You say you’re ‘just’ a home cook, but your dinner parties are envied, and your brown bag lunches are the talk of the office. Perhaps it’s time to embrace your culinary aptitude. This Saturday, MasterChef—a popular competitive cooking show on the Fox network—grants amateur cooks an audition for the eighth season, hosted by Gordon Ramsay (sadly the notoriously loud-mouthed chef won’t be present). The open-call is held at the Melrose Georgetown Hotel from 10 am to 6 pm (more pertinent details here). We sat down with casting producer Ned Johnson for a few tips on what to expect, how to impress, and what you need to know if you make the cut.
What does MasterChef casting generally involve?
We have two traveling teams that hit two cities simultaneously—so we’ve got another team in Los Angeles this upcoming weekend—and host these big, open casting calls. It’s kind of like what American Idol used to do, except it’s not as crazy as an American Idol event because these are people that actually cook, and have passion for cooking. With American Idol it tends to be people that just want to get on TV.
What can Washingtonians expect at the audition?
We bring everybody in in groups of 20 to 30 so you’re not in there alone—one-on-one can be scary. It’s kind of like a big party. We try to keep it very uplifting and positive. There’s absolutely no elimination. We take everybody’s picture when they show up, we talk to them all, and then at the very end we lay everything out and start putting together this puzzle of personalities that is MasterChef.
Is there a cooking component involved?
Yes, everyone should show up with a dish that they cooked from home, and then they get about three minutes to plate their dish. However, we suggest people bring stuff that travels well, especially if they are traveling from out-of-state. If they are bringing in a meat dish that’s not warm, we’re not going to take that into account. Just as long as it’s not like, you know, raw fish that’s been sitting out for five hours.
So is there nothing keeping them from taking, say, Nanna’s famous lasagna and trying to pass it off as their own?
We see people that try to bring in stuff that they definitely didn’t cook. We have executive chefs there that will grill them on how exactly they put the dish together, so the executive chefs can usually tell if they didn’t cook their food. And they can smell store-bought stuff a mile away.
In terms of skills of home cooks versus MasterChef-grade skills, how do enthusiasts know if they have a real shot, if they should go for it?
Basically if they think that they can do it, that’s what we are looking for. We are looking for confidence. If somebody is confident in their dish and they really have that desire to learn from Gordon Ramsay, that’s what we are looking for. Passion and potential, and just a base of knowledge. It’s all about like the culinary journey. They are learning new things throughout this whole show; Gordon behind-the-scenes is giving them tips, and we also have a whole team of culinary producers that are helping them fine-tune their skills and work on their weaknesses. All we are looking for is the desire and the willingness to do what it takes to be the best chef that they can become. And obviously, we are looking that they like know the basics.
What about the potential to this area–to DC. Do the judges or the casting have certain expectations for the greater DC area?
I mean, we would love to get somebody involved in politics on the show. That’s definitely a huge thing. Maybe somebody who wants to launch their political career and get some national exposure. But, you know, whenever we go to a new city we’re always surprised. For example, we always get a lot of firemen, because that’s part of their job is cooking in the firehouse.
Any tips or recommendations for those that are going to be coming out this Saturday to audition?
NJ: Sometimes people freak because we only have about two-to-three minutes to talk to them, so when they are showing up, I always tell people, ‘brainstorm for a few memorable stories that paint a picture of who you are.’ We just want people to be themselves. We don’t want them acting like this is a job interview. A lot of people come into this kind of “yes sir” and “no sir”, but we want them to treat us like we’re just another member of their family.
On the flip side of the coin, what should people avoid doing during auditions?
Don’t try to be something that you think we want you to be. Just be as genuine and as authentic as possible. People will often show up wearing a suit who never wear a suit in their day-to-day life. Take off the tuxedo, bro! People want to put their best foot forward, but what we want is to see the real them.
You make it sound so inviting.
It is. We try to lift everyone up as much as possible, and just congratulate them for having the guts to come out and do this. There’s no one yelling at you, there’s no angry Gordon, there’s no elimination. It’s just show up, maybe meet some new friends, and just make the best of it. Because if they are having fun, we’re gonna be having fun talking to them, which is going to make the experience that much better.