Here's When Masterchef Contestants Are Allowed To Use Cookbooks

There's a whirlwind of questions that fans have after watching a reality cooking competition show, let alone one as longstanding as "Masterchef." It has several spin-offs across the world and just as many whistleblowers with alleged behind-the-scenes tea to spill. How do contestants know what to cook as soon as the clock goes off? Is there off-screen prep that viewers don't see or are they given the challenges ahead of time to prepare? Better yet, do they have cookbooks below their benches that cameras don't capture?

As it turns out, "Masterchef" contestants do indeed get to use cookbooks to get their inspiration going but there is a catch: They aren't allowed to use them during the challenges. A Reddit user who claims to be a "Masterchef" producer took to the social media platform to answer the pressing question. According to them, contestants have a lot of downtime when the cameras aren't rolling and the show actually provides them with libraries that are filled with cookbooks, both on set and where they stay.

Contestants are free to hunker down in the libraries for R&D and pull up books for inspiration. The only catch? "They are not allowed to stop and read a recipe from a cookbook while we are filming. Anything they pull from the cookbooks must be memorized," says the producer. And that's not all: "Masterchef" contestants are, indeed, as clueless about challenges as they appear to be on-screen.

Masterchef contestants have to think on their feet

"Masterchef" contestants have a lot to rules to follow. Not only are they not allowed to rely on cookbooks during the challenge, but they're often just as surprised by the challenges as the viewers are. This means, while contestants are given free rein over cookbooks to build on their culinary skills before the challenges are announced, once the shooting begins, they're all by themselves.

Season 5 contestant Elise Mayfield told The A.V. Club that contestants are not allowed to refer to any recipes during the competitions either and must be ready for whatever is thrown their way beforehand. "I spent a lot of time preparing before I left. I basically put myself through a mini culinary boot camp where I made flashcards and memorized recipes," she says.

Christina Tosi went on to add that this does lead to "Masterchef" contestants getting pretty lost in the middle of a cook sometimes. Some contestants get so rattled by the stress that they even get the rules wrong: "They stop paying attention, or they can't remember where to stand, or they start before you say so. They think it's a steak challenge even though you said gnocchi. That does make for fun TV sometimes," Tosi told Lucky Peach. The panic that viewers see on-screen is how things unfold on set because the cooks are just as surprised by the challenges as they appear to be and have no written recipes to rely on once the time starts ticking!