Tastemakers: Joe Bastianich Previews the ‘MasterChef Celebrity Family Showdown’

Master Chef - Joe Bastianich

This is what you call a full plate!

Longtime MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich is a restaurateur who, with his partners, runs more than two dozen dining spots worldwide, plus the gourmet market Eataly, now in six U.S. locations. He’s also a bestselling food and wine author and takes pride in Bastianich Winery, which uses grapes grown — where else? — in his Italian vineyard.

In Fox’s two-night special MasterChef Celebrity Family Showdown, he and chefs Gordon Ramsay and Aarón Sánchez preside as celebs and their teammates go spatula-to-spatula for charity. (Among the cooks: Tori Spelling and her daughter vs. Jennie Garth and hers!) We learn more about this above-average Joe.

You grew up working at your parents’ Italian restaurant in Queens. It must have been a kick to see stars and their families cooking together for the special.

Joe Bastianich: It was fun to see the celebrities in a different guise, to put them under pressure and see what they could cook. They have a real passion for food. Some are quite good cooks. [Boxing legend] Oscar De La Hoya is fantastic, and it was great to see him with his daughter, Atiana. [They face down heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield and his daughter, Ebonne.] Snooki brought her Italian-American thing. [She and fellow Jersey Shore Family Vacation star JWoww go up against Real Housewife Lisa Vanderpump and her daughter, Pandora.]

Do you still love being in the kitchen?

Now I cook for my kids, my family and when I’m in the winery in Italy. It’s relaxing — time to listen to music and be social.

Is there a kitchen tool you can’t live without?

A cast-iron pan. It’s so versatile. You can use it to sear, stew, make pasta.…

What can a home cook learn by watching MasterChef?

Time management, [cooking] technique and ingredients. MasterChef has been part of America’s journey as a foodie nation. We’ve brought to life regional cooking in America and introduced regional ingredients to everyone.

What are your go-to ingredients?

San Marzano tomatoes and Grana Padano cheese. They give you the binary bases of creating a dish. The cheese is the fat and tomatoes are acid. You can put them on beef, chicken, protein, pasta.

What’s the toughest thing about being a MasterChef judge?

The duality of the role. You have to be a judge/critic and also a mentor/coach. Finding a balance can be challenging, especially when you spend two or three months getting to know the people and become close. You’re invested.

What’s your next big project?

[Chef and author] Nancy Silverton and I are opening up a restaurant in the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel called the Barish. It’s going to be an Italian family-style steak house.

MasterChef Celebrity Family Showdown, Wednesdays, May 15 and May 22, 8/7c, Fox

Spaghetti Al Pomodoro San Marzano, Basilico E Grana Padano

Serves 4


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 (12-ounce) jars of peeled whole Italian plum tomatoes, like San Marzano

11/2 teaspoons sea salt

Kosher salt

1 (17.6-ounce) package of Spaghetti di Gragnano IGP

4 sprigs fresh basil

Fresh Parmesan cheese, like Grana Padano


Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes, until golden. While garlic browns, pour tomatoes into a bowl and squeeze with your fingers to break them up. Add the tomatoes and their juice to the saucepan. Stir and season with sea salt to taste. Simmer on low for 20–30 minutes, stirring to avoid sauce becoming too thick. (If it turns brick red, add a little water.) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a palmful of kosher salt. Add spaghetti and cook per package directions. Two minutes before it’s done, remove pasta from water and add to sauce. Add half a cup of pasta water and toss everything over medium heat for about 1 minute. Divide into four warm bowls, drizzle with olive oil and add sprig of basil. Top with Grana Padano or your favorite fresh Parmesan.