Q&A With MasterChef Contestants Jaimee Vitolo and Daniel McGuffey

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Meet Daniel McGuffey—a 32-year-old, Los Angeles based video game designer who also has some pretty sweet ink and mad skills in the kitchen, which scored him a highly coveted spot on Fox’s hit reality show MasterChef. And here we have the talented Jaimee Vitolo—a 23-year old assistant baker from Queens, NY who makes a mean blueberry pie and even has a matching tattoo. You can catch Daniel and Jaimee cooking up some fine cuisine for Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich every Monday night. We managed to chat it up with the two about their auditions, tattoos, thoughts on the judges, contestants they can’t fucking stand and more.

INKED: What sparked you to finally try out for MasterChef?

VITOLO: I tried out for MasterChef on a total whim. I've watched every season and one day I thought "I could totally do this." I've had no desire to be on television before. It's so out of my comfort zone, but I knew I had to suck it up and go. I am thankful that I did!

MCGUFFEY: I was going through LA Weekly on a Sunday morning when I saw an advertisement for live auditions taking place in Hollywood on that day, at that moment, and they were going on for another two hours. I jumped in my car and drove down there and when I got down there, they’re like, “Where’s your dish? What did you bring to present?” I don’t read anything very well, ever. So I was like, “Oh, I didn’t read the rules. I just saw the location and the time and I came down here.” And they’re like, “Well, you got an hour and a half. Can you whip something up?” That would’ve been a good point for me to be like, “I’m out.” But I’ve got this kind of attitude in me that hates to give up. I like to go against the odds.

INKED: So what did you do?

MCGUFFEY: I’m like, “I got an hour and a half. It’s twenty minutes to get back home, what can I do?” So I drive home, I pick up some fresh mussels at Whole Foods on the way. I keep everything prepped in my refrigerator, so I’ve always got diced onions, shallots, I just grabbed a bunch of stuff and I ran back down to the audition. At this point, there’s like twenty minutes left. And they’re like, “You cooked everything, right?” I still hadn’t read anything. The auditions were happening at a culinary school, and I figured “Well, they got to let me cook in there, right?” Nope. Now I’ve got all these raw ingredients and nothing I can do about it. I carry a gas burner in my jeep at all times. I run to the parking garage, fire it up and happen to have some cookware with me. I throw together some French mussels in the back of my jeep, tailgate style. I’m walking to the audition, and I’m pretty sure I’m the last guy in there. Everybody had stuff that was congealed that they had been sitting on for three hours while they were waiting for their audition. Mine had steam building off of it. From there, the gauntlet of auditions began.

INKED: Jaimee, can you tell us about your audition and how long it took? What did you make that scored your ticket in?

VITOLO: My audition experience was surprisingly fun and exhilarating. The open casting call was a really long day. I think it was around 8 hours. My mom came with me for moral support and helped me lug my food around Manhattan. I had made a four squash galette. It was basically a tart with different squash cooked different ways, braised apples, and toasted pumpkin seeds. I had made it so many times the week before my audition that I hate squash now.

Vitolo poses with her favorite fruit.

Vitolo poses with her favorite fruit.

INKED: During mystery box challenges and pressure tests, of the three judges, who would you say is the most intimidating?

MCGUFFEY: Everybody thinks its Joe, but it’s Gordon. My personality is to kind of try to disarm everybody with something stupid or some humor before engaging, but you don’t get a shot at that with Ramsay. He’s just so on point, so disarming and so legit—and he’s witty as hell too—but you don’t get a second chance with Chef Ramsay. But the good aspect of that is, if you do something right or you defend yourself and you’re justified in doing so, he’s got your back. He’s not there just to intimidate, he’s not there just to be a persona. He’s a real dude. You realize I want to be real, forthcoming, and honest with this guy at all times. It’s those kind of people I love having in my life, the kind of people who are just no bullshit. The kind of people who are going to make you better because they’re not going to lie to you, they’re not going to pull any punches. I love those kinds of people in my life.

VITOLO: I think Joe might be the most intimidating because he is really hard to read. You can’t tell if he’s happy or pissed off. I don’t like that.

INKED: Yea, he has that poker face.

VITOLO: [Laughs] Yes, he has a great poker face.

INKED: Daniel, you posted a cool candid photo of yourself with Graham Elliot on your Facebook page. Did you get to mingle or chat it up with the judges when the cameras were off?

MCGUFFEY: For some reasons that become apparent after the show is over, you realize that these judges only get to know you—and this is part of the magic of the show—they only get to know you through the food you put in front of them and they only get to know you through the conversation you have with them while you’re cooking. The logic behind that is, it prevents the judges from getting any kind of bias towards any one person. They are only there to talk to you about food. But that picture was taken when we had wrapped. The show was completely over. Graham, more so than anybody else, when the show wrapped, he made it a point to come hang out and to say “hey.” These guys are in such demand, they work so hard, they’re not just on the show, but they’re managing their empires, so the fact that Graham took some time out to come by and talk to us about music, talk to us about astronomy. He came running over, he’s like, “Guys, look, look! You can see Saturn tonight.” He’s interested in everything he does and he wants to share that interest with you. We took that picture at the very end. Everybody got a chance to kick it with Graham. I’ll say he ended up being my favorite. I clicked with Graham.

McGuffey rocks out with judge Graham Elliot

McGuffey rocks out with judge Graham Elliot

INKED: We know you don’t get to taste all the food like the judges do, but do you ever disagree with their decisions on who they send home? Have any decisions shocked you?

VITOLO: Sometimes the judges had me thinking "Really? Really now?" Like I don't really disagree with them, but their decisions definitely have confused me. I'll be really honest here... after I watched the doughnut challenge on television I could not believe they sent Kira home. Courtney made two mistakes during the challenge, and Cutter's chocolate glaze broke. I know the judges know better than me, but I was totally in shock.

INKED: Aside from critiques from the judges, you’re also prone to receive feedback from the public since you’re on a popular TV show. Fans tend to voice their opinions about you guys and chime in on what you’re saying, cooking, and sometimes vent and rant on social media. How do you handle comments and criticism on Facebook and Twitter?

VITOLO: So far, I’m lucky enough to not have a lot of negative comments. The worst thing I’ve gotten is something like, “This girl is really annoying.” I don’t care. You know, these people, I don’t know them personally. I’m not going to let them get under my skin.

MCGUFFEY: That’s a great question that I love to talk about. I’ve avidly avoided social media for a long time just because it’s this cesspool of negativity. I’m getting a little older—I’m in my thirties—I don’t have time to argue with people on the internet.

INKED: You have an official MasterChef Facebook page, so we assume you’re more comfortable now?

MCGUFFEY: Now, taking a plunge into MasterChef, there’s an agreement that I will engage and be active on Twitter and Facebook when the show comes out. Before I even knew I was on the show, there was this internal conversation I was having with myself as to whether or not I’d be able to deal with that. I guess it boils down to what my philosophy is. If you’re doing something right and you’re doing something well, other people are going to pick up on that, and they are going to be the ones who are there to argue for you. You’ll never have to engage with negative people. If you’re in the right and you’ve done something. I love Twitter because it’s like throwing a message in a bottle out in the ocean. The important thing to me is that I’m writing the message and I hope someone gets it and is interested in it. The time when I do engage is when the show is on. I’m making it a point to interact with all the questions I get during the show, that’s when you want to catch me.

INKED: Jaimee, you said before that you had a phobia of cooking fish and you’re even allergic to some of it. Have you become more comfortable with it since the show wrapped?

VITOLO: I wouldn't say I have a phobia of cooking fish, I'm just very unfamiliar with it. I'm allergic to a lot of seafood (trout, lobster, oysters, shrimp, and the list goes on). Before the show I had only ever cooked mussels and clams. However, since the show wrapped, I feel a lot more confident in the kitchen all together. I've been exploring some seafood, and a bunch of other things I'm unfamiliar with. My boyfriend caught a huge snapper on Easter, so I've been cooking a lot of that.

INKED: Daniel, was there a protein that gave you similar fears while on MasterChef?

MCGUFFEY: Chicken. The tricky part about it is, it can dry out really fast. If you don’t cook it enough, it can kill you. So, the episode where we cook for 500 troops, we did chicken. Man, you’re under so much pressure and you got to move so fast. It becomes a real mob mentality. But when I came home from the show, it became this really daunting protein I didn’t want to touch anymore. For the past month, I got back up, dusted myself off, and have started studying. Alright, how do I take this boring protein you can easily screw up and how do I do it really right? So I started studying classic techniques like how to do things with fresh thyme and now I’m crazy about it again. There’s a new magic to it I hadn’t previously discovered, but I do still think it’s the most daunting thing.

INKED: Can you explain your favorite tattoos that you have? We’d especially like to hear about Jaimee’s Blueberry Pie one.

VITOLO: My favorite tattoo is probably my bear on a penny-farthing cycle. I thought of it on the subway one day like 6 years ago, and when I finally got it done it was PERFECT. My blueberry pie is definitely my second favorite. I grew up right outside of Hammonton, New Jersey, which is the blueberry Capitol of the world, so blueberries are my favorite fruit. I just thought blueberry pie would be a great homage to a little town I spent half my life in.

photo 1-1

INKED: Can you tell us about your tattoos? Are you getting any new ink soon?

MCGUFFEY: I’m about to finish off my right arm. My left arm, I started about 5 years ago. It’s got about 50 hours in it. I just wanted some color on my body. I moved out to L.A. 10 years ago and saw all this tremendous work. I didn’t really figure out what the hell I was doing until a couple of years ago. My left arm is fully covered, there’s no skin tone. What I’m starting to do with my right arm is more big, bold, bright and high contrast. That piece on my right arm is Tetsujin 28. He’s the original Japanese giant robot. I traveled to Tokyo two years ago. I booked the appointment. I had to wait about a year and a half. I went to an artist named Genko in Nagoya [Genko Tattoo Studio]. It was one twelve hour sitting. I got there at 9am and I left about 10pm. He doesn’t speak English. So you communicate entirely through photographs. I just brought in some of my favorite pictures of Tetsujin. This guy’s work is insane. So whatever this guy does, I’m down. He does it all freehand. He spent the first 30 minutes drawing on my arm. Then 12 hours straight, here we go. No breaks, no food allowed in the shop. He took two cigarette breaks. I took one or two bathroom breaks and had a bottle of water. I’ve never done anything like that before. I’ll probably never do it again. At about hour six, I think I was just screaming. Making sounds. It was so intense. Then I had to stand up after 12 hours of being drilled, take some photos, hobble to a cab, and go get into a train back to Tokyo for 10 hours. It was insane, man. I realize now, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I really hope I get to work with him again. My whole right arm is just going to be Japanese video games and anime characters.

Genko_1

INKED: What other tattoos do you have planned? Would you get any other food related tattoo like the blueberry pie?

VITOLO: I have a really fun sewing tattoo planned, along with portraits of my cats (Ladybird and Artichoke) and some illustrations from my favorite graphic novels. I also have a ton of food related tattoo ideas! One dedicated to my favorite candy bar, probably a doughnut because they're cute, and a head of garlic!

INKED: Which contestant is your best friend and ally?

VITOLO: My best friend on the show is definitely Elizabeth. We actually hangout pretty regularly in New York. I love her to death. We’re both crazy cat ladies.

INKED: Which contestant is your arch nemesis?

VITOLO: I don’t know if I have a least favorite. I had problems with a couple of different people, but at the end of the day, you push it aside, and they’re all really amazing.

MCGUFFEY: I’ve given this a lot of thought. I would say I like everybody until you give me a really good reason not to. But Leslie—at first—I’m like, “Cool guy, ok.” And I genuinely like older people because they’ve seen some shit, they’ve got some life stories, they’ve had experiences, they’ve probably got some knowledge. There’s a huge difference between somebody who’s 20 and 30. But there’s not that much difference between someone that’s 30 and maybe 50 because we’ve both had some failures and successes. But Leslie… [groans] At first I started thinking, this guy’s a dick, then I thought, “No, no. Give him a shot.” Give this guy a chance, you know? Let’s try to be cool. But before long, I realized, no, this guy’s a dick. He’s pretty self obsessed. I hate this, now I’m talking trash, but whatever—he’s earned it. You can tell when you’re talking to him that he’s not interested in what you have to say. We can see each other and be professional and adult but you’ll never catch us hanging out having a good time.

INKED: Jaimee, as a full time baker, would you say you’re the best dessert person of the bunch?

VITOLO: Well, of course [laughs]. I know Big Willy is pretty fierce competition, but I think I am a little more knowledgeable than the rest.

INKED: How amused were you when you found out one of the pressure tests was cooking a blueberry pie?

VITOLO: Did you see the episode?! Did you see my face perk up and hear my giggle-snort?! I was more than amused! It was so funny to me, and I was so excited! I make a lot of pie.

Jaimee Vitolo – Blueberry Pie Challenge

INGREDIENTS

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups AP flour
1 tsp. salt
1tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup shortening, cold
½ cup butter, cold
¼ cup water, cold
3 Tbsp. sour cream

Pie Filling

5 cups fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
Zest and juice of one orange
¼ cup flour
1 Tbsp. orange liquor
1 tsp. orange blossom water
¼ tsp. salt

METHOD

Preheat oven to 375F.

For the Pie Crust

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a separate bowl whisk together the egg, sour cream and water. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Slowly incorporate the two together until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into two discs and cover in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

For the Filling

In a large bowl, toss the blueberries with the dry ingredients. Add in the wet ingredients and mix to combine.

To Assemble

On a floured work surface roll out the first disc of dough into a 12 inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch pie dish. Trim the dough so there is only a ½ inch overhang.
On a floured work surface roll out the second disc of dough into a 12 inch round. Using a large knife or pastry wheel cut out ten ¾ inch strips.
Transfer the blueberry filling to the pie dish lined with dough. Arrange the dough strips on top of the filling to form a lattice. Trim the excess dough. Fold the bottom crust over the ends of the strips and crimp to seal.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 1 hour until the crust is golden.
Cool to room temperature and serve.
Yield: 1 (9inch) pie

Tune in: Find out who will stay and who will be sent home in the all-new "Top 16 Compete" episode of MASTERCHEF airing Monday, June 30 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. 

THE COMPETITION HEATS UP ON AN ALL-NEW "MASTERCHEF" MONDAY, JUNE 30, ON FOX

In the next mystery box challenge, contestants must prepare a unique dish using various canned foods. The winner of the mystery box will have a significant advantage in the next round and with the help of MASTERCHEF winner Luca Manfe and MASTERCHEF JUNIOR winner Alexander Weiss, determine which former MASTERCHEF champion's specialty dish each contestant will prepare in the elimination round. Find out who will stay and who will be sent home in the all-new "Top 16 Compete" episode of MASTERCHEF airing Monday, June 30 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (MCH-506) (TV-TBA)

To see more pictures of Vitolo and McGuffey check out the gallery at the bottom of the page.