They stole our hearts on America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation, and now Basil Maqbool, Corrina Sepulveda, and Rashmi Primlani are speaking about their time on the show, from their highlights to their emotional eliminations, and what it was like cooking for their ATK cast member idols.
ATK: The Next Generation Contestants Discuss Their Emotional Eliminations
Tell me about your experience on the show!
Basil Maqbool: The entire experience was amazing! Being a pharmacist isn’t really fun or exciting . . . it’s stressful. So getting to peek behind the ATK curtain—seeing the studios, the kitchens—as a fan, was awesome. I got to play chef for a few weeks in a really amazing kitchen. I got to compete in an area that I am passionate about: food. One day when I’m old, my grandkids will get to watch these episodes of Grandpa.
Corrina Sepulveda: I had the time of my life on the show, and I met so many people who love food just as much as I do. I got to connect with people that I would’ve never met in other circumstances that love food just as much as I do. Although I left earlier than I had hoped, I have very few regrets.
Rashmi Primlani: Having never even watched a reality show, being on one was an eye-opening experience. From the production team, culinary team, ATK staff, the assistants, and all the people who spent endless hours making the show successful (while still smiling and being kind to everyone around them, including us): bravo! Thank you to them.
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What was the highlight of your time in the test kitchen?
BM: Hearing Nick DiGiovanni call my dish “thoughtful, well executed, and expertly done” was amazing. When Dan [Souza] loved my karahi chicken enough to post a picture of it to his Instagram story, that was also pretty darn awesome. But ultimately, my highlight was meeting my castmates. I made some really great friends.
We all come from different walks of life, and our mutual passion for food and cooking brought us together. During our downtime we got to know each other, and not only did we discuss food and the challenges, but we discussed our lives and families.
CS: The highlight of being on the show for me was getting to learn from all of the judges. Meeting [host] Jeannie Mai Jenkins was a dream come true . . . she has always inspired me so much, and to find out she is so down to earth and really just wants people to succeed, it was more inspiring than ever! She told me I reminded her of herself, and not to give up. I’m going to continue to work on my confidence and make it in this industry someday.
RP: I have been cooking since the age of 12 and literally taught myself everything I know from reading books, watching shows, and experimenting. Being on the show reaffirmed my passion for cooking. Despite the cameras and limited resources (ingredients, serveware, cookware), I literally danced my way through every episode.
What did you learn from being on the show?
BM: My fellow castmates all brought a different level of technique and flavor to the table. We would discuss dishes, cooking styles, ingredients . . . it was great.
Take coconut aminos, for example. I had no idea what they were. Both Peter [Cardoz] and Brooke [Baevsky] used them and explained what they do with them. I had no clue what tempeh was, I didn’t even know it was food! Corinna told me what it was called and what it was made of.
CS: I learned that following your dreams is extremely important and how you present yourself is everything. I am very confident in the food that I put on the table; now I have to learn how to express that in my presentation.
RP: That’s the beauty of life—you can always learn something new every day, and cooking definitely always has scope for improvement. I learned to tap into my creative side more during challenges, especially with limited resources and tools for plating and cookware. I also learned something about myself: I enjoy teaching and sharing my knowledge.
Unfortunately, you all experienced an elimination. Basil—you went home on a challenge that asked you to cook a dish inspired by your hometown. What did your dish mean to you?
BM: My mom is an excellent cook; she didn’t just make traditional Pakistani food. She would always want to try new recipes and cuisines from other cultures. So growing up I tried lots of different foods. As I got older, I didn’t cook as much food from my heritage as I should. So in recent years I really started getting more interested in it. It reminds me of Mom, and reminds me of my culture.
I’ve started learning her recipes, recipes from others, and creating my own. America is a melting pot. Fusing the food and flavors of my heritage with Western techniques and dishes has become something I especially enjoy. It speaks exactly to who I am: a son of immigrants who was born and raised in the U.S.
I was most proud of two dishes from my time on ATK: my karahi chicken and my South Asian duo of shrimp. I cooked food that represented my heritage, and food that spoke to where I am in life now.
Corrina, you were cooking a dish inspired by beef Wellington when things went awry. What happened, and what would you do differently today?
CS: I couldn’t figure out how to use the ovens properly, and in the last 5 minutes I felt like the color of my dough was a little too light. I actually cut one open and I didn’t think that it was too raw, so I decided to put it on the plate anyway. What I would do differently is what I did in my redemption video, which is make the cuts of the dough a little bit smaller and have the temperature at 500° F.
Rashmi, you went home on a very difficult challenge that had you swap baskets of ingredients with your fellow contestants. You became very emotional during judging; what was going through your mind as you cooked?
RP: Working with leftovers is definitely a fun challenge we all have faced in our own personal kitchens. As a chef, educator, and mom, using food as a weapon goes against everything I believe in. Food is meant to unite the community, build hope and support. The rule of only being allowed five pantry items that included fresh and pantry staples such as herbs and spices seemed impractical to me and swapping a basket was unfair. My strategy was to run over cuisines in my mind and create balance with the unbalanced basket I had. Basically I wanted to create a flavor profile which showcased spice, salt, sugar, and acid in the limited amount of time we had, and to be able to present it well.
What was it like meeting your judges, the current ATK cast members?
BM: It was surreal. I’ve been a fan of ATK for years, and I’ve never bought a piece of equipment without looking for an ATK review first. All of the judges were absolutely wonderful. Getting the opportunity to meet and feed people who you’ve watched on TV for years is a cool experience. Everyone was so nice and gave genuinely constructive feedback.
Getting to meet Dan was a definite highlight. As a fellow scientist (aka, a nerd) I watched him the most on ATK. Even while giving you not-so-great feedback, he did it in a way that still had something to teach you, and didn’t come off as overtly negative.
But I don’t want to stop there.
Jeannie was an absolute pleasure. She was fun, friendly, kind, and truly interested in getting to know us through our food.
CS: Meeting the judges was extremely humbling. I had been watching these people on TV for so many years, and for them to taste my food made me extremely nervous. I wish I was able to shake those nerves off, because I know my food was delicious! At the end of the day, I have to remember that we’re all just humans coming together, doing what we all love to do in the kitchen!
RP: Meeting your culinary heroes in real life . . . well, my reaction in the first episode [when I ran up to Jack Bishop to hug him] says it all! I was also a tad disappointed as we only encountered them on set and didn’t get any time to chat with them and learn a little bit more about their lives outside of what is portrayed on screen.