Graham Elliot: What It's Like To Be A 'MasterChef' Judge

Graham Elliot became a four-star chef at age 27 and in 2004 was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs. He opened his fine-dining-yet-whimsical eponymous restaurant in 2008 in Chicago, followed by Grahamwich sandwich shop. He's also a judge for the FOX reality TV series, MasterChef (new episodes on Monday, 9PM-10PM EST and Tuesday, 8PM-9PM EST). We asked Elliot his thoughts on being a judge.

You've now been on several food TV shows, how do you think TV is currently shaping and affecting food culture?

I think it's educating the general public and turning people on to the idea of cooking as a relaxing, cathartic exercise as well as a way to express yourself.

How have you evolved as a judge since the first season? What has being a judge taught you?

I feel I've been pretty consistent over the course of both seasons, with an approach based on teaching and finding the best in people. I've learned a lot from hearing the contestants stories and struggles.

How do the amateur cooks competing on MasterChef compare to professional chefs you encounter in the restaurant industry? Would you hire any of the season two contestants to cook at Graham Elliot?

I feel there are more similarities than differences between the two. Both have a curious nature and desire to learn, both are driven and goal oriented, and both are turned on by ingredients and foodstuffs. We've had a few of the contestants spend time at GE and I think the team and I would be more than happy to have a couple of them join us in our culinary endeavors.

How big of a time commitment is being a judge on MasterChef -- does it make it harder to keep tabs on your restaurants? How do you balance family life and life as a chef/restaurateur?

The filming takes place in LA for roughly 6 weeks during our slow time. I've been blessed with a great team and they're the same people that run the restaurants when I am there. Work/family balance is something I'm still trying to perfect! Any and all advice is greatly appreciated.