For Coconut Grove resident John Pardo, "cooking is the ultimate expression of love." That's been true his entire life -- even when he was shot in the back in his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, causing him to be paralyzed from the waist down.
Pardo's deep connection to food and his skills in the kitchen landed him a spot on MasterChef Latino, where he’s become the first contestant on the program in a wheelchair. Pardo joined Sundial and spoke with Luis Hernandez about the origins of his culinary passion, his recovery from the shooting that left him paralyzed and and his recent journey in the Camino de Santiago on a wheelchair.
This has been edited lightly for clarity.
PARDO: At the early age of maybe five years old, I would love to see my mother and my grandmother cook. I was always interested in cooking. The smells and food... Matter of fact, for my birthday I would always ask my parents to take me to a restaurant. Even when I was a little kid, I loved food and love to cook with my mother... sometimes I even skipped school and pretended I was sick.
WLRN: And they let you [skip school]?
Absolutely. When I was very young my mother used to take me to the supermarket and let me pick the vegetables because I picked them just right.
What eventually brought you to Miami?
I love the sea. I loved to be by the ocean. I can't be away from the ocean. I'm a water boy.
When you got here, my understanding was you had a series of odd jobs. Through your recovery and getting adapted to this new life, how did you keep that passion for being in the kitchen?
My kitchen evolved. When I was five years old I would cook because I was just curious. When I moved to Pennsylvania I lived with my grandmother and my uncle and I cooked for them. That was also another evolution of my cooking because I had to learn how to not cook with a lot of salt and a lot of fat. My cooking evolved from being something intuitive to a necessity. When I was in Venezuela I just realized food is how you get to a woman's heart. I loved cooking for my girlfriend. When I was shot and left in the chair I had a lot of time to be at home and I said, ‘What better time to just even cook.’
For you family is important and for your cooking family has always been an important part of that.
Yeah, absolutely. I have to be inspired to cook. I've always cooked for my family and for people that I love. I think cooking is the ultimate expression of love. People tell me that I just like to cook to cook and I'm like, 'No, if it wasn't for you I'd eat pita chips and Nutella.' I definitely cook for family members and loved ones.
What's it like when cameras are rolling and it is a competition?
Ever since I started this show I thought it was going to be difficult and that [cooking for competition] was going to be the most difficult part for me. What I do is cook for love. I have to be inspired because otherwise I won't be able to cook right. When I walked into this show I needed to find another inspiration because I'm not cooking for my girlfriend or my family. But I found it. My inspiration [to cook] was myself.