Madison Cowan is a widely acclaimed British chef known for BBC America’s travel series, the show “No Kitchen Required” and for being the first Grand Champion of Food Network’s Chopped. He recently appeared on ARB TV to discuss his career and the influence his stepmother had in shaping his life.
A native of South London, Cowan recalled that his passion for cooking developed as a child when his father introduced him to his 5’2 stepmother from Birmingham, Alabama, who taught him how to prepare meals.
“She embraced me, accepted, and loved me. She taught me to cook, to clean, and to sow; ultimately, to become the man that my dad was not,” he recalled.
He revealed that his stepmother had 10 children of her own, yet she still embraced him with love. Cowan believed that a higher power chose her to be his mother. “She never treated me as though I was another. I truly even believe I had a special relationship with her greater than her own children,” he revealed. He recounted moments when his stepmother would use her body as a shield to protect him when his father was intoxicated or enraged with anger.
According to chef demographics and statistics, 57.3% of chefs around the world are white and 10.9% are black or persons of color. Not surprisingly, Cowan’s journey as a chef was anything but easy. He faced criticism from others who told him that he could not cook and was fired from restaurants because of complaints from women who were intimidated by his skin color.
However, he kept performing because of the examples he saw around him.
“I was able to immerse myself throughout the world and learn from my moms, the nannies, and the aunties of the world who taught me, instilled their passion, and love as my mother did. It gave me a greater footing, if you will, because when I cooked, I didn’t cook from the ego, I cooked from the heart,” the chef shared.
He also admitted that he made mistakes along the way, but his perception shifted during his journey. “I like to say that, one has to live, but you have to make the conscious decision to say, this is not who I am, this is not in my heart [and] this is not the totality of me,” he said.
The Four-Star rated chef has prepared meals for notable figures such as jazz legend Lionel Hampton, singer and human rights activist Odetta, actors Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson, and Anthony Anderson. In 2010, he was selected the winner of three consecutive episodes of Chopped to become the first-ever Grand Champion. Cowan believes that he won the competition because of how he interacted with others. The production team noticed his humility and willingness to help his competitors. ”They said, wait a minute, we have something else. He’s pointing out ingredients for other chefs, he’s not arrogant, and he’s not rude,” he observed about the crew.
Cowan is notable for his charitable pursuits as well, which include advocating globally on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association in its quest to cure dementia. His father, who died from Alzheimer’s disease, was the inspiration behind his advocacy. He and his dad had a tumultuous relationship but he decided to practice forgiveness.
“As I gradually became aware of myself and embraced myself — the good and the bad, and forgave myself, that divinity allowed me to understand him better and forgive him.”
Check out the full interview on ARB TV.