Spotting Mike Newton in an episode of “MasterChef” is as easy as pie.
Just look for the ever-present cowboy hat.
It has been in place almost every moment of the show, whether he’s whipping up a dish in the “MasterChef” kitchen or competing in a team challenge on California’s Huntington Beach.
The native North Texan insists that the black felt topper is part of his personality.
“I’m a fourth-generation Texan,” says Newton, who lives on a ranch in the Hood County town of Lipan, 60 miles west of Fort Worth. “I’m proud of my Texas heritage.”
But, full disclosure, there’s another reason Newton won’t leave home without the hat.
“Unfortunately, I’m follicle-ly challenged,” he says. “So I have a good selection of chapeaus and I wear them every day.”
The producers of “MasterChef” chose Newton because of his culinary skill and his big personality. But the hat probably caught their eye as well.
It’s instant shorthand. Viewers can turn on the show (7 p.m. Wednesday on Fox) and immediately guess what he’ll do in the kitchen.
“I’m a cattle rancher, so I like to do traditional Texas cooking,” Newton says. “Due to a mild stroke that I had, I eat a little more chicken now. But I do like beef, and I like my food spicy.”
The meals he serves are elegant, but not fussy. And he has absolutely no interest in what he refers to as “tweezer food.”
“I’m a good-size boy and I like good portions,” Newton says. “Tweezer food’s not my style.”
During his Dallas audition last year, Newton earned his way onto the show by serving chicken-fried pork chops with jalapeño cream gravy and green chile chicken enchiladas.
“The chef liked my food and called the other chef over and the next thing I knew I’m off to the next interview and the next interview and so on,” he says. “Then I didn’t hear anything from them until I got the phone call, ‘Hey, you’re going to Hollywood.’ So I packed my bags.”
In the two-part season premiere, when the field was winnowed from 50 to 20, Newton earned his white apron by wowing chefs Gordon Ramsay and Christina Tosi with a batch of chocolate cupcakes. He gave them Texas flavor by using espresso, chocolate chips and chipotle bourbon pecans.
Newton — no one addresses him as Mike; he’s been Newton to everyone since elementary school — grew up in Irving. His parents had a farm between Irving and Grand Prairie.
Newton’s entrepreneurial spirit has led him into several different fields: ranching, auto sales, real estate. For the past four years, he has led the VIP Group farm and ranch real estate division for Keller Williams Southlake.
Newton and his wife, Melanie, lived several years in Grapevine and Fort Worth, but after his stroke they decided to move to the Lipan property full time.
The contestant who wins this season of “MasterChef” will wind up with a cookbook publishing deal and $250,000. But Newton says that, regardless of the outcome, he feels like a winner already.
“I’ve had several careers and passions,” he says. “But I’m trying to shift my focus to food. Not necessarily with a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Maybe a pop-up restaurant. Or catering. Or judging.
“I can’t put my finger on one specific thing and say I’d like to do that. But I would like to live the life of a foodie.
“My father used to say, ‘Do what you love, love what you do and deliver more than you promised.’ That’s what I’m aiming for with this. And I feel like it’s starting to come to fruition.”
- 7 p.m. Wednesday
- KDFW/Channel 4