“MasterChef” is one of my favorite summer shows. What does judge Joe Bastianich look for when picking the winner?
—Alexander Botha, Kankakee, Ill.
According to Bastianich, 44, it takes more than the technical ability to cook and make delicious food. He considers that a given. What he and his fellow judges—Gordon Ramsay, 46, and Graham Elliot, 36—are looking for is that something extra.
“I think to make it through the audition rounds and get into the competition, you have to be able to communicate about yourself through your food, so your dishes have to speak about you, your story, where you come from, your passion of food,” he says. “You have to be communicative not only in your ability to express yourself verbally, but also express yourself through the food you cook, and tell your story to America. That’s what separates good cooks from potential MasterChefs.”
The native New Yorker also believes that MasterChefs are born, not made. The restaurateur believes that cooking is part art and part craft, so you can teach someone the basics, but as with painting, while you can teach people how to paint, not everyone is going to be Picasso.
That may be why when the judges find talented contestants on the series, they are not averse to hiring them for their restaurants. For example, season one’s Sharone Hakman went to work at Mozza in Los Angeles, and Jake Gandolfo was hired at Eataly in New York City.
“We’ve become more than judges, we’ve become mentors, tutors and friends to these people,” Bastianich says. “The journey is personal. We are very much involved. That we go on and hire these people and place them in our restaurants is kind of a testimony to how real and valid the process is, and how real these contestants are.”