Jerusalem artichoke. Also a fish stock reduced from what I steamed the crab in. I made the cornbread in a cast iron skillet in a typical Eastern Shore style. I’m not a competitive cook and some skills I lack. In this challenge, I didn’t execute this dish properly and I didn’t add enough broth. I should have added more broth and had less veggies and should have left the crab meat in big clumps.
LB: Before you were eliminated, we hear you say that you aren’t doing what you feel in your heart, but what you think the judges wanted from you, can you explain what you meant? And do you think that played a role in your being eliminated?
Leeds: I think it’s more interesting to the show to eliminate someone on a crab challenge that is from Maryland. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have been eliminated, and I trust that it was in divine alignment. The intention was to share that healthy food can taste great and I didn’t feel that I could get my message across with the challenge that I had been given. Wouldn’t it had been great if there were a challenge where we had to make the healthiest dish? That would contribute to the well being of the nation? I believe in life, we have a choice of following the path of pleasure or transformation. I think you can have both but it has to be intentional. I am thankful to be able to continue my work outside of the show. Staying there wasn’t fair for me or them.
LB: What’s next for you?
Leeds: I run a business, Cloud 9 Raw Chocolate. It is the first raw vegan fudge of it’s kind in the entire world. It is a premier longevity superfood. I am not interested in being a chef like most of the other contestants. It’s like that old saying, "you can give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, or you can teach him to fish and he can eat for a lifetime." I teach cooking and raw food workshops. I am all about cultivating optimal health. I work one on one with clients and with groups as a powerful health coach and host workshops and teaching programs where people can learn about optimum health and weight loss. I am also working on a book which is very exciting.
Keep an eye out for more of Helene and catch up with her on Facebook and Twitter.
You can also follow Helene’s Kitchen for wonderful recipes, health topics, and beauty tips.
Don’t forget to try out her amazing handmade fudge, Cloud 9 Raw Chocolate. Trust me, it’s so good!     
You can see full episodes of Masterchef on Fox's website and watch Helene in action.

Laeticia Butler | @Vegwritingmomma | Facebook | Blog
Baltimore, MD After suffering with health issues for two years, Laeticia became a vegan and was able to go from barely walking to running half marathons. She became well aware of the cruelty to animals through research during her life change. In doing so, Laeticia discovered a newfound love and respect for animals and works hard to teach her son why we don't eat them. She is currently training for her first marathon. One of Laeticia's goals as a writer and blogger is to help motivate others to living a healthier lifestyle through a healthy diet and fitness.

Photo credit: Fox

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