Fox’s popular “MasterChef” airs its 100th episode on July 1. Leading up to the landmark event, executive producer and judge Gordon Ramsay shares with Variety the highs (learning about regional food specialities) and the lows (that time he was tricked into eating mac and cheese made with breast milk) of working on the cooking competition series that celebrates amateur chefs.
Why do you think “MasterChef” has seen so much success?
Because it’s relatable. You are watching amateur home cooks that are passionate about something they love to do. Viewers get to see how they progress when they are given the opportunity to work and learn from some of the best chefs in the business. Viewers want to see how contestants grow from the opportunity. You get attached to the contestants because you want to see them succeed. Often contestants go on to pursue jobs in the culinary industry and people will make special trips to see them in action.
Also, “MasterChef” teaches us about food culture and helps us realize that it’s not just about how to read a recipe. Because of that, it has changed the way we eat, cook and shop.
What’s the appeal for you — and for an audience — of focusing a series on amateur chefs?
For me, it’s about installing discipline outside of a home cook’s family traditions and giving them a really strong foundation to build upon once they leave the “MasterChef” kitchen. There’s something quite character-building that comes from learning how to cook. It’s about home cooks learning how to stay on that path of discipline, which is important in all walks of life. For the audience, I think it’s because people can relate to the home cooks’ passionate and learn alongside them.
What’s the grossest thing you’ve eaten on the show? What or who has been the biggest successful surprise?
At one of our auditions we had someone bring in mac and cheese. Presentation was good; it was topped with cheese. When I tasted it, I thought this is very sweet. I asked, how did you make this thing? And she said, “with breast milk.”
We are surprised all the time! The “MasterChef Junior” kids, in particular, are fascinating to watch as they often push themselves to limits that adults won’t.
Have you learned any new recipes from contestants? Which were some of your favorites?
Yes, breast milk mac and cheese! No seriously, I’ve been excited and inspired many times by contestants’ secret family recipes.
Although I have been lucky enough to travel extensively, I’m still occasionally surprised by ethnic dishes that I have never tried before. On this current season of “MasterChef,” Hetal Vasavada (who has Gurgurati heritage), made “khichdi,” which is a dish given to Indian kids when they’re feeling under the weather. It’s a gently spiced, mushy split pea and rice concoction — perfect comfort food and absolutely bloody delicious!
Do you think shows like this have benefited the restaurant community?
Yes, I believe so, and also the culinary world in general. It inspires kids and adults to experiment with their cooking by trying new ingredients, new techniques and even buying kitchen gadgets that they didn’t think they needed. It’s also great because people go out and look to discover new chefs, new cuisines and new restaurants.
How do you think the notion of a celebrity chef has changed since you first started?
I would say the biggest change is that you now have a variation across the spectrum from Michelin-starred, award-winning chefs who are setting trends in top restaurants around the world, to chefs who’ve launched their careers working out of their own kitchens at home. All are inspiring, and there really is a place for everyone.
“MasterChef” is a co-production of Endemol Shine North America and Ramsay’s One Potato Two Potato. The 100th episode airs at 8 p.m. July 1 on Fox.