I really feel my first true cooking inspiration was Jeff Smith from "The Frugal Gourmet". I would watch his show religiously on WTTW in Chicago. Jeff would awe me with his sensibility of food. Even at the age of 7 or 8, I would sit for hours and watch his television show. Honestly, all of the WTTW food lineup of the '80s inspired my love for cooking. I think I naturally gravitated toward food, but these people really made me want to learn to cook. Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, Julia Child with that voice; it was truly amazing to watch them cook. I would sit home on school days and just look at what they were doing and try my best to emulate their standards and the way they moved. I love it.
None, really. I don’t think I’ve mastered much of anything. I mean, there are things that I cook really well - eggs, mac and cheese, pate, beef - but to call yourself a master takes years of practice, and I just don’t think I’m there yet. One dish I think I make really well is mashed potatoes. It’s dumb, I know, but I have perfected my mashed potato recipe. Just enough garlic to give it bite, cream, milk, waxies, butter of course, and that’s it. I make them all the time and everyone loves them. I have been working on my mole poblano for the better part of the last 15 years, and that comes out really well most of the time. Balanced, flavorful. I actually love putting my mole on top of a nice lean piece of roasted pork. It tastes so good.
Wow, this is a big question. I like to cook anything. Actually, my favorite thing to cook is always something I haven’t made before. I know that sounds weird, but I will make something for weeks until I get it perfect. So the last couple of weeks it has been profiteroles. Those little cream-puffed buggers, I just can’t seem to get them right. I try to make it with a whisk by hand, in the Kitchen Aid, they just won’t puff in the oven. I am extremely distraught; brought to tears, almost. One day, I will get these things to puff, and I will make them with cheese and they will be fantastic. Until then, I cry.
I learned that I need to be more calm. I learned that I have a lot to learn. Most of all, I learned to respect the skills of others, the time people put into getting to know you, and have some self confidence. That’s the one thing I am walking away with, I am more self-confident. MasterChef was a whole experience and I am truly grateful I had the opportunity to go through this process. Best thing ever.