MasterChef season two contestant Tracy Kontos, of Coral Springs, took time out of her busy cooking schedule -- and fending off Gordon Ramsay -- to talk with Short Order about her experience on the Fox reality cooking show. One of six contestants left, Tracy gives her take on the contest that sends crying, amateur cooks home.
New Times: Did anyone make your life a living hell during filming of the show?
Tracy Kontos: Hah! Well, as far as contestants, no. Judges, I thought Gordon Ramsay was particularly tough on me. However, with that said, I think sometimes Chef Ramsay takes the papa-bird approach, and at the end of the day, I believe his toughness was genuinely meant to push me towards growth.
Which dish of yours on the show made you stop and think, Wow, did I really just make that?
It wasn't just a dish, but it was the menu for the moms challenge. After speaking with the moms, I had a very clear understanding as to what they were looking for. I asked the right questions, I guess. Based on that, I knew the menu I wanted to present. Conceptualizing that menu and winning as a team was the greatest feeling I had on the show -- hence the tears of joy.
Which dish do you think wasn't up to your standards?
My lobster dish from the mystery box challenge was not my favorite. I had made a lobster stock on my own but also used a bit of seafood stock from the mystery box. That pair with a small pinch of saffron just did not give my plate visual appeal. The color tone was a bit funky. Tasted great; however, the presentation was shot!
What was the single best experience for you on the show?
Having the ability to cook for Lidia Bastianich and the moms as the team captain. I am not sure I will ever be able to put into words how special that was for me. As an independent, successful chef, she was a major influence on my life. Lidia, Julia Child, and my grandmother are the women who inspired me to cook. The day I met and cooked for her was just a dream come true.
What do viewers not get to see that goes on behind the scenes?
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Well, the audience does not get to see how much we all beat ourselves up. There are so many times when we finish cooking, we look around and either have the look of death thinking we have the worst dish or the look of excitement with the best dish. When America is watching and they think, Why the heck did so-and-so just do that? Well, we're right there with them. We know and wonder the same exact things, even if it's a mistake made on our own accord.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a chef?
My proudest accomplishment as a chef would be teaching some of the kids at the SOS Children's Village (in Coconut Creek) how to cook. The village is a safe haven for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. I am a mentor to a foster child, and one of our fun things to do is to cook. They were all so enthusiastic, asked great questions, and cooked one heck of a meal. Many of them have very little family interaction, so something as simple as teaching them how to cook is very special to them.