Why Claudia Sandoval Made Gordon Ramsay Tamales On Master Chef - Exclusive

It's hard to turn a blind eye to Claudia Sandoval. The "MasterChef" winner's chili-pepper red hair helps. But mostly, it's impossible to bypass Sandoval because she radiates gusto. Step into her radius and you're acutely aware you're around someone who was predestined to think about, make, and teach us how to dish out incredible food.  

If you go back far enough, Sandoval's origin story really entails learning to make her abuela's food as a child — a culinary heritage that centers her to this day. "When I think of myself as a chef and what I want to portray through my food, I want to respect the recipes and the flavors and the ingredients that are used in those very traditional [dishes], but present them in a way that they look a little bit more elevated, a little bit more modern, a little bit more — whatever you want to call it," Sandoval told Mashed in an exclusive interview. "But when you taste it, it's going to taste like exactly what my grandma would've fed you."

That's the philosophy that guided her even before we knew who she was, from watching her on "MasterChef: Latino," "Worst Cooks in America," "Chopped," or as the host of the new Discovery+ series, "Taste of the Border." It's this philosophy that also got Sandoval cast as a contestant on "MasterChef" Season 6 in the first place, which took her straight to the finale where she chose to present Gordon Ramsay with tamales as her appetizer.

Claudia Sandoval explains more about her tamales decision

Gordon Ramsay was bemused by Sandoval's appetizer choice in the "MasterChef" finale. As she recalled to Mashed, the Michelin-starred chef looked at her tamale and said, "Why in the finale, with some of the most expensive ingredients, would you serve me a tamale that I could get out of the back of a truck for three dollars?"

Sandoval would change his mind and ultimately walk away with the "MasterChef" crown. In her opinion, however, Ramsay's attitude was unfounded. "I know that, to Gordon Ramsay, [tamales didn't have much worth], because of the way that Mexican food has been portrayed in the United States. ... It has been presented as of little value," Sandoval reflected. But a tamale, for those uninitiated to its glory — made of corn-based dough, traditionally wrapped in a corn husk — is, in many ways, an edible embodiment of thousands of years of culture. 

"Gordon Ramsay also doesn't know the history of our food," Sandoval asserted. "Maíz [corn] used to be money. It used to be the most expensive amount of currency with ... the Aztecs, the Mayans, the Olmecas, and Toltecs ... In fact, when tamales were first made, they were an offering to the gods. ... I served him something that my ancestors would've served to the gods. How much more respectful could I have been?"

You can catch Claudia Sandoval in her newest project, "Taste of the Border." In the show, she discovers how the food from border towns — from San Diego, California to South Padre Island, Texas — showcase a blend of flavors and cultures from the US and Mexico as well as other unexpected influences. All episodes are now available on Discovery+.