Win or lose, ‘MasterChef’ contestants get the experience of a lifetime

‘MasterChef’ – Nothing succeeds like success

Aaron Sanchez

Competing on Fox’s “MasterChef” can validate skills, breed confidence and change lives. Aaron Sanchez, a judge on the series, has seen it happen over and over again.

“You’ve got to remember that a lot of these people, the whole experience in ‘MasterChef’ is the deciding factor whether they go into the food industry for good,” explains the award-winning chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. “You know, people leave their jobs to come on this show and people alter the course of their lives practically. And even if they win, lose or draw, they’ve experienced, they’ve walked away with something. They walk away with skill, they walk away with camaraderie, they walk away with the experience of a lifetime.”

Season 10 opens Wednesday, May 29, and finds Sanchez and fellow judges Gordon Ramsay (who is also the host) and Joe Bastianich evaluating the skills and creations of a new batch of talented and passionate home cooks from across the country, who seek their big break in the culinary world.

The challenges, says Sanchez, will be “bigger and better” as the contestants are tasked with doing everything from cooking at a high-end restaurant to catering a pool party for the rich and famous of Los Angeles.

“We’re doing things like that to really gauge what great students they are,” he says, “how they handle pressure, how they work at full capacity because being a chef is really depending on your team and how good they are. So those are some of the things that we’re throwing at them, for sure.”

And when pressure is applied, surprising things can happen, Sanchez says, as those who seem confident and cocky can crumble and the quiet, reserved types can come to the fore and lead.

“I think pressure brings out the very worst and very best in people,” Sanchez says. “I do believe that leadership can be taught. I’m not one of those (people who believes) that you’re born a natural leader. I think everyone can find their voice in any circumstance and become a leader. That’s what’s so special, that people that maybe didn’t have the confidence or incentive to want to lead all of a sudden start leading, and that’s the most beautiful thing.”

And if he likes what he sees, Sanchez, who is executive chef and part owner of a Mexican restaurant in New Orleans, makes mental notes.

“I try to keep tabs on all the contestants,” he says, “especially if they do well and their habits suggest they might (go on to greater success). You know, with social media and stuff, you can really keep track of people. So it’s really great to see.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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