S6 MasterChef Winner: Claudia Sandoval

Hello World, I am back again!

I can’t say enough how fast time flies by. Are we really in July? Where did the last few months go?

It’s officially summer which not only means it’s the time to wear those shorts you’ve been hiding underneath your bottom drawer for months, but it’s also the time to eat delicious food! I’m talking about roasting burgers on the grill, having a sip of hard cider; and having fun with friends & family! If you’re not doing any of that, then now is the time to catch up on some of your favorite cooking shows for all you foodie lovers out there.

The New Season 7 of MasterChef just recently aired and can I say that the competition is getting hot hot hot! As in, turn on the AC because it’s about to sizzle up in here!

I had the opportunity to interview Season 6 winner of MasterChef: Claudia Sandoval. She was recently featured as a special guest on the new season and as always, once she hits the floor, watch out!

Not only is her hair AMAZING, but she was absolutely down to earth to chat with. A true inspiration to many women out there and a great example of never giving in to your fears. Plus, bonus points for her knowing about the world’s largest bookstore located here in Portland, OR: Powell’s bookstore! She totally needs to come and visit soon! Be sure to catch her on her current book tour and snag her latest cookbook, “Claudia’s Cocina: A Taste of Mexico” Be prepared to turn on your Latina mode!

First off, congratulations on being the Season 6 winner of MasterChef. I think that’s absolutely exciting!

  • Thank you

I did see your most recent episode of Season 7 where you were featured as a Special Guest. How was it like cooking alongside Aaron Sanchez?

  • I think that anyone that is in the culinary world recognizes that people like Aaron Sanchez are just, you know, people that you aspire to be like. Especially, with him being a Champion of Latino food, I think that’s definitely something that is very close to my heart obviously. So, it was lovely. I mean, he’s an incredible human being and just a really genuine normal guy. I think that also speaks to kind of my philosophy in just the way that I handle myself and the way that I meet people because I think that that’s so important. I think that that’s one of the most awesome things that I’ve been previewed to in meeting all of these incredible chefs of such high level. Most of them are just normal, down to earth and really cool. So, it was very fun.

You do hold the title of being the first Hispanic winner in the History of MasterChef. I’m sure you have been an inspiration within the Latin community. How are you able to encourage those that aspire to achieve their goals and dreams?

  • You know, it has been such an honor to be able to represent the Latino community. And to really continue to change the perspective in terms of showing that even though there are people in this world that will … (static interruption) … Latinos to be able to champion that and to say “Hey guys, I’m gonna show you through proof that we are doing much more positive things in the community than we are doing negative.” And I think that that’s kind of, you know, put your money where your mouth is. I want to be able to prove it and about all of the things that we’ve done. When you show people that it can be done, I think that speaks more than just being able to talk about something in saying “you should be doing this”. When somebody actually does it, I think that kind of puts the proof in the pudding, if you will. So, I think that that’s been awesome, but I think even on a grounder level, not just for Latinos. I have a lot of people that come up to me and say, “Hey, I’m a single parent. I grew up poor like you did.” So, I think that there’s just definitely different facets of Claudia, right? I’ve been fortunate enough to, and I say fortunate because I still don’t, not sure that I believe it yet. Um, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be given all of these incredible opportunities and because of my hard work I made it, you know, fruitful. I made it something that has really provided such a change to my life and to my daughter’s life and to my family’s life. And to be able to inspire people, not just because I’m Latina, but because I’m a single parent and I’ve made it. I persevered through so many things, including being poor. I think that it’s a perfect opportunity to be able to share that and what better platform given than to be MasterChef, you know? So, I’m thrilled and overjoyed. So, it’s fabulous.

That’s great! This next question kind of ties in to what you mentioned as well. There are always different kinds of backgrounds, different stories, different situations that people go through on a daily basis where they’re kind of at crossroads of really wanting to pursue their dreams, wanting to pursue their passions, but at the same time they kind of place certain setbacks on themselves of either, “I’m a single parent or I come from this background, or I don’t have the financial resources or who is going to take care of anything while I’m trying to take all of these risks for something that I really want in life.” I guess, anytime that you come across someone like that, for example, is there any advice or tip that you provide to inspire them that motivation to really take those risks and go towards what they really want?

  • Yeah, I mean one of the biggest, again, it’s like the proof in the pudding. I can take and say, “Oh well, you need to do this in your life.” You know, we’re all such big of giving advice, but not taking it ourselves. I was that person, I would always try to inspire my family members to go after their dreams and to really follow what they felt they were really passionate about. I think that one of those “a-ha” moments, if you will for me, and one of the things that I love to share with people is, “Listen, I had every excuse not to go. I had zero money in my bank account when I left. I was a single mother. I was in a one-bedroom apartment with my daughter. There was absolutely nothing that would say, you know, 100% do this and it was going to be an uphill climb.” At the end of the day, what ended up being just kind of my thought process and mentality was “what if”. You know, “what if” this is actually your calling? And this actually does fall together? What if you actually do it? And that “what if” just kind of kept on bugging me and bugging me. You know, a lot of people for MasterChef, they say, “Oh, I’m going to be the next MasterChef” they plan ahead and they practice and all of these things. I woke up the morning of audition and decided to cook up something and went to the store, bought the ingredients, made something and went into audition. The morning of. I held myself back much. So, I’ve been there. I understand all of the excuses that you can make. I had all of them. So, whenever I can share that with people and say, “Hey listen, you can cry me a river, but I was on that same river as you were, paddling away. Just going on my perfect, you know, little normal life. Really miserable, waking up everyday and hating life because I was still on that same little boat.” So, when people hear that, it’s like, “Oh shoot she’s just like me”. I keep saying this to people and I don’t really think they internalize it when I say it, but when I say I still don’t believe it, I really truly still don’t believe it. I wake up and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is my life now” because it is so just fundamentally 360 degree different of where I was that it’s mind blowing. It’s mind blowing that I can pick up my daughter from school everyday and not have to worry about if my daughter asks me for pizza and if I can buy her a pizza. I remember days when I had less than $1 in my bank account. I remember, when I deposited my check of $250,000 the bank decided to refund my 3 over draft charges. You know what I mean? That’s real life and when people hear that, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, you’re totally like me”. I think that’s so hard because we are our own worst enemies. Sometimes we limit ourselves and we place those limiters in our lives.

Yeah, that’s definitely true. With any challenge that comes up. We’re all human and we all place ourselves in that certain doubt of maybe it’s not possible to achieve what we really want and why should we bother. I think to see that an example as yourself, I really truly see that as very inspirational. We kind of have to remind ourselves that anything is possible in this life and you can achieve anything as long as you set your mind to it. As long as you create that motivation in yourself because, you’re right, we’re our own worst enemy and sort of creating those battles within us that sometimes we feel that it’s a little bit difficult to overcome.

  • In the introduction of my book, I point out that I remember thinking of and making excuses of not going on the show. Imagine if I had listened to those excuses. I mean, that thought alone. I mean, I’m now $250,000 richer and now MasterChef. I have cooked in so many kitchens that I never would have even imagined. I’ve hosted pop-up dinners, I’ve been auctioned off for over $1000 for one dinner for 6 people, for charity of course; but how my life changed and being able to spend more time with my daughter and living the life that I once dreamed of. That never would have happened if I would have listened to all of those limiters that I placed on myself. All of those excuses, all of those “I can’t afford it and blah blah blah.” I never would have been able to have been in the show if I hadn’t had started a GoFundMe account and raised $3,300 to pay the rent that I needed and the bills that I needed in order to go on the show. Did you know that? I had to raise money to even go on the show. I couldn’t tell anyone what it was except that this is an amazing opportunity and I need to raise some money, otherwise I can’t pay my rent.

Wow, that’s crazy!

  • That’s crazy. So crazy. I mean, I’m telling you, when you want something you will 100% make it happen and if it’s something you’re passionate about, people are going to feel that, people are going to support you, people are going to help you figure out that dream. It’s just a matter of taking that first step.

I didn’t realize that there actually entails so much going on a show or auditioning. That’s crazy.

  • Yeah, just imagine walking away from your life right now. Right now, just walk away and you’re going to be gone potentially anywhere from 11- 13 weeks. What would you do? How would you pay for your bills? How would you pay for everything? Who would take care of your animals? In my case, I have a daughter plus animals plus an apartment and I’m a single mom. You can see how much that makes it so crazy. It’s crazy. Yeah.

That’s definitely something to feel proud of for sure.

  • Thank you.
Aarón Sánchez - Cooking-1 copy
MASTERCHEF: Guest judge Aaron Sanchez in the all-new “Top 17 Compete” episode of MASTERCHEF. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

Touching base on your cookbook, I’m sure it’s filled with a lot of delicious recipes. I’m sure there’s a combination of traditional dishes that you’ve grown up with to even some that you’ve added your own twist to it. Would you say that there is one dish you are the proudest of and that you would recommend anyone to try?

  • Um, I think that there’s one dish that I’m most proud of. This dish specifically was a pivotal moment in me as a chef, me as a cook, and me as a competitor in MasterChef. It’s randomly almost like the most non-Mexican. Um, but in the book it’s called, “The Tomato Napoleon”. The Tomato Napoleon does not exist. There is no such thing. Napoleon in French cooking is usually a sweet dessert. And although there have been savory versions of a Napoleon, there’s never been a Tomato Napoleon. And there’s never been a Tomato Napoleon that’s been made with tortillas de harina, or you know, flour tortillas. So, I don’t even know where I came up with the idea, it just like popped in my head and it was a pivotal moment. It was when I went from kind of just being in a strong group, to not necessarily shining, to really blowing the judges away and them thinking like, “Whoa, where did this come from?” kind of deal. I think I floated along in the competition and it was the one pivotal moment when things really changed for the judges and for myself. I felt so inspired and so pushed to a limit where I was being so creative that I was even surprising myself. I think that dish alone really speaks to me on a creative level and innovative level, and also on finding my voice. That was the moment I found who Claudia is, as a cook and as a chef. And to continue to champion this more modern Mexican. That was a really cool moment for me and one of the most recipes that I’m proudest of.

Now correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I read that you have your own blog that’s called, “The Adventures of a Single Latina Mama”.

  • I used to, yeah. I used to write a lot. I loved to write. You know I was actually very blunt. Haha! I was just very open on that blog. I had to take some things off because I was also sharing a lot of detail. Because of the fame that comes with all of this, people will find anything that is relating to you. They will be like, “Oh, this is her picture, this is her blog”. I wanted to keep something private of course. But you know there are some things up there. It’s been one of my goals that as soon as things start to slow down again, that I will pick that back up. I miss blogging so much. I miss writing so much. It’s a big outlet for me. And people would always kind of love that I would be sharing these crazy adventures that I was going through with being a single mom and all of that. So, it was a really good outlet for me and I want to get back on that. But that is 100% true.

Who would you say has been your truest inspiration when it comes to cooking?

  • That’s hard because I feel like I have a couple. I’m gonna ask you a question back. So, are you thinking of in terms of where I am now? Or just cooking in general?

Cooking in general.

  • Ok, I think cooking in general is definitely just my family. It’s not even one person or another. It’s my Mom and my Grandma together almost. They are incredible cooks; they cook incredible food. They make the kind of food that makes you close your eyes and just go back to memories of growing up. And so that kind of food is the kind of food that we access to try to really cook now because like those food memories is what really makes a dish incredible. So, for me I think that just in terms of cooking, my whole life has really been me trying to master those flavors and those techniques. It’s really more flavors. There is a story that I share in the book, and it’s for a Chile Verde pork. I’ve been trying to nail that recipe for years, I’m talking like over 10 years. Finally, one day I was determined and I’m going to do it exactly the way my mom does it. I’m like total Latina mode like turning on the music and dancing in the kitchen. And that day I took it to the ranch where we have the horses and my dad like around and was like, “Oh my gosh, this tastes exactly like your Mom’s.” And that was a huge moment for me because like it’s, you know how whenever you’re sharing food stories with people they say, “no no no my Mom makes the best tostadas. Or no no no my Mom makes the best tostadas.” And there’s a reason for that right because they have this seasoning like this sason that only they have and you just cannot replicate it. And for me to be able to replicate something and to have my whole family be like “oh my gosh” was huge. It was a monumental moment for me. So, I think that definitely they are my number one inspiration in terms of food because I always try to aspire to be like them in terms of flavor and seasoning and all that.

That’s actually very true what you just said and I thought I was the only one that thought that. But even myself for example, like I could be in the kitchen with my Mom and we could be cooking together, and she could easily say, you know “add this or add that. Cook this or make sure the heat is like that.” For some reason, at the very very end, the result never becomes exactly like my Mother’s cooking. Like there’s always that something that is missing. You know, I’ve always thought maybe it’s just a Mother’s love. Maybe that’s what the secret ingredient is. No matter what you do, even if it’s the exact same steps, it’s never going to end up being the same as a Mother’s cooking.

  • Yep, it’s crazy. One of the biggest ones for me was flour tortillas. Kneading dough. I don’t care who you are, like kneading dough is a masterful thing. And you need to know when to stop and when it’s perfect. And then temperature changes things. I had a conversation with a friend who is actually Arab and they make a different kind of bread but it’s similar. It’s similar in terms of kneading and how you have to let it rise and all of that. It’s funny, but her Mom said she’s better than I am. I think it’s like a practice thing and you have to keep on practicing and practicing. I still feel like my tortillas are not 100% better than my Mom’s or that they 100% taste like hers. They’re really close. They’re like 97%.

If you had to write a letter to your 20-year-old self, what is the one piece of advice or words of wisdom that you would say?

  • Stop making excuses. It’s as simple as that. In so many ways, stop making excuses. I think to your first point earlier, I think so many of us put limiters to our lives and it’s just us limiting ourselves and making excuses. I think that stop making excuses would be the number one thing I would say to myself. I did not take a lot of those opportunities that I could have and that could have really propelled me to go different paths. I would have just been more successful than even today, which I know seems ridiculous. But I had some really incredible opportunities that I kept making excuses because I wanted to be closer to family, I didn’t want to leave, and I was scared because all of those. I think stop making excuses would be a really big one.

Well, thank you so much again for taking the time to chat with me. Again, congratulations and looking forward to seeing all of the exciting things that will come your way. And good luck on your book tour!

  • Thank you, I appreciate it!
Claudia Sandoval w_cookbook copy
MASTERCHEF: Season 6 winner Claudia Sandoval in the all-new “Top 17 Compete” episode of MASTERCHEF. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2016 FOX Broadcasting Co.

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