MasterChef contestant Christopher Lu is a study in contradictions. He’s a non-baker who won a pastry challenge. A meat-lover who flopped at Beef Wellington. A man with roots in Taiwan whose favorite dish is spaghetti Bolognese.
Could this intense cook with a decidedly goofy side use his entertaining unpredictability to take him all the way to the winner’s circle? We’ll have to wait for several weeks to find out. In the meantime, he spoke with me from his home in Hollywood, California.
A Good Defense Isn’t Always the Best Offense
As a restaurant manager, Christopher started MasterChef season 6 with some advantages that many home cooks lack, such as working with a diverse team. But that experience (and his own expectation of perfection) can also trip him up, especially when he boasts of his prowess behind the stove.
It’s led to some cringe-worthy moments, most famously during the recent Beef Wellington challenge. Even after he and teammate Hetal Vasavada chose to present her (fantastic) plate to Gordon Ramsay for judging, Christopher bragged about his own version. Unfortunately, Ramsay agreed to try it, and his review wasn’t pretty.
As Hetal (now one of his BFFs) told me, Christopher doesn’t know when to stop talking – he has trouble censoring himself. Comments?
To his credit, he readily cops to the charge. “I suffer from ‘stupid mouth,'” he says. “I tend to rant and rave and go on tangents. I was bullied a lot when I was growing up, especially when I was in military school. Being clever and witty and mouthy became my defense.”
He also says his emotional state plays a part. “It was a hard time for me when we got that challenge. I’d been away from my girlfriend for a long time doing the show. I really rely on her for emotional support, and I admit that I got defensive. When I do poorly, it’s not only embarrassing, it’s heartbreaking to me.”
A Competitive Threat to His Fellow Cooks
But here’s another one of those contradictions: Despite being angry at himself for messing up, Christopher seems genuinely happy about the successes of others. In this case, it helps that his coaching on proper technique helped Hetal — a vegetarian — lead their team to triumph.
“Hetal’s win was a personal victory for me,” he says. “If I win MasterChef, I want to do it fairly. Hetal shouldn’t be limited by her eating habits or personal beliefs. I was so proud of her! We’re so close, and we’re not greedy with our information. That’s not for me.
“Food is sharing. Food is love. I can’t say that and then hold back on what I know. I wanted to make sure that Hetal had the right tools to cook the Wellington. And I’m happy to admit when someone else’s food better. I was proud to serve her dish!”
That ability to bounce back from bursts of anger or disappointment has helped him throughout the competition. When Shelly Flash passed on the chance to save him from the pressure test after the Las Vegas team challenge, you could see the annoyance on his face. But he pressed on, cooking a near-perfect steak and winning praise from Chef Ramsay.
“Was I angry or disappointed when Shelly didn’t choose me to save? Of course! I believe in the American dream — you work hard and you’re rewarded for it. I’ve worked my way up in business by working hard. But I get it — it’s a competition.”
In retrospect, he’s happy how things turned out. “Now I realize it’s a badge of honor – it means you’re a threat to the rest of the contestants!”
An Unexpectedly Sweet Victory
There’s obviously something to that threat business, since his cooking chops carried him straight into the MasterChef Top 10. For example, he nailed the TV dinner challenge, even when Derrick forced him to cook with 15 minutes less on the clock than everyone else. But that wasn’t his finest moment so far.
“No doubt, my proudest moment has been the apple pie challenge,” he says. “I am not a baker! Growing up, my family didn’t allow sweets. They were taboo.” He’s not kidding, either. When family members ate something sweet, they had to brush their teeth immediately. That’s one way to tame a sweet tooth!
“Not eating pastry, not being a baker, winning that challenge and having Christina say my pie is awesome — that’s amazing!” Given his background as a bartender and cocktail maestro (his Twitter handle is @Tipseychef), maybe the bourbon he added gave him an edge.
Whatever the reason he won that challenge, it all fits with his worldview: Do what you love and don’t let anyone tell you to give up. That’s one reason his favorite past winner was Luca Manfe.
“Yes, he was also a restaurant manager like me,” Christopher says, “but he’s also humble. Remember that it took him two tries to get on the show. He just kept going, and he won. It’s not about what happens to you, it’s what you do afterwards.
“Life will knock you down, but you brush yourself off and keep going.”
Navigating Life’s Peaks and Valleys
And you let bygones be bygones. He and Shelly are now friends, despite their rough start. He even gave her a pep talk when she started getting negative feedback after the Las Vegas episode aired, reminding her she made the Top 10.
“I’m still close with a lot of people,” he says. “That’s what it made it tough when people got sent home. That really surprised me about the show. You don’t expect people to be so nice — it’s a competition!”
Talking to him, I could tell the occasionally angry or arrogant Christopher we see at home is partly him, but mostly the result of the editing-for-drama typical of reality shows. He had nothing but nice things to say about everyone on the show, including the judges. Even the formidable Gordon Ramsay is “a true gentleman” in his eyes.
“I know sometimes I get in my own head and become negative. But I try to be positive.” Of course, being a man of contradictions, it doesn’t always work out quite that way.
“The next episode [airing July 22] is good, but like a bonehead, I got inside my head and screwed up,” he admits with a laugh. “I’m dreading watching it live!
“Peaks and valleys — that’s been my life, and my time on MasterChef!”
MasterChef airs Wednesday nights at 8pm on FOX.
(Image courtesy of Greg Gayne/FOX)