One-on-One with Monti Carlo, a Judge on Clash of the Grandmas

Hear from Monti Carlo, a judge on Clash of the Grandmas, about what's to come on this old-school-meets-new-school competition.
Monti Carlo

Photo by: Emile Wamsteker ©© 2016, Food Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Emile Wamsteker, © 2016, Food Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

We're just a few weeks away from the premiere of Clash of the Grandmas ( Sunday, Nov. 13 at 10|9c), when four grandmothers, each with undeniable culinary chops and a style all her own, will take to the kitchen for the chance to win $10,000. Earlier this week we caught up with Eddie Jackson and Nancy Fuller, both of whom will sit on the judges' panel for Sunday's premiere episode. And today it's all about the third and final judge, Monti Carlo. Not only is Monti a chef with a history of esteemed judging on Food Network, but she's also a granddaughter, who first learned fundamental recipes while cooking alongside her own grandmother. Read on below to hear from Monti about cooking with her Abuela Dora, and find out what's to come on the premiere of Clash of the Grandmas.

What can viewers look forward to seeing in Clash of the Grandmas?

Monti Carlo: Out of all the shows I have judged on Food Network, this one has been my absolute favorite! It is just so much fun to watch these grandmas compete! They are cute, they are funny and they are fierce! Also, when Eddie [Jackson] and I sit next to each other on the panel, it looks like the before and after from one of those Charles Atlas comic book ads. You know the ones where a weakling transforms into a bodybuilder? Dude has #AllTheMuscles

Aside from the age of the competitors, what makes Clash of the Grandmas different from other culinary battles?

MC: These grandmas compete with class. They don't celebrate the fall of a competitor. They don't sabotage. They hold each other up. I love seeing that.

Were you surprised to see the gumption in these grannies and notice how fearless they are?

MC: I am never surprised at the strength of women who have been there and done that, but I am thankful that they have been given a platform to showcase it.

In general, what do you think makes grandmothers’ cooking so darn good?

MC: Grandmas cook with love. They wear their hearts on their wooden spoons. Theirs are time-tested recipes created to bring friends and family together, and you can taste it in every bite.

There's no shortage of surprises thrown at the grandmothers this season. Do you think there’s any way for them to prepare for this competition?

MC: Anyone who has lived through world wars, given birth multiple times and gone from black-and-white TV to virtual reality is prepared for anything. But the obstacles thrown their way will definitely push them to their culinary limits.

How does the fact that the competitors are grandmas influence the way you judge them, if at all?

MC: I’m Puerto Rican. In my culture abuelas (grandmas) are revered. Many homes on my island have a mom, dad and abuela in them. They are the matriarchs of the family unit. So I choose my words carefully, because I don't want to disrespect an abuela. But I judge them the same way I judge anyone: Is this dish something I would eat again and again?

Do you have any special memory of cooking with your grandma? Please explain.

MC: My first memory of cooking is in my Abuela Dora's kitchen. I was 4 years old, and she taught me how to roll sorullitos. These are cigar-shaped cornmeal fritters that are very popular on my island. I'll never forget what it felt like to shape the warm dough in my hands as my abuela looked on. And the first bite! The crunch thundered in my ears and then gave way to the creamy nuttiness of the Edam cheese stuffed inside. I had never tasted something I had helped prepare before, and I was hooked from that moment on. Even though I was just a little girl, she would say to me, "You'll have to know how to make these for your kids one day." When I make sorullitos with my 7-year-old son now, I always have a moment when I get choked up thinking of her. I have a whole post about it on my blog.

Was there one dish your grandma was known for? Please explain.

MC: My abuela was known for her Pastelón de Platano, a sort of lasagna made with layers of sweet fried plantain instead of sheets of pasta. She would go out into our farm and chop the plantains off the tree herself, put them in paper bags and let them slowly ripen. When she would take them out of the paper bags and slice them up, we knew we were in for a dinnertime treat. We would sit in the kitchen as she prepared the picadillo, a mixture of ground beef with olives, capers, peppers and raisins, just waiting for a little taste. The smell of layered plantain and picadillo baking would fill our whole farmhouse. Pastelón de Platano is one of my all-time favorite dishes to make. It is a wonderfully complex dish that hits every spot on your palate, and it is my island on a plate.

Tune in to the premiere of Clash of the Grandmas on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 10|9c.

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