I’m Going To Tell You The Biggest Secret About Competing On MasterChef
It’s been almost six years since my season of MasterChef aired (season five, 2014). My post-show non-compete contract expired three years ago. While I’m not supposed to talk about certain aspects of what goes on behind the scenes, I’m under no legal obligation *not to.*
And, after spending the past 6 years reflecting on what it feels like to have strangers on the internet discuss my “resting middle aged bitch face,” I’m finally *emotionally prepared* to write about the show. So here goes.
Have you ever watched an episode of MasterChef and thought to yourself, “How do all these amateur cooks just know how to make a [highly specific and frequently obscure dish unfamiliar to most non-professional chefs]?” Like doughnuts. Or shrimp tempura. Or a croquembouche (even the most ambitious home cook would likely never attempt a multi-tiered cone of cream puffs encased in cobwebs of spun sugar).
The answer is: they teach us.
That’s it. That was the big reveal.
If you were hoping for lurid tales of cast member hookups or off-camera cat fights, sorry (and the best fights were televised, anyway). As for juicy trysts…well, there are some secrets I’ll take to the grave.
Did you really think 20-some-odd home cooks chosen mostly for their personalities and willingness to throw other competitors under the bus would all just *happen* to know how to make doughnuts from scratch? MasterChef contestants are regular people, just like you. No one makes doughnuts at home! Everyone outsources! We all pick up a dozen at Dunkin!
Think about it: if you’re running a TV show, and the premise of the show is that the competitors are the “best home cooks in America,” wouldn’t it make sense to have them mostly succeed? The day we all had to make doughnuts (Episode 4), we had spent the prior weekend…learning how to make doughnuts. It’s not terribly complicated, but there’s still a lot of room for error if you measure ingredients incorrectly or don’t do things in the right order.
Come with me, friends, as I give you a behind the scenes peek into how they film the show.
Every MasterChef episode takes two full days to shoot (we wear the same outfit both days for continuity). Production operates Monday through Friday–the crew doesn’t work weekends. But we competitors were all living in (more like, imprisoned in) a hotel in Burbank seven days a week. So we spent Saturdays and some Sundays in a windowless industrial kitchen sharpening our skills.
Our teachers, two absolutely incredible women chefs, worked very closely with Gordon and the showrunners. They had both competed on reality TV cooking competitions and gone to culinary school–they knew their sh*t.
Every weekend, we’d practice three to four dishes or techniques. We learned how to perfectly cook a steak, frost a layer cake, assemble a croquembouche, and fry tempura-battered shrimp. I figured it was the closest to culinary school I’d ever get, so I threw myself into every lesson. I’ve always loved school, and this was a classroom with a $250,000 final exam attached.
I asked questions. I took notes. I kept my head down. Not all my cast mates took it as seriously, and our instructors–who were in constant contact with the showrunners–watched us like aproned hawks. While I can’t prove it, I’m convinced that a bad attitude in the weekend classes led to the production team engineering a contestant’s eventual downfall in the competition.
I damn near won the whole thing, but in the end, it wasn’t me who walked away with the prize money. But I left with something far more valuable: a deepened knowledge of the craft.
OK, to be honest, a quarter of a million dollars would have been way more valuable. But I can sear and baste a perfect medium-rare ribeye. So that’s something.
I hope that revealing this secret doesn’t ruin the show for you.
In fact, I hope it inspires you.
Because now you know that MasterChef contestants aren’t *special.* We’re just people who love to cook and were lucky enough to get the chance to learn more than we ever thought possible from some of the best professionals in the industry.
Cooking isn’t an art. It’s a craft. Anyone who wants to can learn to cook. And whether you’re learning from Gordon Ramsay’s trusted team or from YouTube, you’ll get better the more you practice. So apron up and get in the kitchen.
Your time starts….NOW!