The Untold Truth Of Chef Monti Carlo

Food Network star Mairym Monti Carlo describes Spanish chorizo and potato frittata as "your favorite pair of jeans" (via Instagram). Her spirit animal is mango (via Instagram) and she's happiest when making pies (via Instagram). The first dish Carlo remembers cooking is pancakes. She was seven years old, and she'd prepare them as after-school snacks for herself and her twin brother Joel (via Food Beast). That's how we know she's our peeps.

Almost 30 years after she started making pancakes, you met Monti Carlo, the "MasterChef" contestant. She was a newly-divorced single mother when Ramsay selected her to compete (via Instagram). That was 12 years after Carlo attended a six-week broadcasting school and, per what she told Authority Magazine, declared to her teacher that she "wanted to host a Food Network show just like Emeril." Carlo might never have auditioned for "Master Chef" had her entire universe not disintegrated after she quit her job as a radio broadcaster to spend time with her child. That's when she found her husband's dating profile open on a computer, filed for divorce, and — as she later told KLCS — "realized he'd gambled away my savings."

Three years after she placed fifth in "Master Chef," Carlo was cast to host a baby-food-centered show for Jessica Alba's Honest Company (via Authority Magazine). Since, you've seen her as host in "Help My Yelp" (via Forbes) as a judge in "Supermarket Stakeout" (via Food Network), and, most recently as the writer, producer, and host of her very own show, "Smart Eats" (via Instagram).

The dish that Monti Carlo cooked to open MasterChef's doors

Back to pie. Pie is what Monti Carlo baked for her "MasterChef" auditions. She had $50.00 to her name when she tried out for the show (via KLCS). To get on it, Carlo told Authority Magazine that she "spent three months cooking non-stop in a tiny 400 square foot studio apartment. I'd take care of my 2-year-old son during the day and read cookbooks at night while he slept." She made it to the top 100, earned the right to cook for Gordon Ramsay, the Michelin-starred legend saw something in her, and Carlo won her apron. 

We repeat: it was an apple pie that got her there. Monti Carlo started cooking apple pies after her divorce because a food stamp program gave her farmer's market certificates — and because chopping apples was therapeutic. "I would chop apples, sometimes for hours," she told Food Beast. "I must have made like thirty apple pies in a month." But the product of her efforts, she reflected, was something "beautiful, unlike my marriage where I put all my work into it and it totally fell apart."

Carlo says her experience cooking on "Master Chef" changed her life (via Authority Magazine). The show didn't just give her the money she needed to make ends meet. It pushed her to pursue her goals. To this day, the Food Network personality has her MasterChef apron framed in her living room (via Instagram).

The recipe Monti Carlo's abuela taught her

Pancakes might be the first food that Mairym Monti Carlo cooked on her own, but it is far from the first dish she learned to cook. That honor belongs to sorullitos, Puerto Rican corn fritters. It's a dish that her abuela, Dora, taught her to prepare, and which was according to a piece that Carlo wrote for Washington Post, as "my first lesson in motherhood." 

Monti Carlo was four years old when her grandma showed her how to make the traditional Puerto Rican food. As she did, she told her granddaughter that she'd "have to know how to make these for your kids one day." In the Washington Post article describing the experience, Carlo compared her journey as a mother as the process of shaping sorullitos dough into its distinctive, cigar shape. "Motherhood had transformed my nebulous life into something purposeful, magical," she wrote. Yes, she's taught her child, Danger, to cook them, too. 

That's how you know that Monti Carlo truly loves what she does. The chef understands her world through food. Another sure sign that food is the center of Carlo's universe? She follows one hard and fast, dietary rule. The chef will never skip dessert (via Instagram). That's not something Carlo says to be cool. Tour her Instagram, and it's hard to take your eyes off of the chocolate cakes, salted dulce de leche cheesecakes, coconut milk Panna cottas, and island-style rice puddings.

What Monti Carlo learned when she met Alton Brown

After being a contestant on "Master Chef," Monti Carlo made a vision board. On it, she put a picture of Julia Child, chicken in hand. "Beause that's who I wanted to be, I wanted to teach people how to cook in a very light hearted manner, but legit get them to learn something that they can use forever," she told KLCS.  Since, Carlo has undoubtedly found her place in the sun. These days, the chef regularly brushes shoulders with Food Network legends like Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay, Robert Irvine, with whom she judged Food Network Star (via Authority Magazine); with Alex Guarnaschelli (Carlo, you may remember, was a judge on her show, "Supermarket Stakeout"); she worked with Ted Allen as a judge on "Chopped Junior" (via IMDB) ... need we continue? 

And yet, Mairym Monti Carlo gets starstruck, like the rest of us. "I'm still mortified when I think of my time on the set of #cutthroatkitchen" she wrote in an Instagram post of her stint as a judge in 2016. "I was so nervous about meeting @altonbrown I kept perspiring through my silk shirt. Then the moment was immortalized in the promo shot." Lessons learned: stay away from silk if you're going to be on edge. 

Monti Carlo's Puerto Rican roots

Mairym Monti Carlo may have stumbled into her career path out of necessity, but there are a thousand and one reasons that she's doing what she's meant to be doing. One of them is that she brings an often frustratingly undervalued voice to mainstream food programing. "I want Puerto Rican food to work its way out of the 'Latin' section in grocery stores. We are American. Our food should be represented in every aisle," Carlo wrote in one Instagram post. That's one of the reasons why she puts so much effort into the presentation of Puerto Rican foods. "For me, repping my island's food means making every bite a beauty," Carlo explains in another post on The Gram.

Carlo, whose mother is Colombian (via Instagram), grew up in Puerto Rico on what she described to Authority Magazine as a "defunct dairy farm." After a childhood spent, per a third Instagram post "climb[ing] over a fence to steal guavas," Carlo moved to the mainland when she was six. While learning to speak English with the help of cartoons, and struggling to come to terms with the reality of winters, Carlo was often desperately homesick. It was Puerto Rican food that grounded her — specifically, the hearty Puerto Rican meat-based stew, sancocho. To this day she celebrates the recipe. "It will fill you up with hope for warmer days," she promises on Instagram. Want to know how to make it? Monti Carlo's website, "Island Girl Cooks" will teach you. 

Why Monti Carlo wants to 'bring dinner back'

Monti Carlo hasn't always had time to enjoy her meals. That's one of the reasons she quit her job as a radio broadcaster in the first place. "I was working ridiculous hours and my kid was calling the nanny 'mommy' and I was like, 'No, I'm not going to do this anymore,'" Carlo recounted to KLCS. But life as a single mother, before making it big in the Food Network wasn't easy either. Carlo told Authority Magazine that she worked so many double shifts as a waitress at a restaurant that she'd wear her shoe two sizes bigger "to make room for the swelling."

But while the chef understands what it means to be impossibly busy, if there's one thing that Carlo would do for the world, she told Authority Magazine that it would be to "bring dinner back." For Carlo, eating dinner together isn't just about nutrition. "Everything connects to the dinner table: the health of your family, your community, and that of the planet," she explained. Wondering what to make for your next family sit down? Maybe try Carlo's sweet and spicey baked guava BBQ chicken wings which were featured in Men's Journal, and look like the reason that the divine invented ovens.