Pass The Deep-Fried Water Bugs

Subjected to everything from nearly inedible insects to heart-wrenching sob stories on last night’s premiere, MasterChef judge Graham Elliot made it through the night with his trademark humor intact. We chewed the fat with the chef about the intense two-hour premiere.

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Q&A

SheKnows: I’m a bit of a girl, and some of the contestants’ stories really choked me up. How do y’all keep your emotions in check?

Graham Elliot: Actually, it’s really hard! I think, as we get more comfortable in our skin as judges, we’re not afraid to show that emotion. We don’t know anything about the contestants prior to them walking in and cooking for us, so when we ask about something like, “Oh, what’s with the apron? “ — kind of making a joke — and then you find out, “Well, it belonged to my mom… I gave it to her as a kid,” it’s hard not to connect with that.

SK: That contestant with the apron, Jordan — the delivery van driver who lost his mother to brain cancer — was such a heart-tugger. Admittedly, I was sobbing. It was embarrassing.

GE: Yeah, it’s really hard to hear that stuff. And then there was the engagement — nobody saw that coming, and it was amazing watching the show last night and seeing her reaction. You know, she was caught off guard. Even Joe wiped away tears!

SK: You guys are tough, but I think secretly you’re all a bunch of softies.

GE: Oh, definitely.

SK: Well, his touching story aside, Jordan’s food was so good y’all actually finished off his plate after he left. Is it unusual for that to happen?

GE: Yeah, usually we’re tasting. We have to sit there for about 16 hours a day going through all of these people’s dishes, and sometimes you do come across one that it’s almost like, “Okay, this is what we’re going to have for lunch right now.” And then you just completely devour it — it’s that delicious.

SK: I’m going to rattle off a few, well, unique things you ate on last night’s episode, and you sum up their taste in a word or two: Ostrich egg frittata?

GE: Super rich! The egg itself is, I think, the equivalent of 20 chicken eggs, but the yolk is a lot darker and richer and higher in fat. So when you cook with it, that comes through — it’s almost like a custardy texture.

SK: How about the wild bear?

GE: Kind of greasy, but it didn’t taste as gamey as I thought it was going to be.

SK: Deep-fried giant water bugs??

GE: I tried a bit, and I’ve never spit anything out… but that is as close as I’ve come. That was pretty vile! They were super-bitter and the texture was like eating a peanut shell. It was just horrible. Probably one of the worst things I’ve had in four seasons!

SK: Was the beaver so good that it tipped the scales in Brian the beaver guy's favor? It looked like you were waffling on whether you should vote him through.

GE: Sure, I though the flavor was good. It tasted like ground beef, and it didn’t taste of, like, a freshwater pond or anything nasty like that. And I love the idea that this is something that he goes out and gets himself, and I’ve never had it before. He did a really cool preparation with it too. The fact that he took the tail and filleted it and cooked it, and then he served the meat on the tail — the tail was kind of like the plate — I thought it showed a lot of skill, and that was why I was like, “I want to see more of what you can do.” But he did have some crazy, devil eyes.

SK: Oh, he did... he really did. They were large and in charge!

GE: Yeah — it was kind of freaking me out.

FUN FACTS

  • September 19 is "Graham Elliot Day" in the City of Chicago
  • A singer and guitarist, Elliot serves as the Culinary Director of the famous Lollapalooza music festival
  • Graham Elliot was dubbed one of Crain's "40 Under Forty" alongside President Barrack Obama and Oprah Winfrey

SK: Speaking of freaking people out, Joe and Gordon are kind of scary. Do you ever wince at some of the feedback from those two?

GE: I think, over time now, I understand how they are. I think Gordon is one of the most fair guys. Even when people get under his skin, he’s pretty mellow and has a lot of fun. Joe, on the other hand… I don’t know if it's being from New York or what the story is, but he's very black and white — cut and dried. This isn’t good, I don’t really care about your story or what have you, and I don’t buy it. So there are a lot of times where I feel like I’m the one saying, “Think about it — they’re from this area, and they don’t have a lot of money, and they’re trying their hardest. Look how creative they are,” even if they didn’t pull it off. And I think Gordon, oftentimes, will kind of agree, like, “Yeah, this wasn’t perfect, but I see potential.” And then Joe’s usually like, “The dish has to be good. It’s not good. That’s it.”

SK: You’ve already jumped on a giant pogo stick and fielded a football. What other types of tomfoolery, so to speak, can we look forward to from you?

GE: All I can tell you is that’s just the beginning! There are going to be funny costumes — there are going to be a lot of cute things, which I enjoy. I love being the silly character, you know? That’s just who I am. This season, the three of us — we’re all good friends outside of our show anyway — I don’t think we’ve ever been more comfortable in being able to just laugh and have fun with the show.

SK: Are all the sheep in the preview for next week a hint at the start of a season of insane challenges?

GE: Absolutely! They're going to have to take those sheep and basically sacrifice them while they're alive.

SK: Oh, God...

GE: I’m just kidding, I’m kidding! (laughs) No, they feel like this is a great way to show them, you know, this is what you guys are cooking with — become one with the sheep, because over there all its buddies have already been butchered up and you gotta do 'em justice. Now go cook something! They only have a tiny amount of time to make something, so when you see certain people go after a shank that’s going to take six hours and try to cook it in half an hour? We’re like, “You gotta go.” We basically go and tap out a ton of people to leave, just based on how they’re doing things and what we’re tasting. It’s a good one!

Image courtesy Matt Hoyle/FOX

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