‘MasterChef’ exclusive: Christina Tosi on this season’s home cooks, challenges, possible ‘All-Stars’ idea
Wednesday night marks another new episode of “MasterChef” airing on Fox, and based on what we’ve learned from judge Christina Tosi, there could be some surprises both in store in this one and over the rest of the season. The home cooks may surprise you, and there are some challenges that will find some unique ways to test them. Also, there are some great guest judges coming! That always adds to the fun.
In addition to discussing this season, we floated by Tosi our idea for an all-star season that we’ve pondered over for some time. Take a look at what she had to say about it at the end of the interview.
CarterMatt – You’ve had a chance to do the show for a decent stretch of time now. Have you had a chance to get used to the formula of it?
Christina Tosi – It’s really, really fun, and I think I’m finding my groove with Gordon [Ramsay], which is great. Even from the last season, which was my first season on ‘MasterChef,’ we obviously had mutual respect for each other even though we had different opinions and different tastes. We know one another and how we work and operate, what our likes and dislikes are and what our pet peeves are and so on.
This season, I feel like we’ve got some really great contestants. There’s some great potential talent that is starting to come out. There’s a handful of really big, bright stars, and we’re having a blast. Having the guest judges on rotation is really good for Gordon and I, because as these home cooks get to know us and our likes and dislikes that’s really great and that keeps them motivated, but having a guest judge come in week to week really keeps them on their toes. I mean, they already have to stay on their toes because they never know what they’re going to get thrown when they walk into the kitchen, but different judges with different culinary backgrounds with different flavor profiles and techniques really allows the home cooks to be even more inspired and play off of different flavor profiles and approaches to food and working in the kitchen. That’s great because the more that we can give these home cooks in terms of added exposure, the better they become and that really excites me this season.
Obviously you and Gordon have strong opinions, so what do the two of you do when disagreements come out? How do you work through those and make decisions?
We’re both Scorpios, our birthdays are one day away from each other and that explains a lot, I think. The hardest ones are the battle for the white aprons; when we see eye to eye, we really make easy decisions, but sometimes we have to battle it out and fight for the potential we see in one home cook versus another. We have to make a decision and figure out what the right decision is. Oftentimes, it’s not a cumulative decision; it’s often based on the performance of the home cook in the day, and that’s really hard when you start to really connect to these home cooks and you see the potential come out; when they screw up and they really don’t deliver, there is really nothing that you can do to protect them.
We try to keep each other grounded and on the level. We respectfully disagree on things, but it’s typically the one who is the most passionate about a decision. Typically I’ll defer to him if he really feels so, so strongly, but he’ll also do the same to me if I’m like ‘we have to keep this person in. I know you didn’t like this part of the dish, but you had to like the potential they showed in this other part of the dish.’
It’s not easy! It’s grueling, but it’s part of the process.
The format for the judges this year has been a little bit different, since as mentioned you and Gordon have been joined by various guest judges. Has that been an exciting little tweak, especially in being almost the gatekeeper for them coming into the season? How’s that impacted the show?
We’re starting to find a few different things happening. One, a lot of these home cooks have watched past seasons, so they know on some level what sort of challenge to expect … If they’re really smart, they start to understand how to play to their strengths.
Often times, what we’re finding with these guest judges is that it brings in such a different perspective every single week, which is really great for the show and the home cooks. Even if it’s something that doesn’t wow myself or Gordon, maybe it wows Aarón Sánchez or Wolfgang Puck. I mean, talk about a chef who has been through it! Even if Gordon or I agree or disagree, it’s so great to have that additional person who might see things different.
Claudia Sandoval won last season, and when you think about a guest judge like Aarón Sánchez, that really fits in her Mexican roots. He’s a Mexican chef who does amazing things with his food in restaurants through the States. Having that role model that knows your flavor profile and background, it’s all the more motivating. You’ve got someone like Richard Blais, who is really about being a culinary technician, Kevin Spragga, who brings that new American fine-dining, Chef Edward Lee, who really plays to elevated Southern cuisine. It’s not something I do or something Gordon does, so it’s awesome to have an opportunity to bring these guests into the kitchen. They provide a different resource. Sometimes, it also gives them a plug-in to their own voice.
I know you can’t speak about contestant preferences, but at there particular challenges you enjoy being a part of more than others? I know for me I wouldn’t probably love some of the stuff outside standing around in the heat. (Laughs.)
We shoot so much in the studio and that’s really fun, but I love the field challenges and being outdoors, I love that feeling of ‘mission impossible,’ not just for the challenge but doing it outdoors. I think that really teaches these home cooks to flex certain muscles that they don’t learn to flex in the comfort in the studio kitchen. We’re hard on them! That’s our role. We’re consistently coming up with challenges to stretch them further than they have before, and they never know which challenges are really going to bring the most out of people.
For me, the thrill of coming in every day to shoot is not really knowing who’s going to rise. We talk when we’re devising the challenges about who might succeed and who might be good with a given ingredient, but until we’re actually in the kitchen or in a field challenge, you never know who’s going to rise or who’s going to fall. That thrill, watching these home cooks through their journey of self-discovery, is one of my favorite parts. I never have a favorite challenges or scenario; it’s the thrill of going in with them. I know what the challenge is, but I never know who’s going to come out on top.
So is there anything you can say in general about where we’re going this season?
It’s definitely a little bit of a roller-coaster. Some of the home cooks who you may be questioning the potential of or don’t think have [it], they really rise. There’s a lot of really raw, guttural moments that happen in the kitchen because these home cooks are so talented and untapped, and they want it so bad and you start to see that as the weeks go on and the competitions get harder. You see some people pull amazing things out of nowhere in challenges that seem impossible, which I love.
I think more than ever before, you’re going to see a level of food and innovation that’s really like you haven’t seen in past seasons. That’s one of the best parts of filming from season to season is seeing the caliber of food continue to grow, and being in the industry that’s exciting to see what the future of food looks like.
One thing that we’ve seen a little bit more this year are some more returning contestants [in various roles, like with Claudia or Nick]. Would you like to see an ‘All-Stars’ season with former home cooks, or a larger celebrity version beyond what was done early this year?
It’s a good question. One of the things we’re starting to see within the ‘MasterChef’ family is that even [with] the home cooks who don’t end up winning, [we’re] continuing to see them make their food dreams come true. Some of them take different paths, and it changes from season to season … ‘MasterChef All-Stars.’ I think that’s a good one, and I’ll have to bring it to the table because I think it could be really thrilling. At the end of the day all of the home cooks who come through the kitchen are super-talented, but it could be fun to see how they come out on top now, a year or two or three later.
I think that [celebrity special] that came out earlier this winter, I think that was really fun since it showed the power of the ‘MasterChef’ brand and what a call to action it is towards enthusiasm towards food, and getting into the kitchen. I think you’ll see more of that. I think it’s really fun to see people who you come to know in other spaces come into the kitchen and risk it all and put it all on the line.
Thanks to Christina for her time, and be sure to head over here to see an exclusive preview now for Wednesday’s episode! Also, sign up over here to secure some other TV news on all we cover, sent right over to you via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: Fox.)