At the bar in a South Setauket restaurant Monday night, it was game time but no one could hear the TV.
A patron yelled -- to no one in particular -- to turn up the volume. When someone did, it wasn’t a sports announcer that blared through the speakers, it was the opening lines to the cooking competition “MasterChef.”
About 100 people had gathered at TJ Halpin’s for a different kind of broadcasted contest and all were routing for hometown favorite, Frank Mirando, a Holbrook native.
The talent was stacked in Mirando’s favor in Monday night’s team challenge, in which Mirando was the team leader of the favored group.
But then there was a twist. The two team leaders had to trade teams and there was an uproar among the crowd.
They turned to Mirando himself, who was hosting the viewing party and doing his best to stay quiet about the show’s outcome. Mirando's team won Monday's challenge.
Mirando, 28, was one of three New York contestants on the show this season and the only one from Long Island. Now in the advanced stages of the competition, he’s the only remaining New Yorker.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “I can’t tell anybody. But I never expected to make it this far. It’s surreal. It feels like a dream.”
Mirando’s mother, Neva, whom he credits as his greatest influence in the kitchen, said she has full confidence in her son and his ability. She said he makes a great contestant not just because he’s a great cook, but because he’s a great person.
A prime example are the viewing parties Mirando has hosted for many of the "MasterChef" episodes. He picks a local venue, cooks something that will appear on the show that night, and charges $30 a head. Mirando said he initially planned to donate the money to his favorite nonprofit, Slow Food, but then heard about a local family that was racking up medical bills -- and heartache -- with a sick child.
“Turning the focus on this little boy,” she said, “it’s a great thing.”
As of Monday, Mirando said he has hosted six viewing parties and raised about $10,000 for the Scully family, of Miller Place.
Jimmy Scully, who attended the viewing party Monday, said his son, Thomas, 8, was diagnosed with anaplastic ependymoma after doctors found a golf-ball sized, malignant tumor at the base of his skull in late April.
Scully said it is one of the most aggressive types of tumors found in children, and even after surgeons removed 100 percent of the tumor from Thomas’ brain, he was given a 20- to 40-percent chance of survival. After seven weeks of radiation, which Thomas finished last week, his chances were boosted to 60- to 70-percent, Scully said.
Scully, who said he only knew the Mirando family indirectly before Frank decided to dedicate the viewing parties to Thomas, said he was grateful for the support during a difficult time. He said his family is hopeful for his son’s recovery.
“I think Tommy is going to be one of the exceptions,” he said. “I hope.”
Mirando, a financial adviser by trade, said while he hopes to use his experience on the show to leverage a career in food, he was happy to use this exposure for better things.
“I’m only on TV for a couple months,” he said. “I would like to be able to use that little bit of fame for something good.”
The show is produced by the Fox Broadcasting Co.