Master Chef, Motherhood, and Chasing the Dream: My Interview with Monti Carlo
From chocolate, to the visual acid that is Yo Gabba Gabba, to motherhood, to Gordon Ramsey’s inherent dreamy quality, Master Chef contestant Monti Carlo and I talked about it all. This incredible dj by day (host of My Phoenix Music, 103.9FM), is also one heck of an amazing chef, and an example of how strong women can actually be. As a single mother, Monti serves as an inspiration…proving that you CAN keep going, and that you shouldn’t allow any personal setbacks to prevent you from chasing your dreams.
I couldn’t have been more excited to chat with Monti, and honestly felt like I was talking with one of my close friends. This girl is not only down to earth, but incredibly funny and warm, and her deep love of her son Danger, was clearly evident. Win or lose this season, Monti HAS succeeded, and as Gordon Ramsey told her, “You are not a fluke, my darling.”
I spoke to Monti in the afternoon of her FIRST DAY of a brand new job…a first day in which she was actually suffering from food poisoning, dog-sitting, and re-covering from a recent move. Throw a child in that mix, and take into consideration how personable, kind, and super funny she was, and you’ll get a clear picture of the kind of lady Monti is. Her strength, determination, and her vulnerability made her the clear hero for me this season. While yes, others may point to Christine, a super-woman of a chef with a vision impairment, I see the role-model for the modern-day mom inside of Monti.
Monti told me she never expected to make it onto the show, fought her way into the top 100, and then surprisingly found herself in the top 18. (I for one was NOT surprised! As soon as they showed her, I KNEW she would go far!) . Her son will point at the tv, and then go right back to playing, but for her, it feels “out of this world,” to see herself. Monti likened the show experience to having a baby, where you just feel like you’re having an out of body experience, but something keeps pushing you along. Yes, she has felt her embarrassing moments, and worries about her son seeing her “bleeps”, but I think the depth of her character was shown as she told me she actually feels bad for fellow contestant Ryan. Monti expressed to me that she always wanted to set a good example for her son while on the show,and I think that her perseverance and the renewal of her belief in herself and her abilities are a shining example not just for Danger, but for all of us.
Monti told me that having these three amazing chefs watch you cook was tough, but then she would remember, hey, I made a baby…I did that…and that helped her keep going. (Moms, this is universally true for you! No matter what challenges you’re up against, consider the miracle you’ve already helped bring about…You made a person…and the job you do as a mother is harder/tougher than anything…If you’re getting through that, just think of what else you can accomplish!) Thank you to Monti for helping moms across the country see their potential, and recognize the crazy power they have hidden inside…
Monti and Ryan had an on-air “rivalry”, that included Ryan not only asking Monti to expose herself to the Marines, but in which he selected canned crab for her to cook with as opposed to fresh. Now, she feels like he was just a young kid making a comment and trying to be funny…basically not thinking. She said she feels sort of bad for him now, as people are just ripping him apart.
Scotch Eggs, Sheep Heads, and Chocolate
When asked what her favorite dish she has made on the show to date, she answered with the crab scotch egg. (This was one of my personal favorite Monti moments as well!)
Monti said, ” I was just so emotional going into that challenge, and really just upset he gave Christine the live crab, and I was really worried about my dish” She said she felt silly walking up there with her soft boiled eggs (which were ridiculously creative!) She said as she was standing up there, Gordon Ramsey started giggling, and you don’t know “what that does to your insides..when something you made makes Gordon Ramsey giggle.”. Monti said, “You are up there a lot longer than what is shown”, and that it can get pretty intimidating present a dish to three such amazing chefs. A highlight for her with the scotch egg, was that “Joe made a point to be nice to me. He works so hard on his mean man persona, but to take a moment to reach out… it was one of the highlights for me.”
Anyone who watches the show can’t forget the mystery box challenge from organ meat hell. The contestants were faced with a sheep’s head, bull testicles, sweetbreads, calf’s brain, and other such “delicious” ingredients. Monti told me that Gordon Ramsey could not keep it together when the mystery box lids were lifted, and the ingredients were revealed to the contestants. She said he could not stop laughing, and that even Joe was laughing.
I asked Monti what she would have made, had the mystery box indeed had chocolate (her favorite food!) like she wished. Monti told me she makes a flourless chocolate cake that is just delicious. The dessert is one of her favorite things to make, and something she found in an Alice Waters (one of her favorites) cookbook. I loved that Monti too, likes to tweak recipes, and add in hints of herself and flavors she loves. (I may not do this as well as her, but yay for making dishes your own, and not feeling boxed into a certain recipe!)
Inside the Show
I asked Monti to tell me about the Master Chef pantry, and her response was, “Bekki, it’s bigger than my apartment.”
One thing I was curious about was how do the contestants keep their dishes from becoming cold, waiting around for the judges to taste their food. Monti said that yes, the food does sometimes get cold, develop a skin, etc. and that the judges completely take that into consideration. The judges have told the contestants they are “fully prepared to eat cold food, but it better not be bland.” Monti added that sometimes flavors can really develop when allowed to sit.
Speaking of time, YES, the contestants really do have to come up with their dishes on the fly. Monti said from the time they lift the mystery box until the time they have to begin cooking is only a few minutes. The cameras quickly re-set to capture footage of the contestants making a mad dash to the pantry, but once they are ready, it’s go-time, and you had better know what you are making! There is no time allotted to figure out a game-plan, and the contestants are not allowed to use recipes during the challenges. *As a special teaser, coming up on an episode of Master Chef, a Michelin star chef will have to complete a Mystery Box challenge! I think seeing an award-winning chef go through the same type of stress, pressure, and creative dilemma as the Master Chefs will be fantastic! Can’t wait for that one!
Monti said, “like being a mom, you have to do a lot on instinct. Trust yourself.” She said the show helped her learn to trust herself again, after having recently gone through a divorce.
Monti also said she used her time away from the show to hole up in her hotel room and just “devour” cookbooks. She said after a taping, she’d go straight to her room, and “read, read, read.”
On the Judges
The first thing I just HAD to ask Monti, was how she resisted running her fingers through Gordon Ramsey’s hair. =) She laughed, and said she was glad I liked him, as people have really split opinions on him. She said Gordon was “total crush material” , always had that “gleam in his eye”, and that he made her re-gain her confidence. Lucky thing, he also called her “beautiful.” Monti said Gordon Ramsey had a great sense of humor, and was always laughing. She told me the story about a prank he played on the contestants. After Helene went home and the cameras turned off, Gordon told the contestants they were leaving the Master Chef kitchen for their next challenge. He then said, “Aloha!,” and all of the contestants started freaking out! Felix thought she’d get to go home and Monti was thinking, “I’m living in a studio apartment with my kid and my sister, this is awesome! Free vacation!” Then, after allowing all of the contestants to flip out, he let them know, he was joking. Oh Gordon…She did assure me she has never heard him call anyone “donkey,” (which was something many people asked me to ask her about, as he’s a bit notorious for throwing the “d” word around on Hell’s Kitchen.
I asked Monti if judge, Joe Bastianich ever smiled. From the sofa spectator’s perception, he appears to be the harshest of the three judges. Monti told me that when the cameras turn on, Joe brings out his “inner Gargamel” (how much do I love that she used a Smurfs reference!?). She said he works hard on his “mean man persona”, but that when the cameras are off, he’s really just goofy, and a really nice guy. To my surprise, she said Joe brings his son on the set with him, and that his boy is adorable and a little motivational speaker, telling Monti, “just believe in yourself.” Monti said, “You can’t raise a great person and be a bad guy at the same time.” True that Monti.
We never got around to talking about judge Graham Elliot, but I’ll chalk that one up to the fact that I literally felt like I was chatting up my good friend, and didn’t ask a bunch of my pre-determined questions….She was just THAT cool.
Monti said that “I fell in love with all three judges, and they are a lot more than their personas….deeper, amazing people who really want you to do your best.” She said that if anyone said a cross word about any of the three, she would go to jail, because, “they changed my life. They took a broken person and gave me self-esteem again.” (I feel like I should insert an inspirational song here…seriously, though, LOVE this!)
On Her Website
Monti has started up a brand new website, http://slap-yo-momma.com/. (I was seriously in love with the site from the name alone.) She presents to us, food so good, “you’ll want to slap yo momma.” I asked Monti what type of recipes we could expect to see, and who her target audience was. She said, “I’m not a culinary genius…and I’m so all about simple food you can create on a budget. Before Master Chef, I was on a $10 a day food budget, and managed to create beautiful food my son would not eat…at least I’m trying to feed him something.” (Monti’s honesty and willingness to “keep it real” is SO refreshing! )
She said all the recipes on her site will use regular ingredients you can find at your regular grocery store, that won’t require you to stop at 6 different specialty stores and markets. She said Slap-Yo-Momma is for people who are curious about food, and maybe need a chance to get into the kitchen and away from their kid. (Again, insert a huge smile for someone willing to admit that moms need a break!…And, even more importantly, moms need time to CREATE, and pursue the things they love!)
My husband asks for apple pie more frequently than anything else I make, and on my agenda is making Monti’s recipe for “I Hope He Chokes Pie,” which is aptly named for her ex-husband. She and I talked about the catharsis that happens while chopping apples. I welcome all of you to check out her new site and help her get this new project off the ground!! Visit it HERE! (Tell her I sent you!)
On Her Dreams
Should Monti win (or heck, even if she doesn’t), she would LOVE to open her own food truck. (I told her she should come out to Portland and check out our little food truck mecca, and found out she has lived in the Pacific NW!) She would love to name her food truck, “Slap Yo Momma”, but recently found out there is already a food truck out there with that name…She would love to create international comfort food, and thinks operating a food truck is the perfect job for a mom. She told me how great it would be to be able to drop her son off at school, go out and serve corporate America some decent food, and then be able to be at home when your child is out of school. (It was SO clear throughout our whole conversation just how much she loves and adores her son, and that he comes first. Women like Monti are why I do what I do….I so love moms.)
I asked Monti to tell me more about what “international comfort food” meant. Here’s what she said. “Everyone uses ground beef, chicken…basic staples of a diet. I’d like to change them around with spices. I’d love to put together like 2o different recipes for comfort food from around the world.” She talked to me about her Puerto Rican shepherd’s pie ( a dish she made to help her make the show!), and a more traditional scotch egg (as she says she loves to make her own sausage!) She was clearly passionate about providing an alternative to something like an egg mcmuffin..just providing some wholesome, natural, GOOD food.
Monti also told me she would love to create a line of frozen meals for moms to use…meals that they wouldn’t have to feel guilty about feeding their family with. She understands and knows what the life of a mom is like, and admits to having frozen, convenient food in her own house. (She said the weekends are her time to get into the kitchen!) She wants to use all-natural food to create convenient products for busy moms…I don’t know about you, but I’d buy that!
In such a charmingly open way, Monti told me that “being a mom smoothed me out a lot.” She told me that she used to have a little edge, but that motherhood really helped wipe that away. She said that being a mom definitely helped in dealing with all of the challenges and personalities she encountered on the show. She talked about how the exhaustion that is motherhood really helped the trials of the show to just roll of her back, because when you’re already exhausted, what’s one more thing? (Truer words Monti…truer words.) We talked about just how hard it was to be away from Danger while taping, and that her time away from him was the hardest thing she’s done. As one of the only contestants with children, it was hard for the other contestants to understand what she was going through being away. What other moms will understand, is that time away from your babies is never just a “vacation.” Her heart was with her “crazy kid,” as she lovingly referred to him. She and I talked a lot about struggling to find the balance between work and our children…the universal struggle that I think all moms grapple with. I loved what she had to say about taking the time you have to do what you love and to use that time to work through your emotions. When she gets into the kitchen she can work out her divorce and just lay it all out on the cutting board so to speak.
Rapid Fire Food Questions
I gave Monti a series of some “lightening round” questions about food.
“What do you need to have in your pantry at all times?” – Coffee!
“Best Snack on the Market for Kids?” – Cheese! I love to give Danger cheese sticks, or string cheese. Trader Joe’s also has some awesome organic fruit wraps.
“Favorite Food?” – Chocolate! It can be in a cake, in a bar, in a drink…It’s amazing. (I think she even likened it to a tranquilizer!)
“Go-To Weeknight Dinner” – She told me about a traditional Puerto Rican dish she loves to make for Danger, of white rice and kidney beans (which she tells him are M&M’s that have gone swimming! LOVE it! And how many of us are “guilty” of doing just the same thing?!) She said she’ll cook up an amazing pork chop to go with it (which she tells him is chicken.) I also give her crazy props, as she told me she has him convinced that tortillas are cookies! We applaud you.
“G0-To Company Dinner” – Ox Tail Stew. She told me that she used to have a room-mate that she would bribe with her ox-tail stew. She said she could get him to clean the whole apartment if she promised him a batch of her ox-tail stew. (She is also sending me this recipe so that I can see if this works on all men…) She talked about how this is a really special dish, that requires you to carve out time in your schedule to make, but that it is definitely worth the effort, and a great way to show someone “hey, I think you’re pretty cool.” (She’s so right too! Food totally has a way of so tangibly demonstrating love!)
“Favorite Way to Sneak Veggies Into a Child” – Monti said she likes to sneak in a few slices of carrot with sliced up apples, in the hopes that Danger will let a carrot or two slide past his lips. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. Another great idea she had was to cut veggies into fun shapes for kids, as especially young children can be really into shapes, and take an interest in them.
“Do you make your child eat what you’re eating?” Monti told me how her mom used to make her and her siblings finish everything on their plate, and how that experience has made her be the opposite way with her son. She said, ” If you’re hungry, you’ll eat. You’ll figure it out.” She recounted times where she found herself trying to force her son to eat what she’d made, and then thought, “what am I doing?” She took the stance that kids will indeed eat when they’re hungry and decided “I’m not gonna feel guilty about it anymore.”
Monti is out there working hard, and chasing her dreams. She took a risk, and put herself out there, facing some seriously tough critics…and she made it through. Even at a low point in her personal life, she picked herself up and decided to keep going….persevering through the difficult emotions and moving forward. She’s a working single mom who like most of us, struggles to find the balance, and has to juggle a heck of a lot of balls…and does it with grace, crazy raw honesty, comedy, and a wild abandon type of love for her son. My hope for all of you out there is that you can look to Monti and others like her, and be inspired….inspired to turn something you love into something more…to take a chance…to allow yourself to show emotions (and realize they don’t make you weak)….to move on….to create….I was (and am) inspired, and want to thank Monti for her candid and amazingly comfortable interview with me. Gordon Ramsey was right…Monti is definitely NOT a fluke. (Not even a little bit.) This chick is going places…(and remember, you can too!)
I invite (no, implore) all of you to help support this incredible mama as she is out there chasing (and living) her dreams! Let’s get behind her and help grow her fan-base! Stay connected, and find out what she is up to, get some great recipes, and help show some love to a fellow mom in the process.
Head on over to her website Slap-Yo-Momma!
Follow @MC3Monti on Twitter!
You can also tune in to FOX on Monday and Tuesday nights at 9pm to watch Monti on Master Chef and cheer her on!!