INTERVIEW: MasterChef's Graham Elliot talks tag-teamin' in Week 10
Hey, the MasterChef judges aren't totally ruthless — or are they? Judge Graham Elliot fills us in on flying in the home chefs' families for Week 10, and then saddling the reinvigorated contestants with the hardest challenge yet. Bonus? Chef Graham spills about next week's big surprise!
SheKnows: I got choked up watching the home chefs reunite with their families last night! Were there any moments that really got to you guys?
Graham Elliot: Krissi not being able to see her son was probably the most painful thing we've seen all season! A lot of people look at Krissi and say, "She's such a bully — I don't like her," or, "I want her off the show," but if you can't empathize with someone in that situation, you're really no better. I think you had to have compassion for someone when she lives for her son and that's why she’s doing this, and then there's the big box reveal and everyone's family is there, but not her son because he's in school. It's got to be the most gut-wrenching thing. I can't go a day without seeing my kids and not getting upset.
SK: We definitely saw the softer side of both Krissi and Natasha — they've both clearly struggled with being away from their kids. How do you lessen the sting of being away from your family so much for work?
GE: I — 90 percent of the time — bring them with me. So they come with me to California when we film; they come with me whenever I have to do trips for however many days. It's fun to go as a group, and it's also less stressful than having to leave them alone with my poor wife. It also allows me to stay focused on that work/life balance as opposed to just the taking off, "I'll see you when I see you," kind of thing. You know, it's work — I gotta do it.
SK: Well, we heard what Krissi was going to do but we didn't see anything about how her dish turned out. Do you think not having her son there affected it?
GE: Yeah, I think that you can always kind of tell through someone's dish how they're feeling. Looking at Jessie's dish and seeing that it was probably the prettiest thing she's put up — and it just tasted amazing — and the same thing with Luca's, they definitely rose to the occasion and made some really great food. It was the best dish that we've seen either of them do so far.
SK: It looked like Jessie was just about ready to throw down with her parents. Are they more or less as nitpicky in real life as they appeared on the show?
GE: Oh yeah! I think that it's kind of the perfectionist stuff and them wanting their baby to succeed. What's great is you're continuing to see Jessie perform well and grow more and more confident, so I guess she's not second guessing herself — regardless of who's there and who's trying to give her feedback. She's starting to find her own voice, and I think the same kind of goes for Luca doing that fish. His three components were just done so perfectly, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house watching him and his wife. You've never seen two people more in love! It was cool to witness.
SK: They were super-sweet! You see them, and we heard about how Eddie's girlfriend entered him in the competition and James' fiancée postponed their wedding so he could have this opportunity... how important is it as a budding chef to have someone like that in your corner?
GE: Oh, it's a must, otherwise you become that old cranky bitter cook that has no outside life! You have to have somebody that really supports you in that this isn't just what you do, it's who you are. This is an amazing opportunity —not just the exposure on TV — but being able to win and being able to continue learning as you go forward. That's why I always say MasterChef isn't just who can cook the best. It's who's the most passionate and the most driven and focused. It's a game of endurance — some people you'll see they'll get a month into it, and they'll be like, "Please send me home… I can't do this," kind of thing. It's great to see people still so hyper-focused.
SK: I was so happy to see Luca win! Did y'all ever think Natasha and Krissi, who Luca paired up for the tag-team sushi challenge, would come out on top?
GE: No! We thought James and Jordan were the magic duo that was going to do perfect. And the thing is, presentation-wise, it was really pretty… until you look at the shrimp and all of the actual technique — the rice was completely not seasoned and the way that the shrimp was cooked and the way the umi was absolutely mangled and looked like somebody chewed it. And, just so you know, that’s probably the hardest challenge that we've ever done, and we did it last year too. The sushi tag-team thing is just absolutely brutal, which you can see by my little dance at the end.
SK: How do you think the challenge affected the game?
GE: I think people probably have a little more respect now for Krissi because she didn't fight Natasha. I don't know if it was because she respects Natasha now or because she wasn't confident in what she was doing, but there wasn't a ton of barking back and, "I'm going to beat you up," or, "Shut up, I know how to do it." She was just taking orders and doing it, and having Natasha just completely run that team. Natasha stepped up and became a chef last night.
SK: Yeah, it took a while, but Natasha has officially won me over!
GE: She is so strong. And this is what we were saying — it's not just the skill set, but being able to lead people and make them better. That's what it's all about … being in a kitchen and being able to do that kind of stuff. It's interesting that they're all finding their own personal style, you know?
SK: Well, what did Jordan do that made Chef Ramsay start yelling at him?
GE: This is the thing — Japanese cuisine is so based on purity, the ingredients speaking for themselves, minimalism and respect. So you take a sea urchin that's alive, cutting it open and with, like, the back of a spoon, gently scooping these little pieces of the roe out — they should look like long little tongues — and then you put them on a paper towel and maybe pat them a tiny bit dry. What he was doing was taking them out with his fingers, which was turning them into puree, and he was rinsing it under the water. You never wash them off. It’s the essence of the ocean! The iodine, the minerals, the salt… all of the things that when you go to the beach and swallow water, that's what the sea urchin tastes like. Rinsing them in fresh water gets rid of all that.
SK: I was bummed to see Eddie go! But next week some of the home chefs are coming back, right?
GE: Yes! We're bringing three people back that are going to have an opportunity to win themselves a white apron back into the competition. It will be Lynn, Bri and Bime.
SK: The other chefs don't know about this at this point, do they?
GE: No, they don't know what’s going on. They're going to be told that they're not cooking and they really don't know what the deal is, and these guys are going to come in. And, again, it’s going to be one of the most frantic, fast-paced cooking exercises ever. There are going to be a lot of plates breaking!
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