From Tecumseh to TV

A former Day Camp counselor wins MasterChef

by Sam Hirt

Something is very evident about Kelsey Murphy: she likes the pressure.

“I work best under pressure. I’m kind of one of those people where if you ask me to do it, I’ll execute and do it.”

For example, being a contestant on MasterChef, the widely popular TV series where amateur chefs compete in weekly elimination challenges (and get endearingly screamed at by Gordon Ramsey). Oh, and doing this with a knife wound to her finger. Oh, and with a baby on the way.

“I was definitely in my element.”

But she wasn’t just a contestant. Kelsey Murphy was the winner of MasterChef Season 11.

In her mind, making the leap to compete on this show, across the country from her family and her job, was done because of a similar decision back in high school when she decided to work at Camp Tecumseh. More on that later.

Working at camp was a natural fit for Kelsey. She was a leader in her youth group. She grew up going to summer camp in Wisconsin. When she started working at Tecumseh, she felt like it made sense.

“I felt like I was able to blossom into a more independent person.”

Kelsey seems to gravitate towards some intense challenges. She grew up as a gymnast. When she went to college at Indiana University, she walked on to the rowing team where she eventually earned a scholarship. And cooking is not that different. It’s intense and fast, especially when you’re competing on television.

Working at camp can feel similar, minus the TV.

“If I’m going to do something, I love to immerse myself in it, and really dive into the culture and atmosphere.”

“I was able to blossom into a more independent person.” 

Working at camp is incredibly immersive. Rather than working shifts and then going home like a standard job, a day camp or overnight camp counselor lives at Camp. It’s that immersion that creates lifelong friendships and such meaningful memories. Plus, while you’re immersed in the camp world, you are building the most essential skills for any future career.

“So many people are focused on internships or a resume builder. But there’s no better resume builder than having good social skills, good experiences, good things that make you a mature human being – there would be no better life skill job than working at camp.”

Fresh off the heels of winning MasterChef, Kelsey looks back on her time on staff at Tecumseh and sees a common thread.

“There’s one connection that links those two things perfectly. I have always been a do-what-you’re-supposed-to-do person.”


As a high level gymnast from childhood through high school, her time was spent focused on that singular thing. But when the opportunity came to work at Camp Tecumseh, she knew she wanted that experience.

“I grew up going to camp. I wanted to be part of that again. I felt very controlled by the expectations around me. I feel like a lot of high schoolers feel that.”

Working at camp in her late high school years gave her the opportunity to learn a little more about herself, and about her own goals.

“Tecumseh gave me that release of, ‘Hey, here’s me again.’ I found myself again. I found my confidence. I found my individuality, my own maturity and responsibility, away from the adults in my life who were telling me what I should be doing.”

Then after working at camp, Kelsey accomplished the traditional route: college, degree, husband, great job, kids. All wonderful things. But when the opportunity came to be part of MasterChef, an opportunity that could definitely throw a wrench into their family’s normal life plans, she had the similar feeling from high school when she knew she wanted the Day Camp staff experience.

“Those two experiences are so closely linked. They are pillars in my life who brought me back to me.”

And speaking of things being linked, I asked her about her memory of camp food.

“Honestly, it was actually pretty good. I have fond memories of camp food. There was so much joy that went along with it. It was so much fun.”

“Food isn’t about the food. It’s about sitting around the table with the people you love and care about.”

My final question is a big question, and one that I ask everyone I talk to: why does camp matter?

She paused, thought about it, and said, “Well, when I think about camp I just smile and laugh. Camp to me is joy. Everything is so serious and scheduled and regimented. At camp, you’re away from technology and in the outdoors. People are craving that.”

If you’re in the Indy area, visit Kelsey’s restaurant, Inspo, at the Sun King Fishers Test Kitchen.