MasterChef Season 11 Winner Kelsey Murphy Dishes On The Competition - Exclusive Interview

A couple years back, if you mentioned the show "MasterChef" to Kelsey Murphy, she would have said something like: "Oh, I love that show!" Mention it to her now, and she can instead say: "Oh, I won that show!" That's because she just became the newly minted champ of season 11 of one of TV's most beloved cooking shows. And she did it despite her professional background being in physical therapy, not professional kitchens.

In fact, if you take a look at Murphy's Instagram account (which had about 7,000 followers on the Monday she gave an interview to Mashed, had passed 12,300 by midday of the Wednesday on which the finale of the season would air, and which is surely about to explode), you'll see she has used these terms to self-identify: "Home cook. Mom of 3 crazy kids. Physical therapist." Oh, and "Master Chef Season 11," but as this article went to press, she still couldn't officially add the word "winner" in there.

By the time you read this, though? Kelsey Murphy's win will be out there, and her life kicked into high gear. And Murphy is both ready for the rush, and grateful for the ride so far. We talked through it all during an early afternoon Zoom.

How Kelsey Murphy got into cooking

How did you first get into cooking and when did it become a major part of your life, more than just a sort of a casual hobby?

I first got into cooking just from my natural upbringing. I mean, grew up in an Italian and Polish family so, cooking was always just part of what we did, but it wasn't until I got out on my own, went to college and had to cook for myself, that I just started watching food TV in general and became kind of a Food Network junkie. And that's when I really started to get more creative and build my own cooking style and my passion for it. And ever since then it's just continued to grow. I spent a good amount of time in the kitchen and still do obviously. But once I had kids, my cooking definitely took a less of a creative turn and then getting on the show obviously is just kind of re-sparked that and really showed me how much talent I have in the food world.

What were some of the shows you came up watching in your college days and who were some of your chef heroes back then?

My first, honestly, the first memory of watching Food Network was watching "Iron Chef America." So with Morimoto and Bobby Flay and all those people. So, that's really where I started and then, I became just big fans of like Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten and that kind of stuff, and just learned so much technique really, from them. Just learning little tips and tricks and how to cook certain things a certain way and yeah, that's where I got all my knowledge from.

Kelsey Murphy's favorite foods to cook

What's your favorite cuisine to cook and then what are a few of your favorite dishes to make?

So my favorite cuisine to cook is probably Italian food. I grew up on that. I feel like it lends so much diversity to cooking. Pasta in general is such a blank canvas. So once you master that technique, you can do with it whatever you want. Which I really love about that type of cuisine. And it's also just very family-friendly. So that goes well to my husband, as well as my kids. So normally I can get away with a one stop shop when I'm cooking Italian. 

And then my favorite food to cook with, honestly, I really love seafood. So, I would say that's definitely where my skills lie and my talents lie is cooking with seafood in general. If I was to open up a restaurant, it would definitely be seafood heavy, seafood forward, just because that's something I love. And I've found that I'm fairly good at cooking with that and recognizing those flavors.

MasterChef Kelsey Murphy's tips for home cooks (with kids)

What are a few of your tips for amateur home cooks who want to take things up a notch?

My biggest tip for amateur or home cooks is to learn some basic cooking techniques, learn how to make a béchamel sauce, learn how to season pasta water. Just learn basic things that you can apply to a number of different dishes. So then you're not so cornered into a certain recipe. You can start with a basic technique and just build off of whatever food you have in your kitchen at that time. 

What are some of your tips for healthier home cooking?

My biggest tip for healthier home cooking is to always have your kitchen stocked as much as you can. Having fresh produce, having a good supply of just healthy canned goods too is so important, and it really makes it easier to stick to more healthy choices throughout the week. We all struggle during the week to get in healthy food and not try to just grab crackers and chips and go for the easy stuff. So I even have things just kind of like stacked in my refrigerator that I've made during the weekend, like healthy salads or different sides and stuff that are high protein that are easy for me to just grab and go during the week.

What are some of the meals that you found that are hits with all three of the kids?

Ooh, that's a good one. Anything that is a one-pot dish honestly, is key when it's feeding children, it's sneaking things in where you can. So anything that involves some sort of starch and cheese is good. And then you just hide things in there. I've also noticed being a parent — and I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way — kids will only eat food that's on their parents' plate. So lots of times I will put a little extra on my plate or put a little bowl next to it, beside whatever me and my husband are eating, and that really then makes the kids want to try it, and I say that's a success. If they only try one bite of my food, that's great. They've tried it and then maybe they'll have more the next time. But I always just offer them whatever we're eating and I leave it open to them. I don't force them. I say: "Just try it. If you don't like it, you don't like it."

Kelsey Murphy talks MasterChef, on and off camera

Tell us how you ended up on Master Chef?

So it was really my father-in-law who was the original person to get me to audition. We were watching season 10 together. And at the end of the episode, they say: "Oh, if you're interested in becoming the next contestant on Master Chef, go online and apply." And he really was the one that pushed me and got me to open the computer and actually do it. And it was always something, I guess, in the back of my head watching the show previously, I was like: "Oh, I could do this. I think I could do this." And then I just kept making it step by step by step and here we are almost, it's really, almost two years later that this is where that journey has taken me.

What was it like competing on the show? How did it line up with your expectations, and were there surprises?

It was honestly fascinating to be on the show, especially as a previous fan of the show — and I continue to be a fan of the show. To learn how it's filmed, just to picture myself actually as a contestant is very surreal, as I used to watch all the other contestants. Honestly, the most surprising thing about it is how real the show is. People always think reality TV is very scripted. It's not, this is not scripted. The clock is the clock and what we cook is what we cook and there's really no hiding behind it. So I was surprised with how real this reality TV show was.

Were there any funny or interesting behind the scenes moments that you can tell us about?

There's a lot of banter that goes on behind the scenes, but the judges, as soon as like the camera turns off, they just like to shoot the sh** back and forth and just, well, they're really funny and really great. And just, I don't know, it's fun to see their real personalities come out when we're not rolling because they would just really make us laugh and take the stress down a little bit whenever we would have the chance, and that really helped because yeah, it can be pretty high stress on camera. 

In TV, I have learned that there's a lot of hurry up and wait. So there's a lot of downtime and that's kind of where us as contestants just like, hung out. We had 15 people to start and there were the strangest personalities, like just different personalities. And so just the conversations you have, the bond that you make with all 15 of these people, it's pretty fascinating. Because you're kind of forced into it. You're forced to be friends with them.

Kelsey Murphy's favorite MasterChef challenges -- and her least favorite

What was your favorite and what was your least favorite challenge on the show?

So that is a great question. I honestly loved — and I'm surprised — I loved our team challenges. So the partner challenge we had and then the team challenge where it was girls versus boys. I thought those were so much fun, very high energy. They're stressing too, I mean they were stressful, but I don't know. It just seemed a lot more relaxed in general when we're cooking with somebody else and me being kind of a leader, I always thought that I would struggle in those team challenges but I ended up doing pretty well and really liking it. So that was kind of surprise for me. Those two were probably my favorite.

And then my least favorite challenge, and this honestly doesn't even have to do with the fact that I ended up in the bottom of this one. But our French challenge was probably my least favorite challenge because it really didn't allow for a lot of creativity. We really had to stick to technique and we were also playing this game with the clock that was really challenging. And most of us just didn't really know what the heck we were doing. So, it was not [much fun], was definitely not my favorite challenge of the competition.

Kelsey Murphy talk winning MasterChef Season 11

So tell us a little about the final competition — what did it feel like when you won?

Yeah, so the finale competition was really hard, it was very challenging. We had to actually prepare a four-course meal for the judges and make it obviously a cohesive menu and really highlighting who we are as home cooks, but now moving into being chefs. So conceptualizing this menu was very, very difficult and learning, trying to figure out: "How am I going to show them who I am in these four courses?" And as well as stand out against my competitors, who are quite amazing in their own right. They both have amazing points of view on food and fall very strictly into different cultural backgrounds. So I felt that made my job a little bit more challenging since I don't really have a single culture that I cook with. So yeah, that was probably the hardest part about it.

And winning? Honestly, it's very surreal, not only to be on a major cooking competition, the biggest cooking competition in the world, and then you win it. I don't really... I can't really explain what it feels like. It almost still hasn't set in that I actually went on a show, made it the entire way, and then won. It was just, I don't know, just this very exciting, surreal moment. And I think the best part of it was I felt that my competitors [there], and the fellow competitors who were watching, were genuinely happy for me. And we were all just so supportive of each other, that it really just felt like a great culmination at the time of this journey that we all went on, because we filmed pre-COVID, and then we had to break for seven months because of COVID, and then we came back and it was a really long, stressful time. So to win and just be done with it, it was, I don't know, it was just amazing. And it still is amazing. I'm loving this journey.

Did you have a favorite guest and did anyone surprise you what they were like in person?

Honestly, probably my favorite guest was Morimoto. He's just funny. He's got a really cool personality. I'm also a huge Roy Choi fan. So just getting to meet him and see him. It's a dream of mine to be able to work with him someday. So every week it was just more and more exciting to be able to learn from them and just take little snippets from them. Especially people that I've grown up watching and learning from. It's just a priceless experience. Let alone to be cooking for our normal judges, but then every week get blessed with some more knowledge and different backgrounds and just hearing their stories too, about how they started, where their food journey came from, where they've been. It's just very inspirational, because many of them, a lot of them have been self-taught as well. So that made a huge difference and really motivated us to think like: "Okay, well we could do this."

What's next for Kelsey Murphy

What are your future plans? Obviously your life is going to change some after the show, so what's next?

Yeah, so I'm so excited for the future. I'm really going to take this opportunity and dive head first into the culinary world. I want to just really start looking at opening the doors to whatever opportunities come my way. I'm really excited. I'm going to be doing a partnership with MasterChef and a company that you may have heard of called Grubhub. And so there's many more details to come on that, me and some past MasterChef winners are going to be working on that. And so there's a lot of exciting things that are going to come from MasterChef and what they're able to offer me and then hopefully, what I'm able to offer the rest of the world. 

I would love to stay in the food TV scene. I love being on camera and getting to share with others my food through media. So I would love to continue to explore that. And I am just, I'm ready to go. I'm just ready to dive in there and see where the future takes me.

Check out GrubHub for to learn more about the new MasterChef meals soon to be available, and watch MasterChef on FOX.