Jonathan Waxman Answers All Our Questions About MasterChef: Legends - Exclusive Interview

If you've been keeping up with the latest installment of "MasterChef" you're well aware that this is the "season of legends." But to be fair, Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Aarón Sanchez should feel emboldened to boast about the rotating cast of culinary superstars that are joining them at the judges' table.

Next up, none other than Jonathan Waxman, whose credentials have no doubt earned him legendary chef status. If there was a Mount Rushmore for modern California cooking, his amiable, bearded visage would certainly be etched into the stone. After working under Alice Waters at her landmark Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, Waxman ventured south to Santa Monica in 1979 and launched Michael's where he earned rave reviews for his unfussy California and Italian-inspired fare. He subsequently found even greater success with Jams, the New York sensation which solidified his celebrity chef status. He continues to serve standout dishes like his famed roast chicken, gnocchi, and kale salad at the rebooted Jams in the Big Apple, Adele's in Nashville, and the recently opened Atlanta hit Baffi.

During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Waxman dished on his storied cooking career, knowing Joe Bastianich as a young boy, and revealed what Gordon Ramsay is like off-screen. And for all you food TikTok fans, find out which recipe from the 71-year-old chef has the potential to go viral on the social media app.

The conversation Jonathan Waxman will never have with Gordon Ramsay

First of all, have you talked to Gordon Ramsay since England lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 finals? And if so, is he okay?

Oh, I wouldn't want to have that conversation.

We don't blame you.

I'll tell you a funny story. So I had a meeting with a guy a couple of days ago. And he is a guy, he lives half the time in Wayne, New Jersey and half the time in Torino. And he is best friends with the goalie from Italy. He said that goalie is the captain of the Milan football team, and he's supposedly the greatest, most revered player in Italy. So I wouldn't want to have that conversation with Gordon.

You give off such a laid-back, California vibe, and Gordon's on-screen personality is sort of the complete opposite of that. Aside from cooking, what do the two of you have in common?

I think we all do things differently on TV than we do in real life. In my experience with Gordon, Gordon has always been a gentleman. He's always been cordial with me, incredibly respectful, and I get nothing but intelligence and empathy from him.

Do you have any sort of obscure hobbies that you share?

I don't think I have any hobbies in common with Gordon. I play trombone. I don't think he plays trombone. I'm sure we both like travel. We both like to eat in wonderful restaurants, so that's a commonality. We like being a mentor to young chefs. I think that's probably the most similar quality. And we're both in the restaurant business, which I think really, is the litmus test of how much we have in common.

Jonathan Waxman shares memories of a young Joe Bastianich

Some viewers love Joe Bastianich, some viewers are terrified by him. How have your interactions been with him?

I've known Joe since he was a little kid. I knew Joe, when he dressed up in a tuxedo and worked at his mom's restaurant, at Lidia's.

Any embarrassing stories you want to share from his youth?

I'm not going to even go there, because he's too sensitive. I know Joe very well. Joe and I have a unique relationship. I think Joe likes being the stern tough guy, the person that's always asking the hard questions. With me... we just talk about wine. We talk about tennis. We talk about really just fun stuff. We have a very light-hearted relationship, and I have a really good rapport with Joe. Because he's partners with my best friend, Nancy Silverton, we all have shared similar backgrounds and tastes. We love Italy. We love the wine through Italy. We love everything Italian. And Joe's a rock and roller, so he and I have that musical commonality as well.

Have you ever been to a concert with him?

I think his musical taste and mine are somewhat different, though my partners in Nashville at Adele's are the Kings of Leon, which I'm sure that he will be very, very happy about that relationship. And we've talked about that before.

Jonathan Waxman reveals how Alice Waters gave him "mental scars"

Gordon and Joe, they don't hold back, at least on the show, when they're dishing out criticism. Is there a particular stinging critique that still haunts you from your days as an underling in the kitchen?

Oh yeah. I mean, I have lots of mental scars from the kitchen. I have one that, actually, it doesn't even sound like a scar, but it is. So when I was at Chez Panisse, there were only three people in the kitchen, Alice Waters, Jean-Pierre Moullé, and myself. Alice would change the menu every day. And so, every day was a totally different menu. And it was only four courses, but I'd be responsible for one of the courses.

So one day, I was responsible for the artichoke soup for that night. Oh, God, this is going to be an easy one. I do the artichoke soup in advance, and then the rest of the night, I just have to scoop it up and put it in a bowl. It was done. It was cold artichoke soup. So I made the soup, and it was delicious, it was fantastic. Alice comes back in the afternoon, and she tastes it, "This is fantastic." She goes, "but this is all the soup you made?" And I said, "Well, I used all the artichokes from the walk-in." She goes, "You didn't do all the artichokes." And she pointed in this obscure shelf, way in the back of the restaurant, above the wine room. She said, "That's the other half of the artichokes." So this is an hour before service. I ran to go make another batch of artichoke soup. I have a million stories like that.

Gordan Ramsay had a contentious relationship with his mentor Marco Pierre White. Alice never gave you any Marco Pierre White moments.?

No. When Alice wanted me to do something that I didn't want to do... I remember one Saturday night, we had gotten 25 baby lambs and they were going to be for the venue on the following Thursday. And Alice at 11 o'clock at night, says, "Honey, can you butcher the lamb?" Now, if you think about how long it would take to butcher these 25 little baby lambs, it would take at least three hours. And I was exhausted. And before I could even say anything, she went to the stove, she made two buckwheat blinis, smeared them with melted butter and put an ounce of caviar on top of each one, went over, shoved one in my mouth and gave me a glass of champagne. I said, "Ah." And as I'm chewing the blinis, I said, "Oh, all right, Alice."

Jonathan Waxman previews his California-themed MasterChef Mystery Box

This isn't your first time in the judge's seat of a cooking competition. Do you have any sort of memorable dishes from judging in the past or this episode for better or for worse?

There were two people on this episode that were outstanding. There was this one chef from Boston, I think, with blonde hair [Autumn Moretti]. And then there was the person that won. Both of those dishes, and Aarón as well. Aaron's gave me that "what the F" look.

Remember, these are home cooks. They're novice cooks. They're doing a competition, and their level of cooking just showed me how far it's come in the 45 years I've been cooking food in America. Home cooks didn't do anything of that caliber. Restaurant tourists didn't do anything of that caliber 45 years ago. To have these two individuals on the show do that was really ... it was really wonderful. I have to tell you it was terrific.

And the ingredients were difficult. Remember, the ingredients were spot prawns, wasabi, grapefruit, avocado, all these California ingredients. But those are not easy ingredients. Each one by itself is not easy. And then to combine all of them together, I mean, you have to have some good skills and good imagination.

Was sea urchin involved in the box?

Uni as well. And Uni is tricky. I think uni, wasabi, spot prawns, grapefruit, avocado, all tricky ingredients, except for maybe avocado.

Starting your career in California, I'm sure that you've been exposed to uni forever. Are you surprised that it's become such a hot item and are we reaching overexposure of uni?

Well, number one, I don't think there's ever going to be overexposure of uni, because uni is such a magical ingredient. The thing that was great for me when I was the chef at Michael's in Los Angeles, in Santa Monica in 1979, 1980. When people started bringing me spot prawns in Santa Barbara, I almost flipped over backwards. Then they started bringing Catalina lobsters from Santa Barbara. But when they showed up with fresh uni, the stuff that you got in sushi bars paled in comparison to that fresh product that you got from the Santa Barbara channel. So I think that when people get fresh uni as compared to stuff that's been sitting around for two or three weeks, it's a real revelation. And I used to go to the south of France and go pick uni off the shore. And when you pick uni off the shore, you clean it and you eat it right there. There's nothing better. Just don't step on it.

Why Jonathan Waxman wants to be a cooking competition contestant again and which chefs he would challenge

You competed on "Top Chef Masters." Is it more fun to be a judge or a competitor?

I like it both ways. I enjoy the competition part because I just like it. It's fun. It's wacky. It's weird. It pushes you to a different level. It's akin to ... I was watching the Tour de France this morning, and this guy is going up to the top of the hill, and they have to give themselves an extra ounce of adrenaline to get over the top, in a timely fashion. In a cooking competition, it's the same thing. You have to really punch your adrenaline to get yourself to do the best food you possibly can in a crazy, weird environment. But I also enjoy judging as well. I really love being surprised, and I'm constantly being surprised when I judge food on TV.

Is competing something that you would do again?

Yeah, I enjoy doing it. I think as long as it's the right scenario, I'm happy to do it. And as long as they take in consideration the handicap of my age, I think I'd be fine.

Is there anyone in particular that you'd like to go up against?

It's funny, I was just thinking about this the other day, about, I always wanted to do a show with ... instead of calling it "Masters", just do "Legends" and have people like Larry Forgione and Alice Waters and Dean Fearing. People that have to be, number one, have to be over 65. That's the first criteria. That's number one. And number two is that they all have to have a major restaurant in America for more than one year. That'd be another criteria. And just go from there. I think that could be kind of hysterical. I'd love to go up against Roy Yamaguchi for instance. I think that would just be really fun: Wolfgang Puck. I think going against Wolfgang Puck would be my ultimate dream.

Did you see the "Wolfgang" documentary? What were your thoughts on it?

Yeah, I went to the premiere at the Tribeca Film festival. And I noticed it didn't get the greatest review in The New York Times, but I don't think that person really understood what the documentary was trying to show. I was really happy with the production of it. I was very happy that it shows Wolf, underpants and all. I think that it gave a good chronology to his career. If I were Wolfgang I'd be extremely happy with having lived this crazy life from the time he was 14 years old. So he's 72, and he's still in it, still at the top of his game, still doing wonderful stuff. But showing the evolution of that journey... I think David Gelb did a wonderful job.

Jonathan Waxman is ready to conquer TikTok with his easy omelet recipe

TikTok trends, like baked feta pasta and dalgona coffee, have taken off because they're easy to make and look great, which is basically the M.O. of your food. Which of your recipes do you think would have the potential to go viral on TikTok?

My kids want me to do TikTok and one of the things I thought about is how to boil water. But I think if I had to do one thing like that would be really kind of funny and crazy and kind of weird is that, I know it sounds totally mundane, but I make omelets in a very weird, quick fashion, unlike any other omelet in the world. And it takes like whatever the TikTok timeframe is. And it does something crazy in the pan. And I think I'd love to do that. So I think that I actually might do it.

Alright, well now we really need to know. What's the trick?

Well, there's a number of tricks. Number one is using a cast iron skillet. Number two is having it hot enough but not too hot. Number three, you have to beat the eggs with cream only, not milk, or anything else, with a little immersion blender for about four seconds while the pan is getting hot. And then when the pan is the right temperature, then you add in an ounce of butter and a half-ounce of olive oil, which immediately starts foaming. And you throw the eggs in immediately, and then you cover it with a lid for five to eight seconds. And then you lift it off, and then you stir it with a fork in the middle. And it all coagulates together, and then you flip it over on a plate. Kind of crazy. So it actually kind of soufflés in the pan. Sounds fun, right?

Find out what the remaining contests prepared with Jonathan Waxman's California Mystery Box on "MasterChef: Legends" Wednesday night, July 12, on Fox and if you haven't tried Jonathan Waxman's roast chicken with salsa verde, the iconic dish absolutely needs to be added to your culinary bucket list.