Recap: MasterChef Casting Call
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit of a reality tv junkie. I watch all the shows – ones that induce eyerolls from most people I know, ones that help make you feel a little better about yourself as well as the ones that you can learn something from.
One of my absolute favorite reality shows has to be MasterChef. There are a ton of reasons for this. The best part of the show, in my opinion, is that the contestants on the show are real people that love to cook at home, people with no restaurant experience. Before today, I had no idea what went into creating that show. From all I saw and felt today – MasterChef is now at the top of my list.
Thanks to the great people at My103.9 radio station as well as the absolutely adorable Monti Carlo, MasterChef Season 3 finalist and My103.9 morning DJ, I had the rare opportunity to walk through a mini version of the casting process.
Bright and early on a Saturday morning, I made my way to the Le Cordon Bleu Skybridge Campus to join the 27 local hopefuls that were vying for front of the line passes for the 11/03 LA casting call. Monti set up the event to share the opportunity that she had been given with 3 home chefs. Monti credits Master Chef for being the catalyst of an entire shift in her life. Prior to being selected for the show, she and her son were living on a $10 a day food budget in a tiny apartment in LA. Upon returning from the show she had a job offer from the radio station and now she’s all ours! Yeah us!
Back to the day. I arrived at the campus around 9am and there was already a buzz. There were people beginning to line up and the station staff as well as the volunteers from the school were already setting the stage.
Contestants were asked to arrive for a 10am call with dish in hand. They would have one minute (timed) to plate before the judges would taste. There would be no way to heat, reheat or keep their dishes warm. From the initial group of contestants, 9 would be selected to move on to a Mystery Box Challenge and from there the 3 moving to the LA casting would be selected.
Upon my arrival I was shown to the green room where I met with the 3 esteemed Valley Chefs that would assist Monti in her judging duties. I first met with Lee Hilson, Executive Sous Chef at the Phoenician. He was a delight to be around all day. Serious and impassioned while still funny. He shared some stories about when he once roomed with Gordon Ramsey. Good stuff! The next Chef to arrive was Richard Starkey, Chef Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, a very sweet man with an enormous amount of insight on what it takes to make it in the culinary world. Last to arrive was Frank Belosic, Executive Chef at the Phoenician, a man with a tremendous amount of passion for what he does and some very big ideas for community partnership. I was in heaven in this little room, surrounded by masters of their crafts, hearing and being a part of their conversations. It was a dream…and it lasted a really long time!
Shortly after 10am, all the contestants were led into the building and then Monti came out and welcomed and thanked everyone for coming. She was humble, gracious and, as always, pretty stinkin’ hilarious. She then introduced each of the judges and they had the opportunity to address the crowd letting everyone know what they would be looking for.
The contestants were then separated into three groups and led to their specific group room. The judges would then move from room to room, meet everyone and try their dishes. While the judges were in the first room, I took the opportunity to travel through the others and get to know everyone. I asked them all about their dishes, where the recipe or idea for that dish had come from, a little about their lives and what they thought they had that was going to get them the coveted front of the line pass in LA. I met some really great people and heard some amazing stories…I even cried a few times. There were a lot of nerves in those rooms, but I would like to think that my being there and getting them to open up before ‘show time’ may have helped them to relax a little. Who knows? As I made my way through those rooms, I definitely picked out the people that I was rooting for, based solely on their personalities and stories as I was not tasting their dishes.
When the judges would enter the room, Monti would give them the run down. They would have one minute to plate their dishes. Once the minute was up, if it wasn’t there, it wasn’t happening. What once was a buzzing room, chatter back and forth from table mates, was now silent and tense. There was not one person in that building that was not taking this competition seriously.
Once all the dishes had been tasted, the judges made their way back to the green room. First order of business is for all of them to autograph egg cups (this will make more sense in a minute). They first name off the contestants that stood out to them the most, room to room. They discuss the reasons for their choices. Whose food was amazing but the personality was lacking? I was even able to add something to this discussion, and in the end I’m so glad that I spoke up. They weighed all of their selections and came up with a list of nine. They even wagered on who they thought was going to the best in the Mystery Basket challenge. We headed back out to the main room and Monti thanked everyone for coming and then named the 9 finalists one by one. She made sure to let everyone know that even if they had not been selected, that it was so important for them to continue on their journey and keep at it. LA is only a few hours away! Just because they didn’t get a pass to the front of the line that didn’t mean that they shouldn’t try out.
The nine finalists are led to one of the teaching kitchens and asked to take a spot at one of the stations. They were now told that they would be participating in a Mystery Box challenge. They had some ingredients in front of them covered by a black napkin. When instructed they lifted the napkin to find an array of fresh vegetables and herbs. Also at their stations there was a variety of pots and pans, utensils, knives and butter. They were told that the challenge would be to prepare 4 different egg dishes with 6 eggs, They would have 20 minutes to prepare a 3 egg omelet, a fried egg, a poached egg as well as a soft boiled egg, which is where the egg cup came in. They could utilize any, or none, of the ingredients that were presented under the napkin to enhance their dish if they saw fit. They were given a few minutes to collect their thoughts, take a breath and plan out what they needed to do to complete all aspects of the challenge in the allotted time. They were given one opportunity to ask questions before the challenge began because once time started it was on!
Time starts and the kitchen comes alive. Monti is calling out the time elapsed as well as tips for the home cooks. I can’t help but smile as I am watching all of this go down. I feel nervous for everyone and energized by their passion and fire being exhibited throughout the entire process. Some of these people have chained their hopes and dreams on this opportunity. Some of these people are going through some extreme challenges in their lives and this one chance could make a huge difference in their lives. It’s invigorating, stressful and inspiring all at once.
The Judges make their way around the kitchen, observing the techniques the participants are using as well as how they are dealing with the pressure. They are focused but still donning their smiles and sharing playful banter with each other and the Judges. Monti, on the other hand, si all business, Still calling out time and encouragement, “Please set yourself up for success and have your plates ready!”
Monti calls time, all the cooks hands are up in the air and their are exclamations of relief and the room erupted with applause. The judges make their way from station to station checking out the appearance of each completed dish. As the judges make their rounds the contestants move with them, eager to see where they stack up against each other. The Judges give short speeches, letting everyone know how proud they should be of themselves based on what an incredibly difficult challenge this was.
We all head back to the green room to commiserate. If you remember this was a challenge that Monti mastered on Season 3 of Master Chef, so she definitely knew what she was doing. She threw in the veggies and herbs as a sort of trick. She made a point to mention, more than once, that the veggies had not yet been washed and that they were not a requirement. She also impressed on the contestants that they needed to think about time before the started out. The veggies were a trick. She specifically put them into the mix to see if anyone would waste the time to clean and chop them, which would take a significant amount of time away from their cooking time. “One thoughtless action can cost you everything.” She admitted that this was pretty much an impossible task and she really hadn’t expected anyone to complete all of the dishes. Five of the nine completed all 4 dishes – with one individual plating far before time was called.
The top three were voted upon, but then came the twist. We all know every great show has a twist, right? The Master Chef producers had actually given her 5(!) front of the line passes. The question now was to use them or no? There were some people that had a really great showing and it was decided that they would be presented with passes as well.
We head back into the kitchen and I’m dying inside knowing who is getting ready to go on a road trip. Each of the three Chef’s gets to present one of the first 3 finalists with specially made My103.9 aprons. Then the twist is announced. I get crazy teary eyed during the selection process.
The judges give the 5 individuals moving forward lot of tips on how to set themselves up for success. Monti gives everyone her information so they can ask her any questions about the process or for any sort of tips before they head over to California. Everyone providing advice on how to make their signature dishes better. They were told not to try to impress the producers with some fancy pants dish. They’ve been there, eaten that. They are looking for people with great skills, personalities and stories.
Monti is hoping to make this an annual event. We have the community and the passion right here and deserve to have our own national casting call. Don’t mess with a momma on a mission.
Stay tuned for contestant profiles as well as a more in depth interview with Monti!