‘MasterChef’ exclusive interview: Helene Leeds on healthy mission

Helene was eliminated last week.

As we near another new episode of “MasterChef” on Monday night, we are going to take a look back at last week’s new episode courtesy of the recently-eliminated Helene Leeds. Despite having a rich background working with healthy food and studying nutrition, she was sent packing following a soup that was not to the liking of the three judges.

Be sure to check out a preview for next new episode at the bottom of the interview.

Cartermatt.com – So what made you want to audition for this show? Was ‘MasterChef’ something that you had watched in the past?

Helene Leeds – I’m not a big TV fan to be honest with you, but I was on the beach last summer and these girlfriends I was with said ‘Helene, you’d be perfect for this show’ because I’m really into food, and especially food and health. They thought that would be a great message for the show, and that’s why I went on. I made raw, vegan, organic fudge, and then I made an aphrodisiac mushroom soup for [the judges] … my culinary path has led me to cutting-edge nutrition.

So did not watching the show much give you in advantage in that you didn’t know as much about Gordon Ramsay? We see him every week on various shows, and we would be intimated by his yelling and screaming.

I [actually] didn’t know enough. I should have done more research to find out more about his palette, and not so much the emotional ups and downs. I would have liked to have known more about what pleases his palette, because everyone has their own likes and dislikes, and the judges — although impartial — can’t help it.

What do you think you learned most from the judges this season?

When it comes to Gordon, I learned excellence, where my limits are, and how I want to push through those limits and take myself to the next level. From Joe [Bastianich] … this is a good question. I learned from Joe that there’s a certain way methodically that things need to be done, and that’s a skill that a chef needs to have. I’m a very creative mind, and I need to work on that skill.

As for Graham [Elliot], I felt he really had a lot to teach in terms of flavor profiles. I really [though that] Graham was the best teacher in terms of how he related to me and how I could learn. Graham was extraordinary in how he related knowledge by example.

So while you seemed to be prepared for the culinary aspect of the competition, were you ready for the intensity of having to work long hours and do difficult challenges? It’s a tough experience.

[It] absolutely [was]. [There were those mystery boxes] where we looked up and saw kidneys and hearts. It was just so hardcore. I realized at some point in being there that oh my gosh, I’m not a competitive cook. It was just a different skill set that you need. I did the best that I could, but my message was really about health in America, and I’m not sure that was emphasized in the show adequately. But that is still my path, my mission, and it’s what I am going to do.

How does someone who is so invested in healthy cuisine handle cooking things like kidneys? They’re not exactly things that we correlate with being healthy.

(Laughs.) I have to note my experience. I have a Master’s Degree in nutrition, but I also traveled all over the world to study. I’ve been to China and Japan an India, and I have traveled extensively throughout France and Germany and Greece. I’ve found out a lot about [different foods being] appealing to these different cultures. What we may think of as unhealthy [when it comes to organ meat], the Chinese think of it as healthy … I can appreciate some of the properties of food, like how to combine them and cook them to bring out their medicinal nature.

Sitting back and watching the show now, has there been anything that you were surprised to see play out on TV? 

Absolutely. It’s just really funny, actually. We all came to be really close — we were spending sixteen hours a day with each other, so we really got the opportunity to know each other well. So it was fun to see what they were thinking.

So when it comes to the crab challenge, what did you think about the premise of it?

I was stunned by the challenge. I was ready and in a mode to take on whatever was thrown at me. Dungeness crab, what followed it … you never know what you are going to get, you just have to be prepared. Whatever you got in there is all you got. I did what I thought I could do. Coming from Maryland, crab was not unfamiliar to me — but Dungeness crab was as a west-coast crab. For me, I made what I thought would be a competitive dish in a soup — unfortunately, it was not what they were looking for in a fresh Dungeness crab. That’s apparently not what you do. You keep it fresh and do as little as possible with it.

I will say this — I didn’t get to taste anything obviously, but from my standpoint Tali’s dish looked terrifying and I would have sent him home instead. Did you think you were going to be safe?

I did. I didn’t think I was going to be eliminated. My soup, while not executed properly [as] I did not allow myself enough time … I [still] definitely thought my soup was extraordinary. The level of flavor, the choice of vegetables, the way I prepared the vegetables, it was great; but like I said, you have to execute it properly.

Now that you have been on the show, how are you going to take what you learned and move forward with your career?

This definitely pushed me beyond what my comfort zone was, which was brilliant, and I’ve started a blog called Helene’s Kitchen. There, I blog about food that I love, food research that has come out in terms of health, cancer or diabetes research, and healthy recipes. My vision is that healthy food can taste great, and I’m not going without. It’s going with the abundance of what is available to you in terms of flavor and produce. I do workshops and cooking classes, and I also have a raw chocolate company. I want everyone to realize that being healthy is also fun, and raw chocolate is a premiere longevity superfood. My company is Cloud9 Raw Chocolate.

Were you rooting for Helene this season? Be sure to share your thoughts on her exit below, and we’ll be back with a “MasterChef” review tonight and an exclusive interview (at least so long as there is an elimination) in the morning.

Photo: Fox

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