Most people wearing Derrick Peltz’s apron would be visibly nervous after Gordon Ramsay named him the MasterChef contestant to beat. But if he’s feeling stress, you’d never know it, as he knocks out plate after winning plate of food.

I spoke with the professional drummer and lifelong cook from his home in Marina Del Rey, California, last week, following the end of filming.

A View from Above Guides his Strategy

Derrick has nailed the breakfast-themed Mystery Box challenge and cooked the perfect steak for Ramsay at the judge’s own Las Vegas steak house. I wanted to know if he felt much pressure being viewed as the frontrunner from the first day.

There was pressure, yes, but it’s mingled with pride. As a long-time admirer of Gordon Ramsay, he was thrilled the judge singled him out. “Chef Ramsay put that target on my back in the beginning,” he says. “My mission is to keep it there. I’m there to do my best and be honest about it.” 

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He attributes much of his behind-the-stove cool to his years performing live with various pop and rock bands. He masks his nervous energy beneath an intense exterior. It’s part of his personal playbook to keep his fellow contestants guessing. 

That approach differs markedly from MasterChef season 6 rival Christopher Lu, who lets his nerves show (while also cooking some excellent food). Was that why Derrick chose Christopher to sit out the first 15 minutes of the TV dinner challenge? Wouldn’t the obvious choice have been Shelly? After all, she chose Derrick for the steak challenge after he saved the day for their team.

Derrick admits he’s having second thoughts now. “it’s funny, now that I’m watching it play out on TV, I think I should have gone after Shelly! I actually was going to pick her because I felt she’d thrown me under the bus. 

“But looking into everyone’s baskets from above [where he watched from the balcony], I based it on the baskets people had pulled from the pantry. It seemed like Christopher had a basket that wouldn’t win, and I know he gets caught up in his own head.

“Choosing Christopher wasn’t revenge, though — it was strategy. The difference between Shelly and me is this: When Gordon asked Shelly if choosing me to compete in the elimination challenge was based on my performance, she said yes. But in the solo interviews, she said it was about strategy.

“I play the game differently–I’m honest about my choices.”

MasterChef Reaches a Milestone

The native of Fort Myers, Florida, admits he hasn’t had a really down day yet — at least as far as we’ve seen. Favorite moments include receiving his white apron in a unanimous decision, and then crushing the steak challenge, also unanimously. “I was cooking for Gordon in his own restaurant. That’s something I’ll be telling my grandkids about.”

Another highlight: arriving on set and finding out they were filming the 100th episode. “We didn’t know till we showed up,” he said. “It was a real milestone for the show. Everyone works so hard to put MasterChef together, and I was excited to be part of that.”

Even though he’s been at or near the top from the start, he’s learned a lot cooking to impress the pros.

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“Although I’ve cooked for much of my life, I had no idea about the timing of things before going on MasterChef. I was never in a rush. Now, what I can do in 20 minutes, 30 minutes — it’s insane! I blow my friends away!” 

That ability to cook faster and more efficiently certainly contributed to his win in the breakfast challenge. He successfully executed three different dishes, the same number as Graham Elliot. (This must have been the “Graham box” he promised.) 

“Even before Graham said he was doing three dishes, I knew I wanted to do more than one,” Derrick said. “He inspired me to go for three. I wanted to know, ‘How good can I be?’ Shooting for the same level as Graham was clearly a good idea.”

Derrick said that although Gordon Ramsay has long been an inspiration to him, he developed a deep respect and admiration for Graham during the competition. “We have a lot in common. We both play music and have tattoos, for instance. But after working with all three of them, I couldn’t tell you who my favorite would be now. I mean, Christina [Tosi] can throw down, too –she’s an amazing cook!”

Savoring a Full Plate

Filming may have ended, but Derrick hasn’t slowed down any. “I’m working on a lot right now,’ he said. “Besides drumming for the band Syd Youth, I’m also trying to figure out how to open my own restaurant. I’m starting to do my research — business plans, location, menus. It’s all in motion!”

As a rising celebrity, social media keeps him busy, too. “It’s almost like a second job, keeping up with Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Being in the entertainment business, I’m probably one of the more seasoned hands when it comes to social media. But now that MasterChef has happened, it’s really blowing up.

“But it’s never been about me — it’s always about the fans. So I’ve been diligent about outreach and responding to anyone who contacts me. I like sharing things and returning love to the fans. Fortunately, my girlfriend is very understanding.” 

Sorry, ladies — that’s the same girlfriend who inspired his challah French toast in the breakfast basket challenge. (In fact, the day he won the steak challenge, he hadn’t cooked red meat for 18 months, because she doesn’t eat it. That’s love.) 

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Maybe that’s why it’s not too surprising he’s a romantic at heart. Despite his show-no-fear demeanor, array of tattoos, and rock star vibe, Derrick views himself first and foremost as an artist. 

“There’s a parallel between food and music. I love all forms of art. Painting, pottery, whatever. But food is the best because you can eat it!”

MasterChef airs Wednesdays at 8pm on FOX.

(Image courtesy Greg Gayne, FOX)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV