At this point, MasterChef is an international phenomenon. The reality show where home cooks compete against one another for the title seems like an incredibly simple concept, but it's one that audiences absolutely loved and tuned in for season after season. Now, there are versions in several countries around the world with different judges—and the US version, in particular, has had a great group of judges through the seasons.
Superstar chef Gordon Ramsay has been a judge on every single season of US MasterChef, and he's been joined over the course of the show by Graham Elliot, Joe Bastianich, Aaron Sanchez, and Christina Tosi. Each judge brings his or her own expertise and perspective to the competition, and it's always a blast to see what each one's style is. Some of them are a bit gentler with the contestants, while others are completely unafraid to be brutal. Some really encourage contestants, while others are constantly challenging them. It makes for good television—that's for sure!
Even though you may have watched them in episode after episode, how much do you truly know about the judges? They're all culinary titans in their own right with successful careers under their belts and a whole lot of advice to give the contestants—that is, if the contestants are willing to listen!
Here are 25 things fans didn't know about the MasterChef judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, Christina Tosi, Joe Bastianich, and Aaron Sanchez. We're surprised the contestants don't do a little more research before they start so they have something to chat with the judges about!
25 Gordon Ramsay Is A Black Belter In Karate
Gordon Ramsay can obviously hold his own in the kitchen, but did you know that the fit Brit can also hold his own in a fight? It turns out, as he revealed in a Playboy interview, he has a black belt in karate and also loves boxing. That means he definitely has the bite to back up his bark! We're not sure what prompted Ramsay to pursue karate, but we have to admit, it's a pretty interesting thing to know about him. Perhaps his kids wanted to go and, after taking them to lessons, he ended up falling in love with the sport himself!
24 Ramsay's Go-To Restaurant Order, Every Time, Is Beef Wellington
It's fascinating to speculate about what kinds of restaurant dishes chefs might order when they sit down for a meal. Would they go for something super simple or something that truly shows off all the techniques the chef can do? In Gordon Ramsay's case, there's a particular dish he'll order anytime he sees it on the menu: beef wellington. As he stated in a Reddit takeover, "whether it's in the middle of Milan or the middle of Paris or the middle of New York," that's what he's going for. Well, it's one of his signature dishes—he needs to stay up to date on any beef wellington trends!
23 If He Weren't A Chef, Ramsay Would Be A Navy SEAL
At this point, Gordon Ramsay has been a chef for over half his life (although obviously, he hasn't been a household name for quite that long). However, if you've ever wondered what he would've done had the whole culinary thing not worked out, we've got your answer. When asked what he'd take as an alternate career path if the chef thing hadn't worked out on Quora, he responded, "I would probably be a Navy SEAL. They are disciplined." We can totally see that—given how he whips a kitchen into shape, he'd likely be a phenomenal SEAL after some training.
22 Though He Loves To Cook, Ramsay Dislikes Dinner Parties
You might assume that chefs love any kind of gathering that involves food—after all, that's their passion! Why wouldn't they want to see what someone whips up for a dinner party? Well, in Ramsay's case, dinner parties are kind of his worst nightmare. As he confessed in a Playboy interview, "I really try not to go [to dinner parties]—mostly because I can't sit there and pretend everything's delicious when it's not. The food is so often s**t. It's just too hard to be diplomatic." Well, at least he's honest! We can't imagine how nerve-wracking it would be to cook for him.
21 Ramsay's Favourite Midnight Snack Is Beans On Toast—Although An Elevated Version
Beans on toast is quintessentially a UK dish, and given that Ramsay has spent the majority of his life in Britain, it only makes sense that he'd love it as well. According to an interview he did with Bon Appetit, beans on toast is his favorite midnight snack—although he does a bit of an elevated version. He described his perfect midnight snack as "chili flakes, garlic, Tabasco sauce, hot sauce, sourdough bread—grilled, baked beans on top, with a duck egg, covered with Parmesan and gratinated under the grill." Sounds delicious! A bit more gourmet than the standard, but then again, he's Gordon Ramsay!
20 If He Could Cook Dinner For Any Celebrity, Ramsay Would Want To Cook For Hillary Clinton
Whether simply at their restaurants or for private events, many chefs have cooked for celebrities over the years. However, have you ever wondered which celebrity chefs truly wished they could cook for, given the chance? For Gordon Ramsay, it turns out, it isn't a UK celebrity at all—the person he'd most want to cook for is Hillary Clinton! When Bon Appetit asked what he'd make for the political powerhouse, he responded, "Something authentic, rich, and a sauce that had been doused with lots of red wine. Like a braised short rib, because she's of that era—of that age—that she understands fine food."
19 Christina Tosi Studied Electrical Engineering In College
While Christina Tosi did attend culinary school, she had a bit of a circuitous path to the food world. Though she's loved baking ever since she was a little girl, she decided that traditional college was the right choice for her at first and ended up going to the University of Virginia to study electrical engineering. She ended up switching majors after her first year, becoming a Mathematics major as well as majoring in the language of Italy. It's definitely not the typical background of a chef, but it obviously worked for her—and she ended up getting her training in the kitchen at the International Culinary Center shortly afterward.
18 MasterChef Inspired Tosi To Take Dance Classes
There's no doubt that the judges inspire all the contestants on MasterChef in a major way, but did you know that from time to time, the contestants actually end up inspiring the judges? At least, that's what happened to Christina Tosi. The pastry queen admired the way that all the home cooks put themselves out there, week after week, and decided that she wanted to follow suit. While she had her kitchen game mastered, there was one thing she wasn't the greatest at: dance. So, she decided to put herself out there and enroll in dance classes, spending some time learning how to swing and foxtrot.
17 Tosi's Milk Bar Headscarf Is Her Trademark In The Kitchen
On television, Christina Tosi always looks super glam. Her make-up is done, she doesn't have a single hair out of place, and she's in a chic outfit. That's because it's required for her role as a judge. However, when she's just in her kitchen in her role as chef, her wardrobe is a whole lot different. She usually rocks her chef's whites and sneakers and adds a little pop of color with her signature accessory—a headscarf. Apparently, Tosi's grandmother started making her headscarves back when she was still alive, and they've since become a Milk Bar trademark, which is absolutely adorable.
16 Tosi Is Quite The Handywoman Who Can Fix Everything
When you're the person in charge of a culinary empire like Milk Bar, you have to kind of be a jack of all trades. Sure, you need to be able to supervise your team and create mouthwatering recipes, but you also need to be able to promote your brand, to deal with pesky details like finding property for new locations, etc. Yes, Tosi has a team that helps with everything, but she still needs to at least understand all the components of her business. And it turns out, she loves being a jack of all trades—she's even comfortable fixing things around the bakery!
15 Joe Bastianich Is A Runner
On MasterChef, unless he's in a silly themed outfit for some kind of challenge, Joe Bastianich is basically always wearing a suit. It's just what he does. So, while we can see him striding through the city in style, we can't really picture him getting his sweat on. However, it turns out that he's actually a devoted runner! As he told Fine Dining Lovers, "My doctor sat me down about seven or eight years ago and told me I was on a one-way track to developing type-2 diabetes... being a restaurateur isn't exactly conducive to dieting, so I took up running.... and ended up really loving it."
14 According To Bastianich, People From The US Should Slow Down And Eat More Like People From Italy
There's no denying that Joe Bastianich wears the heritage of Italy with pride. He's always the first to offer his expertise when the contestants are whipping together a pasta dish, and he has a unique perspective from seeing his mother Lidia Bastianich succeed in the culinary world before he found his own role within it. So, it makes sense that he'd have strong opinions on the way people from Italy and people from America eat. According to Bastianich, people in America simply need to slow down and make time to come together over a great meal like the people from Italy do. We couldn't agree more!
13 Bastianich Has A Few Restaurant Red Flags, Including Plastic Menus And Polyester Napkins
Bastianich is a man with high standards. He's not about to accept a subpar restaurant meal, and he's not afraid to let anyone know what he thinks. It makes sense that he'd have a few benchmarks for things to look out for in a restaurant—or rather, red flags that may convince you to eat elsewhere. As he told Fine Dining Lovers, his red flags are "polyester napkins, plastic menus, and soda from soda guns. If you see any of these upon entering a restaurant, turn around immediately." We're not sure we'd judge places quite so harshly, but hey—he has certain standards!
12 Bastianich Worked In Finance For A While Before Entering The Food Industry
Given that his mother is a titan in the culinary world and that he clearly has a passion for cuisine, you may have assumed that Joe Bastianich has only ever worked in the culinary world. However, that's not the case. He actually spent some time working on Wall Street—perhaps that's where he learned to always dress in an impeccably cut suit!—just trying to make money. While it may have been a financially solid career, he found out that he just wasn't happy doing that. Eventually, he made the decision to pursue his true passions—food and wine—and hasn't looked back since.
11 Graham Elliot Is The Culinary Director Of Lollapalooza
Graham Elliot isn't shy about his Chicago roots, but did you know that he's actually connected to an iconic Chicago music festival? That's right—he's the culinary director of Lollapalooza and has been for nearly a decade now. He got his start there back in 2009 and has been serving up elevated festival fare ever since. We're not sure who decided that a music festival needed a culinary director—the food available at most outdoor festivals is uninspiring at best—but it's definitely a great perk. I mean, who doesn't want to enjoy a gourmet meal before seeing some of their favorite artists take the stage?
10 Elliot Spent Years Playing In A Punk Band
It's always interesting to learn about who chefs were before they donned their chef's whites and began spending all their time in the kitchen. In Graham Elliot's case, before he found a passion for food, he was passionate about punk rock music. In fact, from the ages of 18 to 22, he was in a punk rock band. He was already somewhat involved in the culinary world at that point, as he was working as a dishwasher after dropping out of high school, but it was once he went to culinary school that he truly began uncovering how passionate he was about food and cooking.
9 Elliot's Childhood
When Graham Elliot did an interview with AZ Central, he shed some light on the way his childhood influenced his culinary palate—and it's fascinating. It turns out he was a military brat, as his father was in the military and took the family all over the world. As Elliot said, "I was a kind of adventurous kid. I loved doing things that were crazy, like spearfishing and playing in the jungle when we lived in the Philippines. When I learned you could eat snails, frog legs and other crazy stuff, I was hooked. The weirder, the better. It was huge being exposed to these different foods at an early age."
8 In Total, Elliot Lost Around 150 Pounds—Impressive!
We always wonder how on earth so many chefs manage to stay so slim and trim when they're constantly surrounded by decadent food. While some do it effortlessly, for Graham Elliot, it was a bit more of a struggle. He battled his weight for quite a few years until finally deciding to do something about it—and the results were insane. In total, Elliot lost about 150 pounds, and now, he's really devoted to living a healthy lifestyle. Obviously, he still tastes plenty of delicious dishes—he's certainly not just eating unseasoned chicken and broccoli for every meal—but he makes sure to consume things in moderation and to incorporate plenty of exercise through activities like running and boxing.
7 Elliot Loves To Cook Spontaneously—His Restaurant Doesn't Even Use Recipes
We always wonder how the contestants on MasterChef manage to come up with dishes so spontaneously, but for Graham Elliot, that way of cooking makes total sense—it's what he's always done! In fact, while we're not sure this will always be the case, for quite some time, his restaurants didn't even use recipes. The chefs are instead encouraged to create dishes based on their inspiration and based on what's fresh and in season, which is really amazing. And, we have to admit, it makes us want to eat at his restaurants even more—who doesn't want to be constantly surprised by the menu?
6 Aaron Sanchez Never Cooks Fresh Pasta At Home
Let's face it—there isn't really a dish that a talented chef wouldn't be able to master if he or she really put his or her mind to it. However, there are some dishes that they just don't bother with, based on personal preference. For Aaron Sanchez, that dish is fresh pasta. He confessed to Food Network that he just never makes fresh pasta at home. He didn't elaborate—perhaps he just doesn't enjoy it enough to go to the trouble, or perhaps he has his favorite spots that do it perfectly. But we admire his honesty—although we have a feeling Joe Bastianich would have some strong opinions!
5 While He's Not Opposed To Cheese, Sanchez Doesn't Like Cooking With Super Aged Cheese
Aaron Sanchez definitely uses cheese in his kitchen, but there's one particular type he doesn't really enjoy cooking with—very aged cheese. As he told Food Network, "Really old, fermented cheeses, like an aged goat or sheep cheese... it dominates and saturates your palate, and it's hard to get past." We can imagine! Anytime you have such a strong flavor in a dish, it's that much harder to balance it out. Perhaps the super strong cheeses are best saved for a cheese plate, when they can just stand on their own and not mask the delicate flavors you'd otherwise see in a dish.
4 Sanchez's Favorite Food City Of All Is New Orleans
There are so many cities across the world with absolutely incredible food scenes, and it seems nearly impossible to pick just one; however, for Aaron Sanchez, the answer is clear. His absolute favorite food city is New Orleans, and we don't blame him—NoLa is absolutely incredible when it comes to food. From the signature beignets to Creole cuisine to all the chefs doing interesting new things, there's always something exciting to taste and try. In fact, we'd love to see a New Orleans-inspired challenge on a future season of MasterChef—perhaps Aaron can make that happen!
3 Sanchez's Favorite Late-Night Snack Is Chocolate
Everyone has a favorite snack and beverage that he or she likes to enjoy after a particularly long, hard day, and it turns out that Aaron Sanchez's isn't particularly complex or gourmet. It's simple—a glass of wine and some chocolate. It's definitely a winning combination, and it can be elevated as much as you want. You could enjoy a reasonably priced bottle of wine and a grocery-store chocolate bar, or if you're looking to take things to another level, you can splurge on a slightly nicer bottle of wine and pair it with some artisanal chocolates crafted by a local chocolatier.
2 Sanchez Got His Start At His Mother's Restaurant
In an interview with the Institute of Culinary Education, Aaron Sanchez spilled about how he got his start in the kitchen—and it's pretty adorable. His mother had a restaurant when he was younger, and from the age of 10, he helped out after school and on the weekends doing things like handling the coat check. Then, at 12 or 13, he started getting his hands dirty in the kitchen. "I was a very undisciplined child, and the kitchen was good because it provided structure, mentoring, and discipline—something every young person needs." We love that he got his start with food in such a personal place.
1 Sanchez Loves To Write Poetry
A beautifully crafted plate of food is basically a form of art, but it turns out that Aaron Sanchez has another form of art he's passionate about: poetry. He confessed to the Institute of Culinary Education, "It's just something that I'm crazy about and [have] done since I was a kid. Music and poetry and art—all these are so important." We have to admit, we're not all that surprised that he's a super creative guy. In addition to having a variety of technical skills mastered, chefs really do need to be incredibly creative when it comes to crafting new dishes and entire menus.