A Q & A With Master Chef Season 6 Winner Claudia Sandoval

A Q & A With Master Chef Season 6 Winner Claudia Sandoval

Claudia Sandoval talks about getting out of her comfort zone.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.


Nadia Boujarwah: I’m joined by none other than Claudia Sandoval the winner of season six of Master Chef, and also a bestselling author.


Claudia Sandoval:  Yes.


NB: What it was like to be selected to get on the show? What that process was, what it was like to go through the whole competition, and of course winning? Which is just unbelievable.


CS: Oh my gosh. Well, first of all, I was totally not going to apply. Which is the craziest thing to me because, I think with a lot of us, and this is so true, especially right now; you find yourself in this situation, I was a single mom. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment. I was scared, and I was afraid to put myself out there, but look what taking that risk got me? It has completely changed my life, but I’ll do it again absolutely. Was it a pain in the butt? One hundred percent, but, you have to sacrifice in order to reap a reward. 


NB: Yes. And you really have to keep pushing yourself because you never know when something extraordinary is going to happen. But it definitely doesn’t happen when you’re not taking risks.


CS: Or when you’re most comfortable, absolutely not. 


NB: So how different was the reality of being on set from what we got to see on television?


CS: I feel you see [about] 10 seconds of the reality of being on. It’s longer obviously, because you only get to see 42 edited minutes of two days of shooting.


NB: At what point in the series did you look around and say, “I think I could win this?” 

CS: So I walk in and they’re telling us all about the challenge or whatever. They [said] we want you to look into your drawers. And then we opened the drawers and inside is a tablet. And looking at the tablet is almost like a Zoom meeting of my mom, my daughter and my grandmother. It was three generations, staring back at me. 


NB:  I have goosebumps.

CS: And so I was super crying, oh my god, ugly crying. It was that moment where I [thought] oh, I got this. Oh, I’m going to crush this. Best soufflé I ever met in my life. Best soup I’ve ever made in my life. Best panna cotta. Just nailed, nailed, nailed across the board. 


NB: That’s so awesome. So, obviously you’ve had an extraordinary public journey now, but, I know that your love for cooking comes from a very personal place at home. Tell us a little bit about where that whole journey started for you?


CS: I don’t think I knew that I loved to cook. I think it’s just part of the makeup of our family. Our family’s from Mazatlán, Sinaloa. It’s just a very rich agricultural space. And it rains a ton so you don’t have to pay for water. So my family comes from those people that were more agriculturalists, and then, my uncles would go fishing. And then they would bring that back in and my aunts would then cook that. 


NB:  Oh wow.


CS: There’s nothing more satisfying than eating something and it reminding you of your family, and your mom, and grandma, and your dad, or whoever. 


NB: It’s incredible how food can do that.





NB: Tell us a little bit about your restaurant journey and how the pandemic has really impacted that?


CS: So, after winning Master Chef, you think wow, you won $250,000 so, open up a restaurant. I told myself I could go into trying to do that or I could create a business for myself that really established the Claudia Sandoval brand as a chef. I decided to start a Kickstarter for a concept that I have for a modern bakery called El Cochi Dorado, which means the golden pig. Everyone just turned around and supported me in a way that was overwhelming, just emotionally and just really exciting also. Because I thought to myself, everybody wants this to happen. We funded, we found a perfect location. We secured the location, we got the keys. I submitted all of my final documentation for my loan. That was around mid-February. And that’s when things started to really pick up. I don’t know if you guys remember, but right around February 19th my lender stopped responding. [When] they responded, [they] said, due to COVID and everything that’s happening, the Small Business Association has stopped all SBA loans for new businesses. They’re not going to be lending to any businesses because we’re in the business of rescuing existing businesses, that we’re in business with as of December. So I missed the cut off by one month.

I felt like I was just punched in the throat and the gut. But this past June, from June 1st through June 26th this little angel from San Diego gave me an opportunity to pop up here and sign books. And people came out in droves and filled us out almost every single day. It was awesome. Seriously, so much fun.


NB: Your fans are always there. What do you think was your secret for surpassing all the challenges?


CS: Honestly, I think it was sticking to my true nature, as to what I am. I’m a Mexican, I’m a Latina, I’m fiery. I am all those things. I’m beautiful. I am big. I am all those boisterous things. And so, I think sticking to who I was, not just culturally, but as a person, really came through in my food. When you look at my plate, then and now, you’ll always see a ton of color. I love that when you can tell that it’s feminine, you can tell that it’s beautiful. But then you taste it and it’s acidic, and it’s sweet, and it’s salty, and savory all those things. And you can taste the love above all. I mean as cliché as that is, [if] you are not cooking with love or with a little beat in your step. Then, what’s the point?

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