Avis White and Sheena Zadeh were two seemingly strong competitors early this season on “MasterChef”, but ultimately both of them ended up suffering what is apparently an amateur cook’s worst nightmare — making Chinese food. (View my full recap here.)
Following their double-elimination on Wednesday night’s new episode, I had the opportunity to talk with both of them about their time on the show.
Matt: First of all, what made you guys want to audition for this show in the first place?
Sheena: It was actually funny because I originally had applied — I wanted to work on the show behind the scenes in the culinary department. I love cooking, I want to have a career in it, and I sent them my resume. A few weeks went by, I didn’t hear back, and I felt like I hadn’t gotten the job. Of course, in the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘this show is perfect for you.’
So once I figured I wasn’t getting the job, I figured I would try out for the show. One thing led to another, and things started falling into place and it worked out. Actually, a couple of days before I reported for Los Angeles to begin shooting I got a call from the culinary producer and they were like ‘oh, we’d like you to come and work with us.’ I was like ‘that’s awful, because I ended up getting cast for the show.’ It was nice that she did call since I didn’t have that rejection to deal with.
Avis: I was on my way to work as a caregiver, and I heard the announcement on the radio, and I was like ‘that’s me!’ I was so excited that I missed the information, I got to work, and the guy whose mother I was taking care of … I asked him if he was going to the store. He was like ‘yes,’ and I got him to bring me a newspaper. I opened it up and my eyes fell on the ‘MasterChef’ audition Saturday, January 23. I was so happy because it was something I wanting to do. After watching me on video they were really excited, and the rest is history.
So what did you two feel about the judges?
Avis: It was fun, but nerve-wracking. It was fun, but what you see on TV isn’t what you experience in person with them. Gordon is really a compassionate person I thought, Graham is the greatest, and Joe is really a great guy, too.
Sheena: Graham is the youngest four-star chef in America, so he has this insane dedication for cooking and a passion for food. When he talks about food, it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard. Those guys didn’t get where they are by being mediocre at what they do. They’re really amazing people and intense. Gordon could not be more intense. In person, it’s kind of frightening and scary that someone can have that much energy.
Joe has discerning taste. He’s been exposed to the finer things in life and it shows. He was such a nice person because he shared those things with us, and gave us the opportunity to try things we wouldn’t have otherwise tried. He taught us so he wasn’t just ‘I’m snobby and that’s the end of it.’ He was like ‘I’m going to show you guys how to be snobby too.’ It was really exciting.
Let’s talk about the challenge this week. You guys were two of the only people who gravitated towards the chocolate. Why did you decide to make that choice?
Avis: I like doing the desserts as well as the finer cooking, and I just thought that after looking at the ingredients, ‘what can I do in one hour that would really spark the taste buds of the judges?’ I decided on the bread pudding because I saw everything there to put it together. It was really a great bread pudding in my opinion, Joe said the chocolate was the devil but I’ve had chocolate bread puddings before. I thought it was really great.
Sheena: I had just learned to make chocolate mousse, so the recipe was fresh in my mind. When I lifted up the box, the ingredients were there. I thought ‘I just learned how to do this, I have to go with the mousse.’ It was really scary because when you make desserts, you have to be precise. When you’re rushing and when you’re terrified, it’s difficult to be precise. I’m really glad I went that route.
You were one of the top three in that challenge [Sheena]. With that in mind, did you really feel that you deserved to go home after the salad?
Sheena: I absolutely did not think I deserved that. There were contestants who made two mediocre dishes, or there were contestants that made two legitimately bad dishes in both challenges and they got to stay. I made one great dish and one mediocre dish and I was sent home.
In a way, it was kind of like they were making an example out of me ‘that just because you do one great thing doesn’t mean you’re fine in the next challenge.’ It’s nice that they learned that lesson, I wish I wasn’t the martyr to teach it to them. Looking bad, I don’t have any regrets about what I did. I tasted it, I loved it. It was delicious.
Avis, what do you think was your undoing? Did you have a lot of experience with Chinese food?
Avis: None at all. There are certain things I can do when it comes to Chinese food. I’m diverse, but when it came to cooking I don’t know [with the oranges]. There was a lot in the pantry, but there wasn’t what I needed to make that perfect dish.
My dish tasted good. I don’t care what they said it looked like, it tasted good.
One of the main goals of ‘MasterChef’ is to make dreams come true. What has the show done for you guys in terms of making cooking into a career?
Sheena: The show is a competition based on cooking, but what it really is is a television show. What we got exposed to was the magic that goes into making TV. 12-hour shooting days, camera angles, production, the word ‘action.’ That’s what I got more than everything.
Cooking is my hobby, it’s always something I want to do for my friends and family. In terms of a career, being exposed to working in television is addicting so I’ve decided to take that route. I’m working on my craft and with coaches and doing what I can to stay in front of the camera.
Avis: I agree with what Sheena said, but my passion is cooking. That’s what I enjoy most. What I’d like to get out of this is my own cooking show … that’s what I enjoy doing and I am always the cook at social events.
I agree about being in front of the camera, in front of people so that when I get my own cooking show I will know what’s entailed in it. It’s a wonderful experience and I have a lot that I’ve taken from that show.
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