Westsiders have already come to know MasterChef competitor Tracy Kontos. They’ve seen her take part in and at the alongside her co-competitor and business partner Alejandra Schrader.
after making it to the top 9 of the FOX reality show, and Kontos was eliminated Monday night after making it to the top 6.
Chosen as having one of the best dishes last week, Kontos was made team captain of the three-member “blue” team in a head-to-head challenge against three fellow competitors in the “red” team this week. Each was tasked with serving identical dishes at LA’s famous Patina restaurant. When Kontos’ team lost the challenge, they underwent a “pressure test” with all three having to fillet a whole salmon and then cook a piece of the fish. Kontos had trouble removing the tail from her fish. The show’s three judges – Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich - decided she was the one to be sent home.
Kontos spoke with Patch early Tuesday morning about the 360-degree turn her life has taken since she auditioned for the show back in January.
Mar Vista Patch: You always seemed pretty calm and collected throughout your time on the show, but when you were eliminated you completely broke down on camera. Did you think that was going to happen?
Tracy Kontos: I had that feeling once we left Patina that our team was on the chopping block and the emotion was building all day. I’d never filleted a fish before. Even though we had to cook a piece of fish and mine was good, I realized it was a filleting challenge and when it came down to Adrien [Nieto] and me, I knew I was going home. I had never cried before the judges [throughout the whole show] but I was really emotional and I was embarrassed that I was crying.
Patch: You also swore in front of the cameras. It didn’t seem in keeping with the calm persona you had throughout the show, and the fact that you often didn’t get much airtime.
Kontos: I can’t believe they kept that in! I really thought it would be edited out! [As for my persona and the editing], I wasn’t the drama queen and I didn’t backstab people. They were more interested in filming the sensationalism and the people who were engaging in fights. They’re the ones that get the airtime. I was there to cook, not to pursue a reality TV career.
Patch: Speaking of sensationalism, Christian Collins is definitely getting the “villain” edit. He’s also considered to be one of the best cooks in the kitchen. You had the opportunity to pick him as your teammate in the Patina challenge but you didn’t. Do you regret that decision?
Kontos: I don’t. Christian has experience in the kitchen. I wanted my team to win without ever having set foot in a professional kitchen. I love Christian. It was hard not to pick him because I knew he would be hurt. He’s actually a really great guy. He reminds me a lot of Gordon Ramsay. Off set he’s super nice, but in the kitchen he’s really intense.
Patch: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from being on the show?
Kontos: It sounds cliché but I think I learned how to just be myself. I stuck to my character and values and I’m proud of the food I cooked. The judges never threw my food in the trash or spit it out. I brought a lot of fight but in a classy way.
Patch: How difficult was it cooking in front of judges Ramsay, Elliot and Bastianich?
Kontos: It was really intimidating. The first day I had to be in front of them my voice was cracking and I was making weird hand gestures. But as time goes on you get more comfortable and familiar with their personalities. I actually started looking forward to their feedback and learning from them. If it was great feedback it was the best feeling in the world!
Patch: Unlike previous contestants that have been eliminated, you weren’t just sent off with a pat on the back and told to keep cooking. You were offered a year’s worth of free classes at any Le Cordon Bleu school throughout the country, and you were invited to come and spend time learning in restaurants run by the three judges.
Kontos: That was incredible. It was really another reason I got so emotional. I wasn’t anticipating that in any way, shape or form. Right after the show wrapped I went to Patina and trained for two and a half weeks, then I went to Graham Elliot’s restaurant in Chicago and then to Joe Bastianich’s Del Posto restaurant in New York.
Patch: So you’ve been really busy travelling the country?
Kontos: Yes, and I kept up with everything on my blog. It’s incredible. I was really unhappy [before the show]. I was miserable with my job in corporate America. Life was going along on its own and I was just along for the ride. When the judges made that offer, I decided instead of waiting to take up the culinary school offer first, I’d go and intern at their restaurants. I learned so much in those two and a half months. Now that I’m off the show, I’m still arranging to get into other kitchens. Learning in restaurants is the most realistic experience. I’ll start my culinary classes in the fall. There’s lots of classes I want to take.
Patch: Do you think you’ll be taking one on how to break down a fish?
Kontos: I’ll have to take Fish Butchery 101!
Patch: You said “Life was going along on its own,” and you seemed unhappy in your former life. When you were eliminated, Gordon Ramsay mentioned that you had lost your previous job. Is that true?
Kontos: Yes. I was working for an evil power company in corporate America. They were allowed to grant me up to six weeks leave of absence, but my boss would only give me two weeks and told me I would lose my job if I didn’t return. I landed up being away for two months.
Patch: Any regrets?
Kontos: No regrets. [Losing my job] was the best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t want to say I’m completely fulfilled but I’m definitely happy and pursuing what I love. [The show] exposed me to all the different realms of the culinary world. It really opened my eyes and I met so many great people on the show. We became a little family and we all talk regularly.
Patch: How do you go from working in corporate America to becoming a chef?
Kontos: I had always wanted to cook. As a kid I told my parents I wanted to be a chef. Neither of my parents went to college. My Dad said, ‘So you want to go to culinary school so you can get a job at $8 an hour in a kitchen?’ I think I was scared that he was so against it. So I went to college and studied psychology, which is an even more useless degree unless you get a masters or PhD.
I cooked throughout college and when I got married, we were living in Florida and I joined a Community Supported Agriculture (a farm group that gives you a different box of fresh fruits and vegetables each week). I was blown away by all the foods and seasonal ingredients and I’d use them all. It was like a mystery challenge box every week. People were always asking me for my recipes and I started a food blog. Then people started telling me I should try out for [MasterChef].
Patch: And now here you are, living in California and working with your co-competitor Alejandra Schrader on your catering business Cucina Cosina. How did that come about?
Kontos: We just connected on the show. She has a beautiful spirit and we have a very similar work ethic and values. We are both supporters of environmentally friendly practices and sustainable agriculture. After the show I was deciding whether to go to New York or come to LA and I called Alejandra. She said to come out here and let’s work together.
Patch: You’ve only been out here a month and a half now. How are you settling in?
Kontos: It feels great. I’m living in Venice. It’s so different from where I lived in Florida. It’s so great to walk around here or go out on my bike. I’m feeling really connected to the community. I feel like Mar Vista and Venice and Santa Monica are really food driven areas. People here love their farmer’s markets and their restaurants. This is a fun place to be if you’re a foodie.
Patch: What are you up to now with Cucina Cosina?
Kontos: We’re consulting on the menu development on a burger lounge in Livermore, near Sacramento. We went up there this past weekend. It was a great weekend in the kitchen, testing burgers, experimenting with different creations and playing around with flavors. We were just so wrapped up in the cooking. I turned to Alejandra and said; ‘Now this is what I’ve always wanted to do.’ I’m living my dream right now. How many people can honestly say that?
Kontos and Schrader will be providing cooking demonstrations this Saturday, August 13 at both the Venice and Santa Monica Whole Foods. The Venice demonstration is at 11 a.m. and the Santa Monica demonstration is at 1:30 p.m. You can also follow Tracy’s progress on her website, Tracy Kontos.