INTERVIEW: MasterChef's Graham Elliot on Krissi and Jessie's culinary catfight
In a jaw-dropping double episode, Week 15 of MasterChef Season 4 ended with the top two home chefs heading into next week's finale. But it started with a whole lotta drama. Chef Graham Elliot speaks out about the name-calling, the nostalgia and why Luca and Natasha truly are the crème de la crème.
SheKnows: Last night was really intense. Let's jump right in with those two gigantic mystery boxes. So there were 50 ingredients to represent America, right?
Graham Elliot: Yeah, it was intended to kind of represent the 50 states. The idea was — instead of just showcasing a bunch of ingredients — let's pull what makes America, America: the great products from all over. 'Cause it's such a massive swath of land, you know, that you can pull from!
SK: It was a beautiful box, and Luca — who called it a chef's dream — got to pick his teammate because he had won the most mystery-box challenges. It isn't any secret he and Natasha dislike each other. Why do you think he chose her over Jessie?
GE: Umm… I don't know. I think that Luca is somebody who, even if he might not get along with someone, he still wants to win. You know, he's a fun guy — super-loving and all those things — but he's also extremely competitive and wants nothing more than to win, so he's going to put whomever he needs to on his team to do that. So I think he felt he chose the strongest of the group.
SK: Now, let's jump into the drama. We knew it was going to be an explosive episode, because we saw in the preview Krissi's now-infamous "What the f*** did you just say to me, b****?" line. Was there anything we didn't see?
GE: The actual cooking part — it was really bad. But it was great seeing Jessie really come into her own. She got super-confident. We judges were all kind of getting in her face like, "Your partner has been missing for 20 minutes. You're stuck doing these things — step up, take over, quit asking permission and just do it." You know, the your-life-is-on-the-line kind of thing. So you all of a sudden see her just really stepping up... not with a bad attitude, but very confident. And then, when we were tasting their dishes, there was like 10 minutes of us talking to them, asking, "Who made A? Who made B? Who made C?" And almost every single one was Jessie. And then it was like, "Krissi, what did you do?" And she was like, "Well, I helped with the apple dessert." It's like, "OK, that’s great that you tried to make something happen with what you had, but — for better or worse — this is kind of Jessie's menu."
SK: It was pretty jarring to see sweet little Southern girl Jessie call Krissi a cow. Did that shock you?
GE: I think as a big person, I can relate right away to all of the "cow" and "fat" and all that kind of stuff, so I think if I was Krissi and I was hearing that stuff, I absolutely would go up and get in someone's face in a second. So I think for her to just go up and say, "What'd you say? Well, that's not what I heard so I'm just going to sit right here and listen to what's going on," I'm proud of Krissi for not just going up and throwing tables and chairs everywhere. 'Til the end, she never tried to play nice or be someone she wasn't — she wore it all on her sleeve. But yeah, it was very surprising to see Jessie say something like, "I want to send that cow home." Again, the first time I ever watch the episode is when it's airing — as a judge, I never get to see any of the interview parts, when they're sitting there talking — so that's the first time I'd ever heard Jessie say anything like that. It's weird, because it's kind of like, "Really?" Not that you lose respect for the person, but you're like, "I kind of thought you were above that."
SK: Krissi's temper has, in the past, gotten the best of her in a way that borders on the physical. Last night, she made the comment about smashing Jessie in the face with a hot pan, and we all remember when she threw marinara on the other home chefs. Is there ever a point where you have to actually pull a contestant aside and talk to them about their behavior?
GE: Yeah. It's a food show — it's not just some reality show where we're trying to, like, make everyone fight and hate each other. I think the natural personality and character comes out of each person as things go on, but we would always comment to Krissi on those things. You know: How come you can't work with people? How come you blame everyone when something happens? How come you're threatening this person? I mean, it's like talking to your kids or someone you're friends with, where they tell you, "I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better." Then they go back to their ways.
SK: Joe said it was very emotional and difficult for him to send Krissi home, which seemed strange based on the Krissi that America has come to know each week. Do you think the show editing contributed to her being made out to be the villain?
GE: No, I think that Krissi is kind of like two different people. When she's competing, she's in everyone's face. But then, I saw a picture of her barbecuing out back with Bri a week or two ago, and everyone on Twitter was like, "What? You two are friends now?" So I think when you're in the arena, you act a certain way and then, you know, during these other times it's fine. I don't think it has to do with editing as much — everything you see actually did happen — the show is just very high pressure, one situation after another. Some people thrive on that. Watching this, it was very cool — and I was very proud — to see Jessie absolutely just step up and take over and it almost became a two versus one kind of challenge.
SK: The second episode last night — the semi-final — ended with y'all sending Jessie home. How did you feel watching that episode?
GE: Did you see Jessie's recreation dish compared to her original? Light years away from each other! She did the Wellington, but she hand-carved it with a little dollop of sauce and little veggies on the side… it was absolutely beautiful. Or, as Gordon would say, absolutely stunning. I thought it was really fun to watch them redo their dishes and have it come full circle, just to see how far they've come. But yeah, with Jessie gone, now it's just down to Luca and Natasha. It's gonna be really interesting — somebody that cooks from the heart and somebody that cooks with this extreme focus and competitive spirit.
SK: Do you think it's surprising to people that Natasha — a stay-at-home mom with no formal training — made it all the way to the end?
GE: I think that, if you ask the judges, Natasha's definitely, out of the entire season, one of the top people we would all pick to come work in our kitchens. She just has raw skill and talent that you could easily mold into someone that could be working a station in your kitchen with a couple weeks of training.
SK: Did you ever think at the start of this season that sweet little Italian Luca would be the last guy standing?
GE: No! That was the last person I thought. (laughs) I said no to Luca last year, and I said no to him this year. I think he's a great, great guy, but he's the silly guy. He's goofy, he's fun — and that's how I really am in the kitchen too, so I totally relate to that — but I never thought he was really serious or maybe competitive enough. And then somewhere in the middle, he just started winning everything. I think his food really started changing when the families came back and he cooked that dish for his wife, Kate. I was like, "Wow, I would order this again in a restaurant — like, two portions it's so good. From there, he just kept doing better and better. And all of a sudden, it's down to two people… and I think that definitely the top two people are in the finale.
SK: Totally. Any hints about how the finale goes?
GE: Just that there is that huge basketball-like scoreboard thing in the middle and a huge, live audience there. It's a reunion of sorts, and it's really interesting. It's the best food, I think, that we've ever seen in a finale… not just the best food that these two have ever put up. It's really amazing, and I'm super-proud of what they both do.
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