INTERVIEW: MasterChef's Graham Elliot on Week 13 and what Gordon Ramsay is really like
Week 13 of MasterChef Season 4 found the final six contenders tasked with dinner service at WP 24, Wolfgang Puck's 3-star restaurant famous for award-winning modern Chinese cuisine. In today's blog, Chef Graham Elliot reveals who stood up to the heat and who hit wok bottom.
SheKnows: That was a pretty grand entrance y'all made via helicopter.
Graham Elliot: Yeah, James Bond style!
SK: Everybody seemed pretty excited except for Krissi, who looked legitimately terrified. Did anyone realize she was afraid of heights prior to the challenge?
GE: No, but it took forever to try to get her up there, and — when she wouldn't — we said, "Okay, forget it."
SK: The home chefs had to knock out dinner service at Wolfgang Puck's ultra-high-end Chinese cuisine restaurant in Los Angeles, WP 24. Who did you think would shine in that setting?
GE: I thought James and Natasha would probably be the strong ones.
SK: I thought Luca would kill it since he has so much restaurant experience, but let's talk about the steamer snafu. What was he doing wrong?
GE: The steamer was running out of water and he was putting cold water in it, which just obviously takes 10 times longer to get hot. And you know I think it messed up his timing as far as getting the scallops in early enough. Usually you put one in and test it and see how long it takes and then work accordingly, but I think he was putting them in and trying to take them out too fast.
SK: He seemed to recover nicely in the entrée round, though. What were he and Jessie doing to rock their woks that Krissi couldn't figure out on the blue team?
GE: You know, Asian cuisine is very difficult, and that's one thing I think everyone came away with — Gordon, Joe and myself included. There are so many different layers. You add this, you finish with that, then add the protein, then take it out of the pan, throw it back in… it's just steps and steps. That's how you layer those flavors, but you're also controlling the heat of the wok with your knees — there are these little bars that can kind of raise the temperature of the flame, which is like a jet engine in that it's 100 times more powerful than a regular burner on a stove. So, I think it's hard for anyone. But Krissi clearly had no clue what was going on. She was completely lost and just staring at the woks.
SK: You stepped in to help. What ultimately made you decide to point her in the right direction?
GE: What happened was the red team had served all of their entrées but it took, like, an additional 20 minutes for the blue team to get anything sent out, so the poor guests were just sitting there. That's when it got so bad that I jumped in and started helping put food out and getting Krissi up to speed, showing her exactly how to do those steps.
SK: What made the diners angrier: the red team's raw appetizer or the blue team's late entrées?
GE: Probably the late entrées. Once you've been there for a while and you wait longer and longer and it's still not coming out… people just get really frustrated, and that's when they start getting out of there.
SK: Natasha and James both made comments about how this challenge gave them a newfound respect for people who work in professional kitchens. How important do you think it is for a budding chef to spend time in that kind of environment?
GE: I think that the word "chef" is constantly changing. There are people who just want to be on TV, who want to cater, who want to work on books… stuff like that. So I don't think it’s as important as it has been in the past. With cooking, you can stay at home and have a great time and stay an amateur. You know, not everyone on MasterChef has the goal of being the greatest restaurant chef in the world and owning their own place. Being in a restaurant is a completely different dynamic than a lot of other food outlets nowadays.
SK: Chef Ramsay was scary expediting, but I have this theory that he's actually a super-sweet, super-sensitive guy. So, give us the scoop: is he just a normal dude outside of the kitchen?
GE: Yeah, he's super-nice. He’s amazingly funny, and also courteous to where if someone walks in he'll jump up and offer his chair and grab you a water and all of those kinds of things. He's just a really good person.
It's like a Jekyll and Hyde thing. The minute he gets in a kitchen, he's right back there to being on the line as a chef — he knows how to do all of the different stations and he can cook better than anybody else that's already in the restaurants, so he demands for things to be at a certain level. I cooked with him back in 1999 at an event and got to see firsthand how he is in the kitchen… he's no different now, regardless of TV or anything else.
SK: I've had some really good calamari and some really bad calamari. What makes it easy to mess up?
GE: Too high a temperature of oil, where it gets dark on the outside but it doesn't cook the calamari. Throwing the calamari in all at once, which lowers the temperature of the oil and it just gets a gummy texture. There are so many things that can go wrong with it, and I think that's what makes it fun. It seems like such an incredibly simple dish, because everybody in this country has had it somewhere.
SK: So, Bri had to go... again.
GE: Bri is kind of like everyone's favorite, as far as the viewers at home. What I tweeted last night was that people staying or going is based completely on the dish they put up and not their attitude. When you put those dishes together, there were two good ones and one that was okay... but the sauce was really bad. It was like lemon tomato — it was so extremely tart that it was hard to even eat it, and you couldn't enjoy it with the calamari. So as a complete dish, it was the worst of the three.
But after tweeting that, I've gotten about 500 people who have responded about how much they hate Krissi and how we made the wrong choice and they would never buy a cookbook from her and she's a bully and we’re setting a bad example and just everything you can think of. There's so much anger out there toward Krissi… it's very palpable.
SK: As bummed as I am to see Bri leave, I'm super-pumped for next week because you, Joe and Gordon's boys are going to be on the episode. Can you give us a little hint as to how things might play out with such sophisticated palates on set?
GE: It's awesome because you're dealing with different ages. It's just funny to see what they go for, based on what they like… not just, you know, what would make a cohesive mystery box. So, Gordon's son, who is getting older, goes in and is just like, "What looks cool? That coconut looks cool… we'll try that." My son Conrad, who's going to be 3 soon, runs straight to the candy section and just, like, grabs a bottle of sprinkles and starts eating the chocolate around them for a bit and then throws oranges at the wall for a bit. So it's pretty funny when we start pulling out the ingredients and naming them off — you can just see with the contestants that at one part, they think it's kind of funny, the other part you can tell they're pissed. Like, Yeah, this is cute, but how am I supposed to cook with this stuff?
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