‘MasterChef’ exclusive interview: Samantha de Silva, David Mack on exit

Samantha was the first top 18 member out.

Before we get to a new episode of “MasterChef” airing on Fox Monday night, we’re going to first take a look back at what happened so far this season courtesy of a pair of recently-eliminated contestants in David Mack and Samantha de Silva.

When you get eliminated from a show like this, there is typically a couple of different ways that you can take it — you can either spend most of your exit interviews huffing and puffing about what went wrong, or you can actually take what you learned and try to apply it to the rest of your life. Thankfully, these two chose the latter — and it made for this being a rather positive (and at times even funny) chat.

Cartermatt.com – First and foremost, what made each of you really want to try out for ‘MasterChef’ to begin with?

David Mack – For me, boredom is dangerous, and I got to find different ways to challenge myself creatively. This really was it. I’ve never done the culinary challenge. I’ve done other things — painted and drawn, this and that — but I’ve never put myself through a culinary creativity challenge. This was my first opportunity, and I jumped on it as soon as I could.

Samantha de Silva – For me, it was actually a friend that pushed me in this direction. I was a little skittish about being on TV in general, especially with someone like Gordon Ramsay. She was a vehement supporter, and she convinced me to audition for the show and it turned out really well. I enjoyed the dynamic of challenges and people, and I really enjoyed the creativity. It was a really good learning lesson when it came to what I want to do in the culinary world.

We’ve seen Gordon Ramsay do all sorts of unspeakable things over the years — smashing fish with his hands, cursing up a storm, and just in general him getting really angry, though he is a little bit kinder and gentler on this show. What was your perception of him going into this show, and did it change at all after spending some time with him?

Samantha – He was actually super-nice, I was surprised by that. I remained pretty unscathed, I have to say. I was expecting [a lot of] insults, especially when I got eliminated. He was a gentleman in that aspect, and he was really supportive. I didn’t expect him to be so in your corner and he definitely was. I feel like he was there to be a mentor, and that was very positive for me.

David – I was looking forward to being able to finally meet Gordon, Joe [Bastianich], and Graham [Elliot]. Especially with Gordon, you see ‘Hell’s Kitchen‘ and you see people really under pressure. It’s something that I have to be able to do.

Although [Gordon] was raised in England, being of Scottish descent he used to play [soccer] for the Rangers. I have a friend of mine who is Scottish, and we’re Celtic supporters … their worthy adversary are the Rangers. I didn’t have an opportunity to get into that with him, but he came with the enthusiasm and tenacity of an athlete. That’s why you get that emotion there, and the [aggressiveness]. But you know what? That’s how you motivate people. If you can’t take the heat, literally get out of the kitchen. You get pushed, but [it’s powerful to] hear someone like that push you to be the best you can be. But without being pushed, you’re not really going to be able to evolve that way.

It’s always fun watching the Mystery Box challenges, but Samantha, it was probably not as much fun for you. Was there a moment during the challenge where you realized things were going wrong?

Samantha -I actually liked duck, but the problem was that all of the sauces on the plates I would never use. I hate sweet potatoes, I don’t really like rhubarb, and I don’t like eggplant. For me, it was like ‘I don’t really eat any of this … I’ll eat the duck.’ I couldn’t make it by itself obviously, and I wanted to do something creative. We do a lot of sweet and savory combinations, but they were a little bit offended by my savory [creation]. I [also] overcooked my first duck, and I didn’t have time to fully cook the other. I made sure the fat was rendered, but it was definitely a rare, and at that level I trust their opinion on that one. But I thought my food was a hell of a lot better [than the people who stayed]. (Laughs.)

… Creativity, I think I nailed it, and as far as the traditional methods of cooking, I may have strayed off the guidelines. But oh well.

David came in 17th place.

David, it looked as though [during the risotto challenge] mushrooms were what did you in. Are you kicking yourself at all over it?

David – Not at all, I’m actually thanking [them]. When you don’t have any experience with something, you make that one mistake … you know what? That was my first time working with dry morels along with making risotto. So now I have mastered [doing both]. In the two days after I got eliminated, I went to my cousin’s in California and I was like ‘we’re getting risotto, we’re getting these things so I can master them.’

… [When it comes to the challenge] I was really focused on just getting the risotto done the right way, since you’re releasing the starch and you’re making rice by hand in that sense. To be able to be do that, I focused on that so much and I completely bypassed something that makes sense, even if I haven’t worked with them before … it was a technical mistake, but you know what? I have no regrets, no faults. I now have two more things added to my culinary arsenal, and I feel like a bada–, man. What I’ve added on gives me more confidence to know how to kill — to not just make a risotto, but kill a risotto.

Well, I can’t make a risotto to save my life, so I’ll just give you credit for that. Now that you guys have had the ‘MasterChef’ experience, how are you going to apply what you learned to your careers moving forward?

Samantha – I have fine-tuned what I already wanted to do. I do want to be in the restaurant business and I want to own my own at some point. Right now, I will focus on doing consulting for the front of the house aspect of restaurants and lounges. I have experience with that, and I know that I can execute that well. As far as actual cooking, I do many consultations, and tell people how to create and write a menu so that it actually sells and sounds like what it is going to look like. I’m definitely going to do some collaborations with Dave for one, and we’re going to do a lot of pop-up restaurants, contests, and private dinners. I think that’s one of my main things, to keep it fun … to me, food is about a sensory, sensual experience. If you’re not bringing all of that passion into it, then what’s the point? I definitely will stay in the culinary world so to speak, but I might kind of be a shapeshifter about it, and go from one thing to another.

I don’t think my place is behind the line for fourteen hours. Maybe expo for a couple of hours.

David – I’ve grown up in a family catering business, so this was just another another perspective involving culinary stuff. I’m picking up everything, soaking it all in, it really comes down into a core of all the essences of every experiences that I’ve had. I’m [going to follow] my own path, and make it happen my own way. I know I definitely love to cook food. I’ve served too many times and in too many different restaurants, and after this I’ve realized that ‘you know what? I gotta be more in the creative side of it.’

I agree with Sam that fourteen-hour days are definitely not ideal, and I could probably do those like one or two a week. [I prefer to] start a pop-up, and get things going a little bit. You gotta be creative with it, and like Sam said doing something different. You have to do what you love. As much as I’d love to walk into a kitchen, I don’t know how my love would be conveyed if I’m working on a line with other people making other people’s food. I want people to experience the love I have for my own food. I’m going to design a menu, make a couple of food trucks, and travel the country. You know what? I may even stop by your place.

I’m finishing up an executive sous chef position in Cleveland, Ohio, and my family also has the catering business. I’m cooking for 500 three times a day, so I know what the fourteen-hour days are like. (Laughs.) … It’s really all about the path you take, and I’m glad I have my own brick and mortar.

Check back Monday night for a review of the next “MasterChef” episode, and we are going to continue with exit interviews throughout the season. Think of it has a bit conversation to go with dessert.

Photos: Fox

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