MasterChef, FOX’s culinary competition show where chefs compete against one another in a battle to be the best, which stars Gordon Ramsay and an array of other celebrity chefs as the judging panel, has graced American televisions since 2010. 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.
As with any reality-based show. there’s a lot that even fans who watch each and every week may not know about the franchise. And, surprisingly, there are a lot of things you probably imagine would happen… that just don’t. From surprise run-ins to what happens to all of the extra food on set at the end of filming each episode, to who really has a hot temper, here are the untold truths that MasterChef super-fans need to know.
MasterChef 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, everything changed for Marks. 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.
The audition process for MasterChef 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!
About 100 potential MasterChef contestants go to LA
By the time contestants head to LA, it might seem like things are pretty finalized… but they’re not.
Season Five contestant Elise Mayfield told A.V. Club that she didn’t hear anything for about four months before she got the call that they wanted her to go to LA. She had 10 days to get there, and was told to prep for being there for a few months. That’s nuts! And that was just the "final audition." She went on to say that everyone was put up in a hotel together, no one knew anyone else, and that since most people were pretty friendly, it was easy to get to know people. When it came down to the competition, though, they cooked, they talked to producers… and suddenly — without warning — 70 were cut.
Contestant Jessie Glenn added a bit more behind-the-scenes info when she wrote about her experience (via Salon). Potentials, she said, have to pay their own way to LA, and they don’t just cook — they take a two-hour-long personality test, which she says gave producers the angles to craft personalities and plot lines during the show. This was when they also answered questions about potential arrest records or other shadiness that might be dug up once they were associated with the MasterChef brand. Glenn called it all "invasive."
One of the MasterChef producers was a contestant on Top Chef
Not only is Sandee Birdsong a master producer on all manner of culinary competition shows (including MasterChef), she was actually a contestant on one too.
In an 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 MasterChef judges taste food at each contestant’s station while they’re cooking
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. So when you’re watching them take a bite and they appear to enjoy it… it’s likely they’re just faking that enjoyment.
In order to taste the food when it’s actually edible, 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 MasterChef contestants even start cooking
In an interview with Lucky Peach, MasterChef and MasterChef Junior judge Chef Christina Tosi said there’s a lot that has to happen before anyone even starts cooking.
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 on MasterChef
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. While talking with Lucky Peach, judge Christina 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.
MasterChef contestants are given cooking classes
For those of us who are sitting at home watching these home cooks tear it up in the MasterChef kitchen, it can be intimidating. Those home chefs clearly know what they’re doing, but according to the blog of one runner-up (via The Daily Mail), that’s not always the case. They say contestants were given cooking classes on challenges where there was a level of technique required. Like what? Particularly the baking challenges, when they had to whip up things like pie crusts and pastry cream.
Another insider had this to say: "The entire show is not at all how it seems. Each home cook is given professional training before the challenges to ensure they can cook something decent when they start recording."
Which… sort of makes sense. How many times, after all, do contestants mention the fact that they’ve never worked with a particular ingredient or made a certain dish — but still manage to do it?
A producer of the show told The Mail on Sunday they had never made their guidance a secret, but it might not be the same on all international versions of the show. According to MasterChef UK‘s Andrew Kojima, they didn’t get any classes at all.
There’s one MasterChef contestant who never signed a nondisclosure agreement
When it comes to all of the dirtiest details, there isn’t a whole lot of information out there. There are few former contestants who go into major behind-the-scenes details, and that’s because most sign strict nondisclosure agreements. There’s one exception: Jessie Glenn, a contestant on the third season. According to Healthline, hers was a rare case. When she was handed the contract and started asking questions about it, the fact that she never signed got lost in the shuffle.
Consequently, she has been one of the only contestants to speak freely about the personality tests, the exit interviews, and the questions producers asked — like, which judge’s approval would mean the most to you — in order to guide the show. Most of what you see, she claimed, happened because of answers contestants had given during interviews well in advance of filming (via Salon). She didn’t have good things to say, calling it a process of "sadistic prying."
She also talked about life after MasterChef, and said that when she got home, she was "a little screwed up." She described bouts of crying and depression, and how she found that she wasn’t alone in feeling it. The discussion that went on in private Facebook groups and between runners-up was less about food and more about how they dealt with their experiences, which, Glenn says, took its toll.
The MasterChef 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 MasterChef 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.
MasterChef has 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 on MasterChef
It’s impossible to tell just what goes on behind the scenes of any reality show, but for most of them, it’s hard to avoid the occasional scandal — MasterChef included.
In 2013, former MasterChef 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.
MasterChef and MasterChef Junior keep safety in mind
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. Even though you don’t see them the medics are keeping a close eye on the kids cooking, ready to jump to action if anyone gets hurt.
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.
There have been some major injuries on MasterChef
The medics standing by on MasterChef have 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!