An interview with reality-TV contestant Amanda Saab, who has made it to the final rounds of Fox’s home-cooking competition “MasterChef.”
A few weeks ago on Fox’s “MasterChef,” 26-year-old contestant Amanda Saab, of Renton, discovered her hometown advantage: seafood-preparation skills.
“I had to work with live shellfish, something I hadn’t done before I moved to Seattle,” she said last week after becoming one of the final 14 contestants on the summer reality-competition series’ sixth season (8 p.m. Wednesdays).
Saab said being from Seattle helped propel her into the top three for the challenge that involved working with crab.
8 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox.
“I’m also completely amazed by all the farmers markets here,” she said of her current hometown. “I go to a couple a week and I love being able to connect with the farmers, who share about their farms and products. Everyone is so passionate about what they’re doing. Working with such fresh ingredients helps me make amazing meals at home.”
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One of the meals she created on “MasterChef,” lamb kefta with sumac aioli and jalapeño-dusted potatoes, represents her general cooking style.
“I really love Mediterranean flavors, things that are fresh with lots of garlic and olive oil and lemon,” she said. “I love that flavor profile.”
“MasterChef” pits home cooks against one another with judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and newcomer Christina Tosi weighing in on their culinary creations.
Saab moved to Seattle from Dearborn, Mich., three years ago with her husband, Hussein, a procurement strategist at Boeing. Amanda is a clinical social worker at Swedish Medical Center/First Hill. She took a personal leave of absence to film “MasterChef” in Los Angeles early this year.
Saab had never auditioned for a reality show before “MasterChef.” While watching the fifth season last year, the Saabs saw a call for open auditions and went online to find the closest location. It turned out to be in Los Angeles, so they resolved to travel to L.A. for the audition, which fell on the same weekend as their wedding anniversary.
When she returned to Los Angeles in January, Saab still had to earn her place on the show, which she did as shown in the season premiere that aired last month. Saab was so busy working on her food preparation that she didn’t pay much attention to elements of the show’s production that swirled around her.
“The biggest thing about the production was how smooth everything goes,” she said. “People ask, how did you feel with all the cameras in your face? Honestly I don’t even remember there being cameras,” she said. “I just focused on doing what I needed to do, and they were there and everything flowed.”
Saab grew up baking with her mother and grandmother, but she didn’t really get into cooking until after she got married four years ago.
“At that point I thought, I guess we can’t eat cupcakes for dinner so I’ll have to learn how to make some stuff,” Saab recalled. And so she did.
Saab started posting photos of her dinners to Instagram, which resulted in friends asking for recipes. Last July, she created the website AmandasPlate.com so she’d have somewhere to post and store her recipes.
“I learned a lot of things about web developing through this,” she said. “I’m fitting right into Seattle. I can hang with everyone here.”
Although she went on “MasterChef” for the cooking, she said on the show that she hoped her presence would “make all minorities in America proud to let them know they can do anything they put their minds to.
“Through doing it, I learned I was becoming a role model and being this representative of Muslim women,” said Saab, who is of Lebanese descent.
Nowadays, Saab sometimes gets recognized from “MasterChef” when she’s out in public. She continues to experiment in the kitchen, although her love of baking is taking a bit of a break for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which includes fasting from sunrise to sunset and runs through July 17.
“I definitely try to keep it light,” she said of her Ramadan meals. “We don’t want spicy food or fried food. We want something easy on the stomach, especially when we’re eating so late. I try to keep it light and fresh, which Mediterranean cooking is. I just have to ease up on the baking and not bake something new every day.”
With a cheerful personality that contrasts with some other contestants’ arrogance, her colorful hijabs (Muslimgirl.net called her the “first headscarf-wearing chef on American prime-time television”) and her diminutive stature — she’s just 5 feet tall and admits she “was on my tippy-toes sometimes” during filming — Saab has quickly become a favorite among the show’s producers and judges.
Whether she makes it to the end to win the show’s $250,000 grand prize, Saab is already making plans for her future. She’s back to work at Swedish part time while pursuing her dream of opening a modern Mediterranean restaurant.
“There are lots of great restaurants in Seattle I’ll have to compete with, but I don’t think anyone is doing exactly what I plan,” she said. Her goal at the restaurant she envisions is that for every plate served, another plate will be given to someone in need in the community.
“I think I’ll always be a social worker, maybe not in title, but I’ll always be one who tries to do good for the community and others.”