MasterChef, FOX’s culinary competition show where chefs compete against one another in a battle to be the best, which stars Gordon Ramsay, Christina Tosi, Aarón Sánchez as the judging panel, has graced American televisions for eight seasons. The U.S. iteration is based on the original U.K. series, Masterchef, which ran from 1990 to 2001. Now, there are MasterChef spinoffs on the air in many countries around the world, including the U.S.’s version, MasterChef, and its kids competition show, MasterChef Junior.
There’s a lot that even fans who watch each and every week may not know about the franchise. From surprise run-ins to what happens to all of the extra food on set at the end of filming each episode, here are the untold truths that MasterChef super-fans need to know.
Runner-up Josh Marks died of suicide in 2013
While competing on the third season of MasterChef, contestant (and eventual runner-up) Josh Marks was a runaway favorite and set to take the culinary world by storm (or, at least be quite the star in the Chicago restaurant scene). After the show ended, however, he experienced panic attacks, according to reporting from Chicago Magazine, with the first one occurring while Marks and his mother were in New York for the viewing party being held for the season finale. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder — and later, paranoid schizophrenia — and was experiencing occasional episodes of psychosis. Sadly, Marks died of suicide in October of 2013.
Casting producers asked contestant Suzy Singh for directions
Suzy Singh, the affable former neural engineer who competed on the second season of the show, first heard about this brand-new show called MasterChef, which was holding auditions at Le Cordon Bleu’s campus in Chicago, essentially by accident, according to an interview with Michigan Avenue Magazine. Singh was practicing her sugar work for gingerbread houses when casting producers walked right in and asked her for directions. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
MasterChef Australia dishes judged on camera are tasted cold
Revenge is said to be best served cold, but what about food in cooking competitions? In an interview with Daily Mail Australia (via Daily Mail UK), MasterChef Australia judge (and Melbourne chef) George Calombaris said that by the time the dishes are evaluated by the judging panel, they’re actually quite cold. Though the dishes you see on TV make your mouth water, they’re not nearly as piping hot (which is when lots of foods are most appetizing) as they may seem. Fear not, though, the judges do get to evaluate the food as it’s meant to be eaten — hot — they just do so off-camera.
The audition process takes months
Agonizing, right? You might think that after auditions are held casting decisions are made right away, or at least relatively quickly, but according to former cast member Elise Mayfield, who competed on season 5, after you audition in person, there’s a bit of a waiting game as producers and the like move through all the different, finalizing steps it takes to put together the cast, as she told A.V. Club. Mayfield waited for about four months before being told she was being brought to L.A., at which point they gave her about 10 days’ notice to pack up a few months’ worth of clothes and get herself to Los Angeles. Wait, wait, wait, hurry!
They bring about 100 contestants to Los Angeles
If you think MasterChef producers only bring the finalized future contestants to L.A., you’d be mistaken. As season 5 contestant Mayfield mentioned in the interview with A.V. Club, they bring about 100 contestants out to L.A., where they’re all put up in a hotel together. According to Mayfield, a lot of the contestants were outgoing and friendly, which made her experience making friends in L.A. a bit easier.
Each row of contestants on MasterChef Junior has a medic at the end that you can’t see
Kids and knives seems a little…dicey (pun intended), do they not? After all, the kids use knives as real and as sharp as the adult version of the show. Don’t worry, in an interview with HuffPost, showrunner and executive producer of both MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, Robin Ashbrook confessed that each row of contestants has a medic you don’t see, but that is keeping a close eye on the kids cooking. Safety first.
Contestants on MasterChef Australia get a weekly stipend
According to news.com.au, contestants on MasterChef Australia get a weekly stipend to help offset any expenses they might have outside of the mansion where they all live during filming. That surely comes in handy!
The kids don’t cut themselves as frequently as the adults
While, of course, cuts happen, especially when you’re dealing with sharp knives, limited time periods, and lots of competition and pressure, it may surprise you to learn who’s more likely to cut themselves. In an interview with Salon, culinary producer Sandee Birdsong said the kids cut themselves less often and challenge themselves (sometimes) more than the adults on MasterChef do. Sounds like the kids just might be able to teach the adults a thing or two.
One of the producers was a contestant on Top Chef
Not only is Birdsong a master producer on all manner of culinary competition shows, she was actually a contestant on one too. In that same interview with Salon, Birdsong said she competed on the third season of Top Chef. She was voted off second (she said everyone else’s skills were much more advanced) and watched the remainder of the season behind the scenes, which is how she knew she wanted to be a producer on culinary competition shows. That just goes to show: you never know where you’ll find your purpose.
The judges taste food at each contestant’s station while they’re cooking
Given that the food often hits the judging table cold, you might be happy to hear that the judges taste food at each of the contestants’ stations around the kitchen throughout the competition. In an interview with Lucky Peach, MasterChef and MasterChef Junior judge, Chef Christina Tosi, the judges taste while the contestants are cooking so they have a better understanding of who’s really doing well and who’s struggling. The judges are more fair and balanced than you might think by just watching the show.
It can take hours before the contestants even start cooking
In that same interview with Lucky Peach, Tosi said introducing the challenge, going over the rules and regulations, even getting the contestants into the kitchen, can take quite a bit of time. You might think they all walk in, run over the challenge and rules, and begin, but the reality is, well, a little more mundane than that. There’s a lot of waiting around, checking that everyone really does understand what’s expected of them, and giving contestants a little time to remember things they might’ve forgotten amidst the stress of the situation.
There’s time between “time’s up” and judging to beautify the food
If you’ve ever marveled over MasterChef contestants’ ability to present the most beautiful dishes you’ve ever seen, even under all the pressure and stress they’re dealing with, you might be disappointed. In that same interview with Lucky Peach, Tosi disclosed that there’s time between when the contestants have to stop working and when the judges will evaluate the dishes so that each contestant can make their dish picture-perfect. Pretty takes time, patience, and skill. It doesn’t just happen.
They give the contestants cooking classes
While you might think each and every contestant is basically a professional chef, that’s not exactly true. According to Daily Mail, they’re all given some coaching when it comes to cooking techniques and how to tackle challenges. Hopes dashed.
The crew eats the leftovers
Have you ever wondered just what happens to all of the food left over at the end of a MasterChef challenge? After the contestants have prepared their dishes and the judges have evaluated them, what comes next? MasterChef UK host Gregg Wallace told The Sun that it all gets eaten up by the crew — some of whom carry their own utensils around with them just in case the opportunity to nosh should arise, which, at some point, on a culinary competition show, it most definitely will.
Australian judge George Calombaris has had his share of legal troubles
Gordon Ramsay might have a reputation as being a hothead, but he’s not the only MasterChef judge with a temper. In May 2017, Australian judge George Calombaris was charged with assault after shoving a 19-year-old football fan at a match in Sydney. According to the BBC, Calombaris issued an apology after the incident, which he says came to a head after the other man shouted abusive comments that included references to his family and another recent scandal he was involved with.
In April, ABC News reported Calombaris’s restaurants were being investigated for a problem with their payroll system that led to 162 of their employees being underpaid to the tune of $2.6 million. The employees were paid an average of $16,000 each, but that wasn’t the end of Calombaris’ problems. Also in May 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald reported he and one of his Hellenic Republic restaurants were being sued over an alleged food poisoning outbreak. The restaurant closed for 24 hours and dozens of people were made sick by norovirus, which the Victorian Department of Health traced to one of their employees.
They’ve had a lot of issues with animal cruelty
We all know where meat comes from, but it’s safe to say no one tunes in to MasterChef to see animals slaughtered live on television. It’s happened more than once, thought, and there’s been backlash.
In 2010, one contestant — a practicing Hindu chef — was required to kill a crab in order to prepare her dish. Ramsay offered to do the killing for her, but the vegetarian chef went ahead with it anyway. One 2013 episode saw contestants handed live birds, then be asked to cook another — though they weren’t asked to actually kill the birds themselves. But other killing has happened — in 2014, one contestant on Vietnam’s MasterChef killed a turtle on air. The animal was beaten with a wooden spoon before being beheaded by a distraught contestant, and the outrage prompted an official apology from the broadcaster. Ukraine’s MasterChef has gotten flak for showing the live slaughter of animals, and viewers of MasterChef UK were outraged at a dish featuring crocodile. Backlash hasn’t just been online, either, and in January 2017, an outdoor challenge on MasterChef Australia was disrupted by vegan protesters holding signs reading, “I am not an ingredient. I am someone.”
There have been accusations of sexual harassment
It’s impossible to tell just what goes on behind the scenes of any reality show, and in 2013, former contestant Marie Porter not only came forward with claims about the hostile environment the show fostered for female contestants, but also claimed to know about sexual and physical abuse. According to Porter’s statement (via Jezebel), “One friend was sexually harassed by the judges to the point that she had her lawyers get her edited out of the show completely.”
She went on to claim she knew former contestants who suffered severe depression and even had suicidal thoughts after the abuse they endured, but no one has stepped forward with proof the accusations are true. Other contestants have commented their support for her and her claims, but with tight restrictions placed on show participants as to what they can and can’t say, the truth remains elusive. For their part, MasterChef has denied contestants are treated with anything but “the utmost respect”.
Gordon Ramsay has an interesting take on crying in MasterChef Junior
The idea of letting Gordon Ramsay critique your child’s cooking might terrify any parent, but if we’ve learned anything from MasterChef Junior, it’s that Ramsay has a bit of a soft spot for young chefs. When Ramsay’s critique of a dish made by aspiring restauranteur Logan in 2014 made the 12-year-old cry, Ramsay stepped forward to give the boy a hug and tell him it’s not the end of the world. Tears? Gone. It’s not the only time he’s been seen encouraging the kids instead of unleashing his world-famous temper, but according to Deadline, he does have an interesting take on how the kids should deal with criticism.
“[…] no one walks down the corridors with insecurities,” he said. “I think crying is healthy.” He went on to say that crying is a better way to deal with emotions than bottling it up inside, and also says that for their time on the show, the MasterChef Junior kids are getting the chance to experience reality.
There have been some major injuries
You don’t see the medics standing by, but MasterChef has them — and they’ve earned their keep more than once. In 2016, one contestant burned her hand when reflexively reaching out to smooth out some caramel, hot out of the oven. She needed medical attention, but ended up getting eliminated that round. That was the season after two MasterChef Australia contestants suffered major injuries, too. Andrew Prior suffered stress fractures in both knees after contestants were told to run out onto the field of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and another competitor was already sitting out with a hip injury.
Injuries are a part of working in the kitchen, and in 2015, MasterChef Junior contestant Addison Olsa Smith proved just how tough these kids are. Days before she headed off to the show, she was working with a cooking coach at her home when she nearly lost a finger to a blender. She competed with gloves protecting her injured finger and its stitches — that’s commitment!