Celebrity chefs Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich have impressive culinary resumes that include books, restaurants, a love of good food balanced with a healthy lifestyle, and their shared success as two of the judges (the other is celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay) on the Fox reality shows “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior.”
Bastianich and Elliot also have Connecticut in common. Bastianich lives in Greenwich (he owns a vineyard and several restaurants, including Del Posto in New York City) and Elliot plans to open a Greenwich restaurant early in 2014. Recently they talked food, reality TV and each other as they Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: Tell me about the restaurant! Why Greenwich? Is it because Joe lives there?
A: I am super-excited about the new place on Greenwich Avenue. We are calling it Primary Food & Drink and it is slated to open at the beginning of 2014. It will feature American classics with a twist. The menu will have something everyone can relate to with some whimsy: pot roast, Caesar salad, beef stroganoff, buffalo chicken. We will be doing dinner seven nights a week and brunch on Sunday. No dress code, come as you are and just enjoy. It will be a nice fun spot and a nice addition to the town. As far as Joe being in Greenwich, that’s a good reason, too. Joe is awesome and has given me nothing but support and advice. I actually decided to open in Greenwich because I became familiar with the town after being involved in the annual Greenwich Food & Wine Festival.
Q: Now the important question. Where DO you get your eyeglasses? I love them!
A: I have them handmade by an artist in Chicago who crafts them from a block of wood.
Q: You share two shows with Gordon and Joe. If you were all going to be cast in a made for TV movie, who would play each of you?
A: I would definitely be played by Kevin James. My son saw a billboard with Kevin on it and said to me ‘Dad, that’s you.’ Bruce Willis would play Joe and Gordon…some macho guy.
Q: Were you surprised at the popularity of MasterChef Junior? What does it say about the status of the culinary arts and kids wanting to cook?
A: I was absolutely amazed by it. The kids were so friggin’ talented. We had thought it would be a cute family show. Now we leave the kitchen and laugh that the show is so awesome (with the kids) putting up food that you would see adults preparing on regular MasterChef. Kids today are a TV food generation and that has raised the status of cooking.
Kids see cooking as a creative outlet now, like soccer and ballet. It gives me hope that things like fast food, childhood obesity and the horrible state of school lunches can be addressed by kids and their parents.
Q: What is the one dish you have not quite mastered as a chef? What is your best?
A: My best is probably seared salmon with ratatouille and balsamic vinaigrette. What I have not mastered ... probably desserts. My wife makes those.
Q: What is something no one knows about you?
A: That I used to be part of rock band called The Aura of Onassis. I played the guitar and thought that was what I was going to do as a career. I still record music that is played in my restaurants.
Q: Seems you all know each other really well now that you have done two shows together. Who would you rather be on a deserted island with, Gordon or Graham?
A: Graham… more to eat. Perhaps not for long though, he has recently lost a lot of weight and looks great.
Q: If you had to cast each of the MasterChef judges for a made-for-TV movie, who would play you, Gordon and Elliot?
A: For me, Stanley Tucci; Gordon, Schwarzenegger is too old but someone macho; and for Graham, maybe John Goodman.
Q: When you three dine together, what is a favorite you all enjoy?
A: When the three of us are together, sadly our meals tend to revolve around whatever happens to be left on the craft service table on set — I wouldn’t exactly call that dining.
Q: What have you learned about each other? What is the recipe for the good chemistry between you all?
A: They are both great guys and we have a good time on set. Ultimately we enjoy the aspirational aspect of this show, especially being able to mentor the contestants.
Q: I know you are a Greenwich resident. What’s your favorite restaurant around there?
A: I like Duoro, a Portuguese restaurant in Fairfield and for something fancy, Rebeccas. I think there is good food in Connecticut although my observations are limited to Fairfield County.
Q: Your fellow judge Elliot Graham is opening a restaurant in Greenwich at the end of the year. Will you be dining there and if so, what are you looking forward to?
A: I will likely end up eating there every other day with my kids. It will be a quality place and I think the neighborhood will embrace it.
Q: MasterChef Junior seems to have been a hit. Are you surprised?
A: It is encouraging to see young kids take such an interest in cooking. I was concerned at the beginning about the show but it was amazing. They were really great. They were forthcoming with their opinions and they don’t beat around the bush. I think it’s a good thing when kids get into the kitchen, to know where food comes from and how it is prepared. I appreciate their frankness and their honest desire to win. They were definitely competitive.
Q: What is the one dish you still have not mastered in the kitchen?
A: I still think making risotto is difficult.
Q: Your one food decadence?
A: Chocolate and Swedish fish.
Q: Something no one knows about you?
A: I like to take naps in my office.
Read Maryellen Fillo’s blog at www.courant.com/javablog, follow her on Twitter @maryellenfillo, on Facebook at Maryellen Fillo (Hartford Courant Java). Also you can watch her on FOXCT, Thursdays between 9 and 10 a.m., and listen to her on the Big D Morning show, “Mike and Kim In the Morning” on 102.9 DRC-FM and the Brad Davis Show at 1360 WDRC-AM on Friday mornings at 8:20 and 8:35 a.m.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun