Interview with 'MasterChef's' Adrien Nieto

Adrien Nieto is a chef who got his start on the reality competition series, MasterChef. While he had many different interests growing up, cooking is something that came naturally to him. Adrien spoke with’s Kristen Maldonado about how he caught the cooking bug, his experience on MasterChef, and what he has coming up in the future. You made it to the final two on MasterChef. What was your experience like on the show?

Adrien Nieto: My experience was great! I would definitely do it again! I know what I was getting into, I read the contract, I know what I signed. Reality shows and cooking competitions are an interesting phenomenon, but I wouldn’t take it back. I met some amazing people that are like a second family to me, if not immediate family. I had a great time. It was something we called the culinary boot camp – so I definitely feel way better as far as my skills and as far as a chef, more confident and more educated. I definitely came out with a lot more than I went in. And since then, I’ve been the first to go do internships at their new kitchen. So I think if I went back and battled myself that day I would impress myself. What inspired you to become a chef?

Adrien Nieto: Food has always been there in my life. When I was younger my parents worked really hard and they worked opposite schedules. My dad was not the best cook. He used to make the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I eventually got tired of it and then I started cooking for myself. As I got older, though, I never really considered it. All the chefs that I saw always looked miserable and angry, so I didn’t want to be a chef. But from going to college – I mean, I always wanted to express myself and cooking was always there. Finally I found love and I’m not with this person anymore, but she was a great influence on my life. She said, “I feel like this makes you focused and happy and you should really consider pursuing this as your career.” So it kind of happened from there – about 6 or 7 years ago now. I just really sat down and thought about it. I realized how much I love food and the culture of the culinary world, and just the endless possibilities of everything that you can do with food. Ultimately I think the biggest reason why I want to continue to be a chef is not only do I get to express myself and convey some type of message, but it’s an expression of love. You have to eat, and – whether you cook for yourself, or other people, or both – you’re giving someone nourishment and that’s a very loving act. When you were in college you weren’t studying cooking, so what were you studying? What were you planning to be before you discovered you wanted to be a chef?

Adrien Nieto: I was going to school for philosophy and I wanted to maybe be a professor or teacher. I was writing and into photography – definitely looking for some kind of artistic venue to use. You know, maybe philosophy as a writing tool for photography and journalism. So that’s kind of the angle I was going towards. Just like freelance artist, but my writing was not that good. So do you still use those skills, like photography, in addition to cooking?

Adrien Nieto: Yeah, I use them all the time. Definitely photography over the writing. I would blog more but I tend to get lost in my own work, so I would probably just do a video blog. But as for fun and as a hobby, I still love photography. Especially with cooking now – it inspires me to get more creative on my plating. It’s always fun to think to myself, “Oh, what colors and textures am I going to use on this plate? How am I going to compose the final concept?” And then I want to immediately take a photo after. Now I understand that you have a new project coming up. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Adrien Nieto: Yeah, it’s called Cruda, and we’re starting with a catering company/gourmet food truck. Cruda literally translates to raw and what we’re trying to associate that with is our farm-to-table concept. I’m a huge believer in slightly and slowly trying to educate the American population and the community around us to eat local, seasonal, and sustainable as much as possible. And then the other cool part of what Cruda is is in slang in Spanish it means hungover. I really love good craft microbrew and small wineries that put out really good varietals and what not, and so obviously sometimes that leads into a hangover and in the morning you crave really good food to help with that hangover. So that’s also a kind of a play on both of that for us. You mentioned using local, sustainable, and seasonal foods. Is it because you want to support local farms or because you want to promote healthy eating?

Adrien Nieto: Both! I believe in stimulating the local economy by promoting small businesses. So it definitely is to create a good relationship with the farmers and get them recognition for what they do and to show the community around what’s accessible to them, what’s available that they should be taking advantage of. And yes, definitely to eat healthier. On top of that, it’s obviously good for our environment as well. When is Cruda debuting?

Adrien Nieto: We actually just got our food truck. We have to go get it inspected, passed, and what not. We’re going to get it cleaned up, and probably label the outside. So I’m going to say we’re probably going to be operating under the radar for about a month, so I’m going to say the grand opening and launch of Cruda might be the beginning of March. Do you feel that you’ve gained more opportunities since doing MasterChef?

Adrien Nieto: Definitely. I think it was a huge platform for me to move forward in what I’m doing. I’ve been meeting a lot of people that have been on these kinds of shows and unless like you’re one of those old school like Emeril Lagasse kind of people or Bobby Flay that whole celebrity chef kind of phenomenon fades out in one way or another and comes back. But it definitely was a platform for exactly what I want to do, which is cooking. I think that anybody that does that kind of show and leaves and continues to cook really loves to cook. That’s really all I ever wanted out of it – and a little bit of notoriety that I can cook!

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