Since this was a rather long interview with one of Sun Sentinel’s best, I thought I would include it as a blog post. This was the first and only time I shared such personal info. Hope you like it!
Check out the article: HERE
“I live in a beach house in Venice with two roommates,” Kontos says. “Talk about a change from Coral Springs.”
Dozens of South Floridians have appeared on reality shows. But few have had their life trajectory altered quite like Kontos.
“I honestly went to change my life,” says Kontos. “I was unhappy with my job. I was unhappy with aspects of my life. When I went on the show, I was happy again.”
Happy, but not because of the fame she knew would be short-lived, rather because she was cooking. Every day.
“I really did go there to cook, $250,000 is a lot of money and I wanted it. I was hoping hard work and integrity would pay off. I wasn’t going to go on a reality show and change who I was,” she says. “I knew there was life after the show and I wanted to be able to hold my head up high.”
While she did tell another contestant she was going to “kick your ass,” she mostly stayed above the reality TV fray, cooking her way through challenge after challenge. She created an amazing Pistachio-encrusted salmon with roasted fennel and asparagus from a so-called mystery box challenge. She got teary when Lidia Bastianich appeared on an episode because the Italian-American chef was a reminder of her Italian-American grandmother back home in Massachusetts.
Sylvie Gervais, her next-door neighbor in Coral Springs, accompanied her to Orlando in November for the “MasterChef” auditions, and taste-tested Kontos’ entry: a classic onion tart.
“She made me eat her tart 10 times [before the auditions],” Gervais says. “Every day she was coming to my house and I was sick of it. I didn’t want to say so, so I told her I was on a diet. The closer she was to the casting, her tart got worse. She was putting too much salt in it. Another time, she was using cheap balsamic vinegar.”
Gervais, a wine educator and owner of Unfiltered Wine Consulting, told her not to cheap out on ingredients.
She also helped prepare her for the challenges she would face on the show. One night, after leaving Market 17 in Fort Lauderdale, Gervais told her she wanted a chocolate souffle.
“Make me chocolate souffle in one hour!” she told Kontos. “By 1 o’clock in the morning, we were eating souffle. It was perfect.”
Gervais couldn’t be happier with the turn Kontos’ life has taken.
“All of the messages I send her on Facebook and Twitter are about following your dreams,” Gervais says. “I remember when she was unhappy working in sales and she was always coming home and cooking.”
After the competition, Kontos accepted an offer from the “MasterChef” judges — Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliotand Joe Bastianich — to cook in their restaurants. She worked as a stage, a classical French kitchen position where you do a bit of everything to help the chef, at Elliot’s eponymous Chicago eatery and Del Posto, the New York City restaurant owned by Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali.
“I learned how to make Mario Batali’s pasta, which is something I’ll be forever grateful for and never share,” Kontos says.
“After the ‘MasterChef’ experience, people don’t question if you went to school,” says Schrader. “Gordon Ramsay said you were amazing despite not having training. It has opened a huge number of doors for us.”
Kontos and Schrader say they are pretty much booked through October. They’ve got a daytime gig catering lunch for a 30-member office Monday to Friday. Last weekend, they fed 200 hungry motorcyclists raising money for veterans. They’ve cooked in private homes for birthdays and anniversaries. Schrader sees a cookbook in her future.
Kontos, who was an international flight attendant before her sales career, would like to host a travel food show. This year, she’ll be happy to make half of what she made in sales.
While Kontos officially moved to California in July, she’ll never forget a lesson she learned in South Florida. She was and remains a mentor to a 13-year-old girl in foster care at the SOS Children’s Village in Coconut Creek. A conversation between them was a big part of what inspired Kontos to audition.
“She asked me one day what I wanted to be when I was her age,” says Kontos. “I told her I wanted to be a chef. ‘Then why don’t you be a chef, Miss Tracy?'”