Carnegie Mellon University

Michael Silverstein and MasterChef Judges

May 29, 2019

Alumni Spotlight: Michael Silverstein Uses Entrepreneurship Skills to Earn Spot on MasterChef

Michael Silverstein remembers nurturing his love for cooking as an undergraduate business student at Carnegie Mellon.

His friends chose the ingredients and he created dinner from them, just like a reality TV competition. He once threw a birthday barbecue to learn how to prepare and grill a fresh eel.

But, long before that, he got his start cooking as a kid growing up in Olney, Maryland, when his mother who was a school principal would cook for family dinners.

“I’ve cooked with my mom since I was very little,” Silverstein said. “I needed a stool to reach the counter.”

Now, Silverstein (TPR 2009) will use those cooking skills to compete on the tenth season of the reality TV show MasterChef, which premiered May 29 on Fox.

Held to a High Standard

Silverstein, who lives in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh, was chosen among the top 36 cooks from tens of thousands of applicants to face different challenges mounted by judges Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez and Joe Bastianich.

“It’s one thing to cook at home for your friends and family, it’s another thing to cook for a Michelin Star, multi-million-dollar chef,” Silverstein said.

At the end of each episode, contestants whose dishes don’t stack up to the others are eliminated until one is deemed by the judges as the best.

“They really held us to a high standard,” Silverstein said. “When they say it’s the best home-cooks in America, I was amazed at the talent around me, if not a little intimidated.”

He was inspired to audition after his fiancé Jacob pushed him to give it a try while they were watching a previous season of the show together.

“The whole thing was outside my comfort zone,” Silverstein said.

When to Be Bold

As owner and principal at Mahaca Development Group, a real estate investment company, Silverstein earned a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Business Development and Marketing, an interdisciplinary program with the School of Architecture.

Entrepreneurship classes from the Tepper School of Business laid the foundation for him to recognize when to be bold.

“Sometimes you have to take some serious risks and that’s something I’ve never been afraid of doing,” he said. “Tepper really inspired me to be an entrepreneur and find my own path and Carnegie Mellon allowed me to do that through my own major.”

"Michael's drive is an example of the leadership skills that students hone while they study here," said Jen Wegner, Executive Director, Undergraduate Business Administration program. "It's a delight to see our Tepper alumni thrive where their passions lie."

Michael competing on MasterChef


This season of MasterChef will feature cooking for a pool party, a wedding reception, NASCAR drivers and working dinner service at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, according to a news release.

To prepare for his audition, Silverstein read 10 different cookbooks, watched hours of YouTube videos on baking and desserts, and studied international styles of cuisine. He butchered about 20 whole chickens and 10 whole fish to perfect his technique.

The winner will claim the $250,000 grand prize and — new this season — an opportunity to learn hands-on in each of the judges’ restaurants.

Looking back over the past year, Silverstein said the way he approaches food and cooking have drastically changed leading up to his audition for the show.

When he turned 30, he believed that his relationship with food had become unhealthy, having steadily gained weight until reaching more than 300 pounds.

“I recognized the changes of getting older and thought about, ‘Who do I want to be as an adult?’” he said.

After reflecting on his eating habits, Silverstein decided to develop and cook recipes following a ketogenic diet. Known as “keto,” meals are low in carbs and high in fat. Last summer, he started an Instagram account to share his recipes and has since lost 83 pounds.

“I think there’s a misconception that healthy food has to be a bland salad, and I set out to disprove that to myself, my friends and family,” he said. “Dieting does not have to mean suffering.”

He will be tuning in Wednesday for the MasterChef season premiere with some close friends in his own living room. He’s nervous about his national television debut, but happy to know Tepper and Carnegie Mellon alumni are behind him.

“I’m looking forward to the support of the community and having people cheer me on,” Silverstein said.