Sober MasterChef Contestant Turns in Her Apron

By Hunter R. Slaton 07/18/12

The California native attributes her success to getting clean—and using yoga, Pilates and running to stay that way.

Stacey Amagrande, MasterChef competitor.
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Last night ended the deep run of sober-and-proud Stacey Amagrande in the third season of FOX’s MasterChef. The 29-year-old “home cook” worked as a farmer’s market manager prior to landing her spot as one of 18 amateurs competing for the MasterChef title. Viewers were introduced to Amagrande during an early “audition” episode, in which the judges initially voted her down—until judge Joe Bastianich changed his mind and headed out into the audition anteroom to offer her a MasterChef apron after all.

It was an outcome that Amagrande could never have imagined when she was a kid in Apple Valley, Calif. “They always had a saying growing up in the High Desert that you were either stuck-up, fucked-up or knocked-up—and I fell under that fucked-up category, unfortunately,” said the spirited, tattooed chef during the audition show, copping to a liter-of-vodka-a-day habit. But no longer. Amagrande got sober, and attributes her new-found confidence to that change. “My sobriety means more to me than anything now, because I’m not afraid to do anything.”

Speaking with The Fix, Amagrande says she started smoking pot at 12 years old, drinking at 14 and doing speed at 15. Although she managed to drop the drugs, she later became a full-blown alcoholic, with a serious physical dependence on liquor. A little over two years ago, after a particularly bad six- to nine-month period of vowing on a daily basis to quit “tomorrow,” Amagrande says she “looked in the mirror and saw my soul was depleted.” She adds, “It was in that moment when I said, ‘Is it going to be tomorrow or is it going to be today?’”

That was one Friday in May 2010. The following Monday, she checked into Cedar House Life Change Center, in Bloomington, Calif. (Funnily enough, Amagrande is of the mind that certain aspects of life in rehab were good prep work for starring in a reality-TV show.) When she left Cedar House three months later, clean and sober—and with a rediscovered love for yoga, Pilates and running—she also threw herself into cooking. “It was the only thing I could think of that made me dizzy with every part of me,” she explains. “When I’m cooking, all of my senses are actively working and enlightened. I’m using my creativity and I’m instantly gratified.”

Two years sober today, and waiting to hear back regarding an executive chef job on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Amagrande feels it's her responsibility to be open about her journey from active alcoholism to sobriety. “I think it’s kind of my duty not only to not be ashamed, because I’ve moved forward in my life, but to be an example,” she says. Although she doesn’t participate in AA—“It really just wasn’t for me,” she explains, preferring instead high daily doses of exercise—she doesn’t judge those who do: “I feel like everyone needs to follow their own path.”

The next new episode of MasterChef airs Monday, July 23, on FOX, at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central.

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Hunter Slaton is the esports managing editor for Blizzard Entertainment. You can find hunter on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.