This week I had the opportunity to talk to MasterChef’s own Monti Carlo. She’s a funky mama with a cool vintage style and a no nonsense moral center. On the 5th episode, Ryan Umane actually asked her to take her top off for the Marines in a challenge. Instead, Monti thanked them for their service and told Ryan to give them some respect. At the FoodBeat headquarters, we have been watching her from day one. She has been surprising her competition by rocking the challenges, but we always knew she would be great. Monti is one of the strongest female challengers and we see her going far!
FoodBeat: I think the question everyone, even the judges, have been asking is Monti Carlo really your name? Is there a story behind that?
Monti Carlo: The short answer is yes. The long answer is not really! I have worked as a radio personality for over 10 years now. When I first got into the business, I was given a catchy radio name for branding. The man who found Howard Stern set me up and I was given the option of “Carla” or “Monti”. I knew I did not want to be known as Carla Carlo, so went with Monti. It was only on my first show, as I said my name out fully, that I realized what it was. I was so embarrassed that I immediately cut to commercial. I had no idea he named me after a car! Anyway I’ve used it for 10 years now. Even my mother calls me Monti! It’s a part of me and I wouldn’t be the same without it.
FoodBeat: 10 years is a long time for a nickname. No wonder you use it as your first name now. So how did you get into cooking if you’re a radio star?
Monti Carlo: A radio show takes all day to put together and I didn’t have the opportunity to cook things for myself. I ate out at a lot at great restaurants and was always inspired by the food. When I had my son I resigned from radio. The best thing I could do for Danger was to be a stay at home mother.
Unfortunately, having a lot of time on my hands gave me the opportunity to catch my ex-husband red handed on a site for married people that want to have affairs. He had also gambled away all of my savings. We divorced and it left me with nothing. I tried to find a job to no avail, and we ended up living on government handouts. The programs included gift cards to local farmer’s markets. So essentially, I started cooking out of necessity.
The first thing I really learned how to make was apple pie. This was right after the divorce and it was apple season in Washington. They were cheap and so I spent my days hacking away at the apples, thinking of my husband the whole time. The simple act of chopping was very therapeutic. After weeks of apple chopping therapy, I perfected my recipe of “I Hope He Chokes Pie”. You can find my recipe at my website, slap-yo-momma.com
FoodBeat: That must have been such a hard time for you. How did you find out about the show?
Monti Carlo: I actually found out about the show the day before the initial auditions. I baked an apple pie and brought it with little hope of success. I was so poor at the time that I couldn’t afford a carrier so I made one out of diaper box. I made handles out of a dog leash and took my makeshift carrier to the judging. The producers there must have seen something in me, because I soon found out I was accepted! From there I went on to the top 100, and now I’m in the final 14.
FoodBeat: What was it like meeting the judges?
Monti Carlo: It was crazy! For the top 100 judging, we were in a warehouse. I was surrounded by people who had been cooking for decades and using phrases I’ve never heard of before. I came in with a shepherd’s pie recipe that I had not perfected yet. I was so nervous that my heart was beating out of my chest. I am hard of hearing from my years in radio and the judges joked about it. I was so flustered that I messed up, talked too much, and did not have time to finish. I actually begged my way into continuing. Gordon Ramsay was especially nervous about having me compete, as he was concerned about me being away from my son. My sister had agreed to take care of him, and I told the judges a story to show my willpower.
Years ago I was working a radio gig that had me hosting a marathon. When I got there I quickly realized I was expected to run the full 26 miles even though I hadn’t trained for it. I suited up and I did it. Sure, I came in second to last out of 26,000 people but I ran 26.2 miles. I got a little participation medal and I was so proud of it. What I have is passion and determination and I guess the judges saw that.
FoodBeat: What do you think about your competition? If you had to work with someone on a team, who would you pick and why?
Monti Carlo: Felix is one of my favorite people. She’s goofy and fun and really knows her stuff. Another person I love is David. He calls himself a porcupine but he’s funny and real and lives with his heart on his sleeve. He has real passion. I also love Frank. He is a stable solid dude who can do it all. He knows everything there is to know about food. He even hunts pigs himself and turns them into sausage.
FoodBeat: Anyone you wouldn’t want to work with?
Monti Carlo: I don’t like working with negative, scheming people. I think this competition is all about having the best person win. The only competitor that I have had problems with was Ryan. We have it easy in America, but he has a negative, entitled attitude that I cannot stand.
FoodBeat: It’s funny that he doesn’t like you, because it seems like you’re one of the audience favorites. A lot of people think you are the most attractive and honest person in MasterChef history.
Monti Carlo: : Hah! No way! Felix is so much more beautiful! It’s funny because Gordon Ramsay actually said he thought I looked like Katy Perry. In real life I am a 37-year-old mother with no fashion sense. At home I live in my pj’s and I don’t wear makeup like on television. I think it is hilarious that people see me as sexy, because I don’t.
I can see how people relate to me though. A lot of people have been reaching out to me on facebook and my website. Single parents go through so much and to see me on television it gives them hope. If I can help them through their tough times then it’s a beautiful thing. I’m not thankful to be considered beautiful- I’m thankful I can help people cope with their own struggles.
FoodBeat: If you win MasterChef, what will that mean for you? Will you open up your own restaurant?
Monti Carlo: If I win, there will definitely be a “Slap Yo Momma” food truck. I would love to park it in front of corporate office where people really need some comfort food. I live in Phoenix now and there is a huge food truck culture here. If I win or not, it’s going to happen. Another big dream of mine is to create a line of healthy frozen foods. When I divorced my ex-husband, I was desperate for a healthy economical frozen meal to serve my son. There doesn’t seem to be an affordable and natural frozen dinner for single parents on a tight budget.
FoodBeat: If you had to give this season a label, what would it be? Dramatic? Challenging? Fun?
Monti Carlo: Girl power! There are so many strong women on this season’s MasterChef. In the professional industry there are very few female chefs. It was amazing to work along side these super talented women. I had a close bond with Christine Ha, Felix Fang, and Stacey Amagrande. All of the girls got along great and we were so supportive of each other.
It can be hard for women to work together because we tend to get catty. Years ago I had the opportunity to work with an all-girl morning radio show. It was the first one in the history of Washington State. Working that early with people desperate for coffee gave me good training for the show.
FoodBeat: Anything else that you want the readers to know?
Monti Carlo: You see me cry so much on the show. Honestly, I’m not like that. The challenges were so stressful that everyone was on edge. It was so intense! I also found it very hard to be away from my son. The other contestants were very supportive though, and I feel like they’re family now.