PASADENA When you're an actress, television host, fashion model and former Miss Puerto Rico who was first runner-up in the 2005 Miss Universe pageant like Cynthia Olavarría, there's not a lot of time or desire to cook.
Her skills and interest in cooking have changed since joining TV host Fernando Arau, singer Christian Chávez, actor David Chocarro, actor Christian de la Campa, actress Erika De La Roas, talk show host Nancy Álvarez and actress Lorena Herrera on Telemundo's culinary competition show "Top Chef Estrellas."
Each week, the celebrities face cooking challenges in an effort to win cash prizes totaling $100,000.
One big difference from the English-language version of "Top Chef" is once eliminated from the competition, the celebrity contestants become sous chefs to the remaining contestants.
"For a beauty pageant, you are prepared and know what you are going through," Olavarría says. "In this case, I didn't know it was going to be like the real 'Top Chef' competition. I had never cooked in my life, so I didn't have the tools for the competition. But, I did it because of my charity, Staying Alive."
Because of her years in beauty pageants and modeling, Olavarría has tried to eat healthy.
"I have never had the experience of cooking. In one way, my parents were a little bit embarrassed because they said they thought they had taught me how to cook.
"But it's all about practice, and because I only eat chicken or tuna, I never got to practice what they taught me," Olavarría says.
"If they had said on the show that I needed to cook an omelet I would have been OK. But when they give you a lobster, and it's alive, it's very different."
Since taping the competition, Olavarría has continued to work on her cooking skills. She is happy she agreed to be on the show because it pushed her out of her comfort zone and made her learn new skills.
Olavarría's main reason for being part of the show was to raise money for her charity.
The added bonus is that she thinks the program will give people a chance to know her as more than just a beauty pageant contestant.
Olavarría is also an actor. She made her TV debut in 2005 with the mini-series "Cuando el Universo Conspira" and has continued to work in theater, music videos and telenovelas.
"I think that when you show them your weakness, it's very important to people that they could understand and they can relate to you," Olavarría says.
"I'm a normal person. They know my characters, but they don't know me, and I really want them to know I'm not afraid of that. Obviously, there are going to be things that probably they're not going to like. I'll feel embarrassed with one or two things, but I think that, that makes me what they really want me to be, like the human being that I am, and everybody has weaknesses, so it's fine to accept that and for people to see it."
"Top Chef Estrellas": 8 p.m. Sunday, KNSO (Channel 51.1)
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.