Capping off a two-hour finale Tuesday night, MasterChef named its Season 2 winner, Jennifer Behm, who beat out fellow finalists Adrien Nieto and Christian Collins for the title.
"I definitely will not pass up champagne this time," Behm tells TVGuide.com. The Delaware realtor had notoriously skipped out on a champagne-sipping reward during the competition and opted to cook alongside her rivals, risking elimination. "We actually have a whole case of Joe [Bastianich]'s prosecco from one of his vineyards to celebrate the evening and have a good time."
During the reality series, Behm overcame competition from thousands of home cooks, lived down a humiliating raw lamb faux pas and most impressively, learned to clean a whole salmon. "I'd never broken down a salmon before," she admits. "My dad would always take us fishing as kids, but I never stayed long enough to watch him gut a fish. [On the show] was literally the first time I had ever gutted a fish. My dad was pretty proud, I have to say."
In the finale, Behm presented a three-course meal: seared scallops with English peas for appetizer, spicy stuffed quail with scalloped potatoes and wilted greens for the entree and braised pears with mascarpone cheese and lemon zest for dessert. Even though her meal won her the title of MasterChef, she still would have liked more time to perfect it. "I could have used about two more minutes to finish up my entree to make it exactly what I wanted plating-wise," she says. "I really wanted to showcase a lot of different techniques so I literally had it timed down to the last 30 seconds to get it plated. They had moved some of our stuff around for camera purposes and I had lost some of my ingredients. I think flavor-wise and taste-wise, my food was spot on.
Despite the cooking challenges, it's her feud with so-called seafood expert Collins that really tested her mindset on the show. Check out her true feelings about the stay-at-home dad, the scary MasterChef judges and the unusual fan feedback she's received:
Christian appears to be the villain on this show, especially when he rudely began eating his own food while the judges were tasting your lobster dish. What's the real deal on Christian?
Jennifer Behm: I would love to say that Christian is different off camera, but he's exactly the same way, if not worse. He's a talented cook. He can figure food out. He's been around restaurants his entire life so I'd be surprised if he couldn't. Christian is definitely his own drummer. Let's just say I wouldn't call him for a dinner party but he's probably the only person out of 100 that I wouldn't ever call.
How do you friends and family react when they see Christian talking trash about you on the show?
Behm: My brothers do not particularly care for Christian all that much. I have a really good friend who lives in Dubai now, and he watches it online and he's like, "I want his number. I need to call him and set him straight. I can't believe he would say those things to you. How disrespectful!" It kind of makes me laugh because I'm kind of like, "Take it for what it was." It makes me stronger and a better cook, [I] beat him at his own game.
But you can thank Christian for getting you in the finals since he gave you mushrooms to cook with in the semifinals.
Behm: The items we got to cook with were Joe's favorite things to eat. Adrien picked the octopus, which I knew he was going to, and Christian picked the veal, so he thought he was going to stump me by giving me the mushrooms, which is exactly what I wanted anyway. It was really funny because I grew up in mushroom country, so I know mushrooms like the back of my hand.
You also schooled him in his own supposed area of expertise: seafood.
Behm: Christian seems to have a little hiccup with that seafood because I do believe I beat him in the lobster challenge and the risotto, which also had seafood in it. And I didn't do too shabby breaking down the salmon.
Besides Christian, you also had to deal with the judges. How scary is Joe in real life when he's tasting your food?
Behm: In the moment, yeah, they can be very intimidating, especially if they're throwing meat at you. Coming into it, I was more scared of Joe than I was of Chef [Gordon] Ramsay. At the end of all of it, I tell people this: When you're at the top of your game in the business, you just expect excellence. I think that's what Joe wants to see and I don't blame him for that. The mistakes I made whole-heartedly deserved to be yelled at. I've also talked to Joe since the show has been done and I've been to his places in New York. [The judges] are kind of like your dad, and you don't want to disappoint your dad. Whenever you see tears it's because I've disappointed myself, I've disappointed my family and I've disappointed them because I know I could have done much, much better.
Do you still keep in touch with the other competitors?
Behm: I talk with every single person in the Top 18 except for Suzy and Christian. I talk to Tracy probably every day. Tracy and I are like sisters. I talk to Mark probably every other day. Max I see when I'm in Manhattan. He's always good entertainment. And I talk to Christine all the time, even though she was a little crazy, I love her dearly. And Derrick every once in a while. Ben and I email back and forth quite a bit. Ben's my boy. We cooked next to each other and I could not have asked for a better bench partner. These are friendships that we'll have forever. My brother is in the military and he says, "Jen, it's almost like when I go out with my troops. No one else can understand what it's like to be in the trenches like that." Only those 18 people can know exactly what it feels like.
How relieved were you the day after you won and realized you didn't have to endure cooking challenges anymore?
Behm: It was a relief to not be yelled at but was also a bittersweet ending to see all those people go our different ways and not wake up with those people every morning. It was funny because the next morning I was like, "Oh my gosh, I don't have someone knocking on my door." We had a wrangler we called Papa Roy who's like this 6-feet, Hawaii guy who was like, "Good morning." Coming back to what we call the real world was interesting.
Are there any ingredients you worked with on the show that still haunt you?
Behm: Oh absolutely the raw lamb — I mean, I cook lamb all the time. It's the running joke now with my friends when they come over for a dinner party that, "Are we going to have lamb tonight?" and they kind of look at me and wait. Or "Are we having pork and sauerkraut?" Everyone in my hometown gave me a hard time.
I think I saw on Facebook that you're planning on writing a cookbook? What's your point of view? Will any of the dishes you made on MasterChef be in it?
Behm: My aesthetic on it is going to be the girl on the grill because I love to be cooking outside, showing people you can have elegant dinner parties and make fantastic food of all aspects on the grill and have it be elegant and refined as well as fun and exciting. I would love for [the dishes] to be in there. There's quite a few, like my watermelon dish that I was so proud of and my risotto I think would incorporate nicely into it.
You seem to have quite a following on Facebook. What are some of the more unusual responses you've gotten from fans?
Behm: Oh goodness, well I've had marriage proposals. I've had a couple young ladies contact me that are anorexic. One of them is working through her anorexia. I have another young man who is 15 years old and decided to go to a culinary arts program even though he's a jock and a football player. He's like, "Watching the show really inspired me. Should I do it?" I'm like, "You've got to follow your dreams. if that's your passion, then everyone will understand. If they're your friends they're still going to be your friends no matter where you are." To be an inspiration to someone to continue doing what they love or follow their dreams is awesome.
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Do you think Christian is misunderstood? Are you happy Jennifer won? Who's your favorite judge?