Matthew Houck, O.D., sees link between being an optometrist and a chef

Doctor of optometry makes the cut on popular ‘MasterChef’ cooking show

Matthew Houck, O.D., who practices in Iowa City, Iowa, might have left the June 13 episode of the popular television cooking show "MasterChef" on Wednesday nights with egg on his face.

Initially banished in the episode to an elimination round for his underwhelming preparation of a live crab, Dr. Houck bounced back with a "crab" Benedict good enough in the elimination challenge for the celebrity judges to send him through to the next round. He hadn't won the round but he'd escape to cook again. On the show, Dr. Houck is being mentored by restauranteur Joe Bastianich.

Making sure people see things accurately and beautifully is something I've strived to do in practice and my cooking.

"I have made Eggs Benedict before, but not enough where I was completely comfortable," Dr. Houck said Thursday after the show aired. "As with anything in the MasterChef kitchen though, you can never be too comfortable with what you're preparing. Especially when you have judges with the reputation they have trying your dish.  

Matthew Houck, O.D. MasterChef
Credit: FOX

"Like always, I'm so fortunate and grateful to make it to the next round of MasterChef," he added. "It's an incredible experience to be able to cook for the renowned judges again."  Dr. Houck has now survived three episodes on the show which was filmed earlier this year.

Dr. Houck has appeared in three episodes including the show's May 30 season opener, which was filmed earlier this year. Dr. Houck competed against three other talented cooks in his round. He served up a pan-seared cod with apple and fennel, turnip puree, pickled carrots and a lemon beurre blanc.  

"I'm an optometrist, so how things look is important to me," he told the show's judges as he raced against the clock and his fellow competitors.  

For the first time ever on the show, the judges—host and award-winning chef Gordon Ramsay, acclaimed chef Aarón Sánchez and renowned restaurateur Joe Bastianich—will present their favorite home cooks with coveted white aprons and mentor them throughout the competition.  

During the opener, Sanchez gave out three aprons—but Dr. Houck did not receive one. Until Bastianich stepped forward, that is.  

"Aarón, you gave out three aprons, but I'm going to give out just one apron," Bastianich said, strolling toward the home cooks. "In my opinion, Aarón neglected the best cook here."  

Bastianich then handed an apron to a visibly relieved and pleased Dr. Houck. The doctor admitted to being intimidated, though honored, by Bastianich's choice.  

"It was incredible to watch myself and the other great amateur chefs from all around America cook for the judges," Dr. Houck said on Thursday, the day after the episode aired. "It's difficult to summarize in words how excited I am to be moving forward in the competition. It's been a dream of mine for these past two years to be in the position I am in now, and I cannot wait to see what's next."  

Dr. Houck could not reveal what will happen as the show runs its course on Wednesdays on FOX, but he encourages supporters to tune in again to see how he fares in the competition.  

Cooking up a dream
A fan of the show and its notoriously demanding host, chef-restauranteur Gordon Ramsay, Dr. Houck started cooking after graduating from Indiana University School of Optometry in 2016.  

"It became something that I was passionate about, much like optometry," says Dr. Houck, whose trademark is his impeccable and creative plating. "At first, I appreciated the art of cooking, but that slowly grew into an interest in the other aspects of the culinary scene."  

So, when "MasterChef" auditions came to Nashville, Tennessee, he jumped at the chance. From the thousands of home cooks who auditioned, 43 were selected to compete on the show, which will chop the number to 24 who will compete head to head in the coming weeks. Home cooks on the show include a bus driver, an English teacher, a drummer, a pilot and a realtor. 

If he wins, Dr. Houck hopes to use the show's $250,000 grand prize to pay off his student loans.  

"I felt that it was time to test my culinary skills with other amateur chefs around the U.S," Dr. Houck says. "I have not been around many other amateur cooks to know where I stand with my cooking skills. It is all up in the air at this point." 

How does he see optometry fitting in to the competition?  

"Cooking is a visual art and optometry protects the visual system," Dr. Houck says. "Making sure people see things accurately and beautifully is something I've strived to do in practice and my cooking."

Follow Dr. Houck on Instagram at @dinnerwithchefhouck and watch him on the Fox network as he competes for the $250,000 grand price.

Matthew Houck, O.D. on ‘MasterChef’ cooking show

June 1, 2018

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