MasterChef US Season 3 Monti: Our Exclusive Interview with the Magnificent Monti Carlo!

Monti Carlo is sick and tired of Chicken Nuggets and VH1's "Love and Hip-Hop." Find out why below!

September 13, 2012 5:06 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
MasterChef US Season 3 Monti Carlo (Photo: MasterChef)

I sat down and chatted with Monti Carlo, MasterChef US Season 3 fan favorite and Single Mom of the Millennium, about her time on the popular Fox reality show, her dream of a line of frozen foods that you won't feel awful about giving your kids, and why cooking an apple pie is so much better when you imagine your ex's face when you slice the apples.

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This is what she had to say about her amazing journey.

[Warning: Here be spoilers, so don't read if you haven't seen the show up to its finale!]

FoodNRecipe's Anthony Smith: Before we get started, I just want to confess to being just a little starstruck that I get to talk to you today.

Monti Carlo: Oh, Anthony. I'm a mom. [Laughs]

AS: I've seen from your Facebook and Twitter that you've been interviewing so many cool people! Can you talk about where you are right now and what exactly you've been doing since the show ended that gets you talking to all these cool people?

Monti: Well the show ended, and we'd been sequestered for two months away from our families and our computers, and I turn my computer on for the first time in literally two months and I have over 2,000 unanswered emails and messages.

Before I got on the show, I'd been looking for work for two years, I was unemployed, I was in a bad situation financially when I got into the MasterChef kitchen. And then, what do you know? In these two thousand emails, I have some messages from Marc Young, the Program Director for MY 1039 in Phoenix who'd send me a few messages every few days: "Hey, would you like to interview for a position on our station?" "Hey, how come you're not answering my emails?" "Hey, are you not interested in this?"

So I wrote him back, "Dude, I'm so sorry, I haven't been around a computer, I would love to be interviewed by you"

Next thing I knew, I was in a car with my son, my little sister, and my blind diabetic dog, and we drove all the way from LA to Phoenix. The interview went well, and I said, "We're doing this."

I packed up my whole house-- my whole house being a studio apartment-- And I moved to Phoenix.

Then, a couple of weeks ago-- it was really hilarious-- my boss asked me, "Do you want to go to the VMAs?" I don't know about you, Anthony, but I'm thirty-seven, and growing up, MTV was huge and the VMAs were super big, so I said, "Of course, I want to go to the VMAs!"

I interviewed Sean Astin, Gotye, Karmin, and Tom Arnold. I got to speak to Tom Arnold about addiction and that was really important to me. A big part of why my marriage failed is because of my ex-husband's addiction problems.

But I also got to talk to Sean Astin from The Goonies! I mean, it's the freaking Goonies!

AS: Have you been doing any cooking since the show ended?

Monti: I have been cooking, unfortunately not as much as I would love to be doing because I'm a single mom and suddenly I have this full-time job, and I've also been doing things with MasterChef like interviews and writing blogs, but I have been cooking and writing blogs and recipes for my cookbook that I'm launching that's part auto-biography. It's basically a book about the recipes that got me through the tough times.

AS: Is there any recipe in the book that you're really excited about?

Monti: I'm really excited about my apple pie recipe. I call it, "I Hope He Chokes Pie!"

It's the recipe that got me cooking, and it's got the sweetest spot in my heart. I left my job as a very successful morning show host in Seattle because I got home one day and my baby boy was calling his nanny "Mommy!"

And I said, No, that's not happening.

So when I quit my job and spent more time in my house, I learned that my ex-husband was having multiple affairs and he'd gambled all of our money away, and I didn't have the savings I thought I could retire on. So I was a stay-at-home parent, unemployed, didn't have the financial options I thought I had, so I started cooking because I couldn't afford to go to a therapist.

In Washington, I'd go to all these farmer's markets, and I would come home with all these beautiful Washington apples and chop 'em, and I'd chop my baby boy, Danger, a few apples for him to munch on, and I'd chop up apples for my apple pie. I must have made about two apple pies a day!

And that's when one of my friends said, "No more apple pies. It's done."

But it felt so good. I pretended it was my ex-husband's face when I sliced the apples! And I perfected the recipe, and it holds a really sweet spot in my heart.

AS: Can you talk a little bit about how you feel about MasterChef US Season 3 as a show now that you've come home and seen how they've edited everything together?

Monti: I think it's an amazing to watch with family and friends. Food can really bring people together. I was talking to family and friends, and the owner of our radio station watches show with her family. She thinks it's awesome that kids get to watch people compete, and watch a person's character develop from the competition, and seeing what they do under high-pressure situations.

That said, I think Becky got a raw deal.

I think Becky is, of the Top 18, one of the most talented chefs period. When we had to our dinner in that Michelin-Star Kitchen in Hatfield's, she was amazing, flawless, beautiful.

She made some unfortunate decisions, getting too caught up in the competition, and things she said were taken out of context. You can't really describe to people what it's like living with other contestants.

But there are moments like when Becky gave her rice to David Martinez when he'd forgotten his in the pantry. I know we all said that we would have given him our rice, but Becky was the one who actually did it, the one who actually said, "I wanted you to be judged on your food, not on the fact that you forgot your rice."

She's not a mean, robotic person, like the editing makes her out to be. She's a beautiful person, inside and out. I've never been around someone who talks so passionately and so much about food.

[Editor's note: Read our interview with MasterChef US Season 3 Contestant Becky Reams here!]

AS: What's your philosophy in the kitchen?

Monti: My philosophy in the kitchen? Keep cooking. It's that easy. I feel like food is what brings us all together, and some of my favorite memories in life have been centered around a meal. If you're gonna develop those memories with your family and with your friends, you've gotta keep cooking because I believe that's how you're gonna make those moments.

AS: Who are your culinary inspirations?

Monti: Well, I mean, Paula Dean, honestly dude. I'm gonna get choked up talking about it, don't make fun of me. I adore her. She was the single mom of two little boys. She had two hundred dollars in her back pocket, and she started selling brown bag lunches, and from that, she founded her empire.

For me, she's such a huge inspiration because she cooks from her heart. She's awesome, she's funny, and look what she's done! It's not frilly, it's not complicated--of course, fancy cooking for me has a time and a place-- but for me, I'm more interested in meals I can make in my own home without having to go to three or four supermarkets. I go to my favorite store, I buy all the stuff I need to put it all together, I elevate the ingredients, and I make a beautiful, scrumptious meal. And that's what I want to do.

The book I'm writing, it's gonna be my Top 50 recipes, and it's all going to be budget-friendly and time-friendly because not everyone has sixteen hours to make ramen, you know? Not everyone has that life. You've got two jobs, you've got to make ends meet, but people still need that opportunity to do that job and make that meal.

So that's why I want to make this cookbook: not only to show what I went through, but also to show that this is something you can cook with twelve ingredients and have on the dinner table within an hour.

Monti's son, Danger, doing a great Gordon Ramsay impression.
Monti's son, Danger, doing a great Gordon Ramsay impression.

AS: I know that on Masterchef US, you said that your dream was to open a food truck. Judging from how many Facebook fans and Twitter followers you have, it looks like a lot of America wants that, too. Is opening a food truck still the dream, or has being in a high-energy kitchen put you on a different course?

Monti: You know, do you really wanna hear what my goals are? Here's what happens: I'm gonna write this cookbook, and hope it sells. And if it sells, I'm gonna start this food truck and cook from these recipes and see how they sell.

And if it sells, the ultimate goal is to do a frozen food line so parents can go to a supermarket pick up these meals that have no preservatives, that are really made with love, and can grab 'em for their kids and cook them in a couple of minutes.

If you're a busy single mom like myself, you can't cook every day, but you'll be able to afford a five dollar frozen entree. Especially if it's made with your child's best interests in mind.

One thing I think is so disgusting right now is chicken nuggets. Kids love them, they're so popular, but if you look at the back of the box, there's so much awful, awful stuff. And you're feeding that to your child.

It's so important to get back down to the basics and give your child something you trust. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but that's the ultimate goal.

When I was busy trying to feed my family, one of the things I really struggled with is finding something that my kid really wanted to eat that wasn't full of chemicals and ingredients you couldn't pronounce. I just want to have something amazing out there.

I know I don't want to package it in plastic because plastic is awful for you, especially when you throw it through the microwave, so that's the level that I'm thinking about this on. I don't want it to be toxic. So much of the food we have isn't good for you anymore.

AS: Name one person that you've always wanted to cook for, and what you'd cook for her or him.

Monti: Okay, I'm going to cry, but I want to cook for my grandmother. My grandmother raised me, and she would cook for us all the time, but she had passed away and I had no idea-- to give you an idea how crazy my family is, no one told me.

But my brother and I, we found her death certificate online, and it really always killed me that I never got to say goodbye. And I would really love to cook for her, it was her recipe for Puerto Rican Shepherd's Pie that got me into the top 36, and I'd really love to make my version of it for her.

AS: Can you talk about the avocado mousse that got you eliminated?

[Laughs] Oh my God, I've never made an avocado mousse, I didn't know what an avocado mousse was. You know, I saw online that so many people were saying that I was robbed, and that it was my friend Josh who should've gone home. I disagree with that heartily.

I have to stand up for Josh because that kid went home on a soft-boiled egg, and it was my fault. I love Josh. That kid was raised by a single mom. We were beautiful friends, and when he was invited back to the show and got to cook again, I was ecstatic for him. Yes, he messed up in cutting his fish, but he nailed everything else.

They didn't show this on TV, but Joe stood in front of me the whole time and told me, "Go slow, go slow," and I said "Joe, I can't cut this fish in front of you, man. My hands are shaking."

I destroyed a whole piece of white tuna. I didn't know what I was doing. I put heavy cream in avocado mousse. It was a hilarious disaster! It was something that I wouldn't serve to my worst enemies, let alone the President of the United States [who'd ordered the dish at Graham Elliot's restaurant.]

I really did try my best, I was flustered, but I really tried my best. I was pushed to the limit of what I could do by that competition.

They edited everything out, but I was very honest about it. I didn't taste my passionfruit for tartness, my mousse tasted awful, and my plantain chips weren't even crispy. I didn't do a good job of selling myself because I knew that it was not a good dish. And I'm a very honest person. If I don't do well, I'm gonna be honest about it.

AS: Was there anything else that didn't make it on TV?

Monti: There were a couple of cool things that didn't make it on TV, like when Team Helen Keller [which was Monti, Christine, and Becky] were cooking in that kitchen and I couldn't hear to save my life. Gordon Ramsay called all of us to go upfront and he was just yelling at us.

And when he was done, Christine [who is blind] was standing there, and she asked him, "Okay, Chef, can I go back in the kitchen?"

And Gordon yelled "Christine, you ARE in the kitchen!"

And then there was when I set a bowl of trifle on fire. I'd never made a trifle in my whole life. I took up two whole stations trying to make it. I was such a messy cook, and I needed more space, so I went into the back of the kitchen where they store all the spare equipment.

I could hear Gordon Ramsey yelling, "Monti?! Where the hell is Monti?!"

When it finally registered that he was calling me, I ran with all the way back to my station and there were just flames everywhere. And Ramsay's face is blood-red and he says "MONTI, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?!"

And I said, "That is a bowl on fire, sir." And I went to get it with my bare hands, which is what they ended up showing on T.V.

AS: What was it like watching contestants leave the show?

Monti: I never felt good when they would tell you, "Congratulations, you're in the Top 6," and we'd all just be there smiling and clapping. I felt sick to my stomach because I know how much it meant to me to be in that kitchen, and it's awful to watch someone's dream get taken away from them. And then have to clap about it.

I would cry when people left the kitchen, I would cry when people did well.

My little sister always makes fun of me because I get emotional. There's this one Google commercial with a Dad writing emails to his little girls as she grows older and it always gets me every time. And my little sister says, "Are you are out of your mind?" [Laughs]

AS: Where's your favorite place to eat?

Monti: There is a little Puerto Rican restaurant in Seattle called La Isla and it holds a very special place in my heart because I would go there when I was pregnant with Danger. It was the only place in Seattle that had Puerto Rican food and I would go there and chow down. They had the most amazing pulled pork, and a beautiful guava dessert, and they have a lasagna there-- a sweet plantain lasagna. It's just delicious.

I took all my friends when they came to visit when my little baby boy was born, and they all live in New York because they're puertorican and that's where you go. They pigged out on that lasagna. I adore that restaurant. I really do. My friends said it's the kind of thing u don't get in New York, and I mean, that's New York! It has everything!

AS: What kind of chef do you want to see win the next season of MasterChef US?

Monti: That's a good question! You know, I haven't really given that much thought. I am very excited about the fact that Christine won because there was one day that Stacy got voted off, and Christine was just broken. She was crying, and I was holding onto her, and she said "I'm gonna tell them that it should've been me."

She was ready to leave the show.

And I told her, "This is bigger than you. This is much bigger than you ever thought it could be. You have no idea how this is going to affect so many people that watch you and are inspired by you and what you can overcome. This is much bigger than you. You cant walk away from this. People deserve to see your story unfold."

I want someone like that to win the next competition. I want an inspiration. I don't think a MasterChef is someone who has the most technique or has the most recipes in their back-pocket. The next MasterChef should be just like Christine-- an inspiration.

Let me tell you, I got into that kitchen a broken woman. My best friend who got me through my divorce had just been shot and died in the street, and I couldn't afford to go to his funeral. Then I meet this woman who lost her vision seven years ago, who lost her mother at fourteen, so it had to be incredibly debilitating.

And nothing happened. She's just moving on, she's doing her life.

And just talking to her for that very first time and watching her cook for the very first time, a fellow contestant Scott and I sat in front of her station and watched every move she made. And we were hypnotized.

It's incredible what you can do when you put your mind to it. I think the world needs more of that. There are so many reality shows that feed off negative things. Like this one show called Love and Hip Hop which was showing some girl who got pregnant and got an abortion, and it all takes place in under two minutes, then she gets right back to dancing.

I'd much rather my son watch something like this season with Christine. No matter what happens in your life, you can overcome it.


Check out Monti's website, Slap Yo Mamma!, here!

© 2012 Food & Recipe All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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