As a kid, I'd come home from school, pull up a stool to the kitchen counter and watch Great Chefs of the World on our tiny TV, completely tuned out, just observing the chefs' hands move with such confidence. One of the first things I made was "chocolate pudding," a mixture of stuff I found in the kitchen, including cornstarch and water. I used soy sauce to make it brown.

As I grew up, the kitchen was still my favorite place, but somehow I didn't get that cooking could be my career. I wanted what I thought I was supposed to want: marriage, a six-figure salary, the right car. I went to college to study business and even dated a football player, despite knowing deep down that I was gay. Eventually, I fell into a depression, and my mom sent me to therapy. Finally she said, "Why don't you try culinary school?" So I went, and when I started cutting a head of cabbage, the instructor said, "You've done this before. You're really good." It was an unbelievable feeling—total validation of the path I'd chosen.

I got a job as a line cook and worked my way through the ranks. In 2013, I won the tenth season of Top Chef, then ended up running the kitchen of Menton, one of the best restaurants in Boston. But even though my life looked shiny and wonderful, I still wasn't happy. So I navigated my way out of my comfort zone and "unemployed" myself. Now I'm writing a cookbook, traveling, cooking and living out of a backpack. And I've never been happier.


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