When news came out that Fox's culinary competition series "MasterChef" was auditioning for its third season, a whopping 30,000 home cooks showed up for casting calls around the country, hoping to make it onto the show for a shot at $250,000. The cast of thousands has been whittled down to 100, and Season 3, which kicks off Monday, will throw plenty of food-focused challenges their way. As usual, TV staple Gordon Ramsay, restaurateur Joe Bastianich, and Chicago chef Graham Elliot will be deciding whose dishes are flops, and which cooks have the culinary chops to keep edging closer to the quarter-million-dollar prize.
The trio talked to Yahoo! TV in an exclusive interview, sharing their thoughts on why amateurs can be better to work with than the pros, the most disgusting dish of all time, how Ramsay feels about his celebrity status, and why, when Victoria Beckham asks for a salad without dressing, you'd better make sure she gets it.
What's the difference between working with home cooks on 'MasterChef' vs. professional chefs?
Ramsay: It's so much more rewarding than it is with professional chefs. There's only so far you can take professional chefs, because it becomes so much more tenacious because of the hunger and the determination beyond belief, because they've found their second calling in life where they are prepared to sort of work twice as hard. This is a natural burning desire.
Elliot: People come in that have a lot of heart and soul who do this because it's their passion. They spend half their paycheck on ingredients and their time off cooking. They're not getting paid to do it. And I think that once you get a taste of press and exposure and your name in the paper and things like that, you start believing it all and then it's a whole 'nother ballgame. So, it's a more genuine style that they bring to the table, more earnest cooking.
Bastianich: There are advantages [to being a home cook]. I mean, they're not quite as jaded in their vision and passion. And we see that people with a real passion for what they do deliver incredible food, even surpassing that of professional chefs because they just really believe in what they do.
How do you guys get along?
Bastianich: We have a great time. Well, I mean after 13 and 18-hour days, I'm ready to chop both of their heads off, but aside from that, it's great.
Elliot: We're really cool. And Gordon, above all, has really taken me under his wing and showed me how you can still be a chef, still run your restaurant, and be able to teach through television.
Gordon has a reputation for having a short temper, thanks in part to all that yelling and swearing he does on 'Hell's Kitchen.' Do you see a different Gordon here?
Elliot: It depends on the situation. On a show where the chefs are competing for a chef's job, he's going to push them differently than a home cook. This is Gordon, the husband and father that you see on the show. He really does have a softer touch and he emotionally bonds with people, and he really at the end of the day is a great, energetic coach. If he yells, it's because he cares more than the person actually making the dish.
What's new this season?
Bastianich: Bigger challenges. This year, we're going to be doing some restaurant takeovers, we have some three-star Michelin chefs coming to judge food for us, food trucks. The challenges get more intricate and more high-stakes, and so, overall it's pretty exciting.
One of this season's contestants, Christine, is blind. What have you learned from her?
Ramsay: That lady has an extraordinary palate, a palate of incredible finesse. She picks up hot ingredients, touches them, and she thinks about this image on the plate. She has the most disciplined execution on a plate that we've ever seen. But the palate is where it's just extraordinary. And honestly, I know chefs with Michelin stars that don't have palates like hers. So she's pretty unique.
What's the biggest mistake you've seen contestants make?
Bastianich: The one thing that these cooks are often guilty of is they don't season properly, which is a big, big amateur mistake.
Elliot: You'll see people spend an hour slaving over a dish, making something beautiful. All this technique, and there's no salt and no pepper. No lemon or acid. It's just flat. It's so disappointing.
Get to know the "MasterChef" judges better with this behind-the-scenes clip:
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