Interview with Natasha Crnjac, Luca Manfe, and Executive Producer Robin Ashbrook from MasterChef

masterchefcall911smallIt’s been an eventful season on MasterChef, and this week, the final two head into the kitchen to battle it out for the title! I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with the two finalists, Natasha and Luca, last week, and I am very excited to see who wins tomorrow.

First up, my question. 🙂

Megan: Thanks for taking the time today. My question is for both Natasha and Luca. You guys just had a lot of really challenging things this season. So, what was the one ingredient or activity that was the most terrifying for you guys?

Natasha: I would say personally on my end would be the mystery box where we had all of the ingredients from all the foreign nations. It was definitely a hard challenge, because I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t know everything that was under the box, and it really was a challenge to put our creative balances and put everything on the plate and make it a good dish.

Luca: For me, it was for sure the [crab salad elimination]. I still have nightmares about that challenge. I never had worked with a live crab before, and I didn’t really know how to start, and then, plus I messed it up. Mystery box is for me the one that was like a game, kind of, because they more or less trying to do your best, but you really had to—there was no risk of elimination. So, for me, the crab was the worst.

[Note from Megan: They were both interesting to talk to, but honestly, my hope is for Natasha to win over Luca, because even though she has a bigger attitude, she’s a better chef.]
Let’s see what else these two talented home cooks and Executive Producer Robin Ashbrook had to say.

On the difficulty level of the finals

Natasha: I definitely say it was a lot of pressure. It’s very hard. We all equally fought really hard to make it as far as we did, and just being in that finale and being against a strong competitor as Luca, it’s definitely really hard. You put everything into it, and it’s a very emotional experience, and it’s just something that you kind of have to be there in the moment, and it just takes complete control out of everything you’re doing.

Luca: We really worked very hard. I think the reason why we both made it to the finale is because we were the ones who really like with more anger to win. The finale itself absolutely was probably the toughest, because there was so much at stake, and the emotions were doing a big, big part on it because you know that that was the last chance that you had to go for the title. There was no comeback from that one. So, you really had to put more than 100%.

On what their relationship was like on and off screen

Natasha: I think for the most part, Luca and I are pretty much similar people. We’re real strong characters, and when you put two people that are very strong, they’re going to clash and they’re going to get along and it’s just going to be an up and down relationship. I have nothing but good things to say about Luca. I really do want the best for him, and we were with each other every day, day in and day out, 12 to 14-hour days long, no break from each other, so it’s bound to happen.

Robin: It’s Robin here. I can jump in on this as well. Being the Exec Producer, I’ve lived with these guys for the four months of shooting and throughout the post, and I think Natasha is absolutely right in that these two are very, very similar personalities. Nobody else had the same passion, the same commitment, the same level of dreams, and the will to succeed as these two and that’s, I think, what ultimately brought them there, and as you’ll see next Wednesday, that battle continues because their level and their passion is second to none and higher than anybody else that came into the kitchen.

On keeping it fresh and creative each season

Robin: Having four seasons brings plenty of positives, but as you highlight as well, it kind of sets the bar higher and higher every season. We have some archive that we can draw on, great things that we actually call our MasterChef classics, from soufflés to Eggs Benedict, things that we think people can try at home and those [popular] dishes, so we can draw on those, but we’re already thinking about what amazing challenges we can do both in the field and in the kitchen for seasons five and six, and challenge-wise, in some ways it’s been easy, I think, for the show, because we’re always going to push the line, and year on year, as you’ll see on Wednesday, the problem is that we have the quality of these home cooks is so incredibly high, every year it improves, and as you’ll see on Wednesday night when Luca and Natasha go head [to] head, you won’t believe, and I still don’t when I look at it, that these two are home cooks. So, the challenge for us is how do we push these people on and improve them, because Luca and Natasha are at a point where I don’t think anybody can go beyond how good their dishes are, as you’ll see on Wednesday night.

So, our challenge is now how do we keep pushing that bar without—you can’t do it in episode one. It’s kind of walking them through. I think next season, you’ll see even bigger challenges, but I think we’ll be hard pushed to—if everyone can come into our shows with the same level of passion and dedication and commitment as Natasha and Luca, if we can keep finding those home cooks who have the same dreams as these two, that food can really change their lives, then I think that will take us through many, many more seasons to come.

On how they were portrayed on the show

Natasha: I guess I’ll go first on this one. The social media, it is what it is. I am who I am, and I was who I was on the show. I don’t think that I was perceived badly. I feel like I was very true to who I was, and I believe that just being me has [gotten] me as far as I did, and I wouldn’t have changed it for a thing.

Luca: I think I liked the way I come up on the show. I think sometimes, I say some stupid things and then make myself laugh as well. As far as social media, Natasha is right. You’re going to have always some kind of people, and you cannot make everybody happy. You can’t expect that everybody likes you. I think I’m very happy with what the show shows, and even I think that they show that Natasha is a great, great competitor, and she’s a great person as well.

On their greatest strengths

Luca: I was probably the one who improved the most, the one that learned the most. From the level that I came in, probably nobody and myself didn’t think that I could have made it so far, because all the people around me, it looked like they knew more about mixing about more ingredients. I think my biggest strength was that I put my head down on books and also on what all the judges were telling me all the time, and I just kept on improving day after day.

Natasha: I honestly think that it came down to just really appreciating every single ingredient for what it was. I really took the time, and I started to have more patience with everything and just kind of dissecting the way that I wanted to be as a chef. I didn’t want to conform to any certain genre or do whatever. I just stayed true to myself in the kitchen, and I feel as though being a chef, it’s the way it should be, to just be in your hands in the way that you want it to be.

On lessons learned from the judges

Luca: Most important lesson was, Gordon Ramsay says it all the time, and less is more, and not going to double guess yourself all the time, but just trust your instinct. Less is more for the finale, for me, was a great, great lesson, because sometimes, you try to do so many things in a dish and put everything together, and in the end, you understand that maybe you put three things more on the dish that isn’t needed, where if you do it simple and respect the flavors, you would have done much better.

Natasha: For me, [it] would be in the team challenges that we did, the judges were always there locally, encouraging us and helping us and telling us you can do it, and when you do mess up, as we do, nothing always goes perfectly in the kitchen, you need to be able to make sure that you pull all that together and you work as a team. So, I would say, if anything, I really did learn how to work as a team and be a team player and work on those characteristics and make everything just run smoothly.

Robin: It’s Robin here. If I can just add something—I think what we discovered every year on the show, and Luca alluded to it before, is the judges in many ways try, and even though these people come in as great home cooks, they try to empty their memory banks. It’s like if you’re learning golf and you have the wrong technique. These are home cooks, so don’t forget that, but some people do think [one] way in the kitchen, and Gordon and Graham and Joe will tell you not to do. So, we find it’s about, for those guys, they will tell you within our judges that who can click back into being a student and happily erase some of those things and those mistakes and pick themselves up is really important.

Of which, if you could give me ten seconds, the next step from there is, of course, I would like everyone to remember that coming up in a few weeks, we have some eight to thirteen year olds who come into the MasterChef kitchen, which I think starts on September 27th, and actually, what’s funny there is these junior master chefs, MasterChef Junior, they come in like sponges and soak everything up, so they were already naturally at that kind of level. So, that’s my junior plug for everybody.
That’s all from these talented cooks and the Executive Producer, but I know we are all anxious to see who takes home the title tonight. Don’t forget to tune in to FOX, Wednesday at 8/7c, to watch the season finale of MasterChef.

– Megan

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