Atlanta’s Alejandro Valdivia provides spice to ‘Masterchef” season 11 cast

Alejandro Valdivia of Altanta in the “Legends: Chef Morimoto” episode of "Masterchef" airing Wednesday, June 23, 2021. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX.
Caption
Alejandro Valdivia of Altanta in the “Legends: Chef Morimoto” episode of "Masterchef" airing Wednesday, June 23, 2021. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX.

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

He is big on gratitude after growing up poor in Cuba.

Sandy Springs animal trainer Alejandro Valdivia is a picture of gratitude. He came to the United States as a teenager after growing up poor in Cuba, sometimes wondering what his next meal might be.

Now he’s cooking for his hero Gordon Ramsay on the latest season of “MasterChef,” which airs on Wednesdays on Fox and is thematically called “Legends” because big guest judges pop in like Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen and Masaharu Morimoto.

“Walking into the ‘Masterchef’ pantry is like walking into heaven,” Valdivia said early in Wednesday’s episode, the first one featuring the 15 chefs. “Here I come from Cuba, never been around this much food in my life. The colors, the smells. It’s unreal. It’s like you have this one chance and want to grab as much as you can.”

In the first episode that debuted three weeks ago, 40-year-old Valdivia cooked fresh herb-crusted lamb chops for Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, Aaron Sanchez and Lagasse.

They were impressed and gave him an apron for the competition itself.

In an interview, Valdivia said he considers himself innovative and capable of thinking on his feet. But he got tripped up during the first challenge Wednesday creating a dish with monkfish.

As Valdivia was cooking, Ramsay recommended he “edit” his dish and not overcomplicate things. “I hope I don’t do too much,” Valdivia fretted.

But he did. “My ambition shot me in the foot,” he said, as his dish was picked among the three worst.

He created a five-spiced pan-seared monkfish with creamed potatoes and leeks, mussels, broccolini, asparagus and cucumber garnish. Valdivia told the judges he wanted to go “all out.”

Bastianich said: “Going all out doesn’t mean putting everything in a dish and every technique you know. Going all out means presenting the best dish you could cook with refinement, ability and balance. This dish is the opposite of balanced visually.”

After they sampled the dish, Bastianich said if he had just eaten the potato-leek soup with the monkfish, it would have been “palatable.” Sanchez said the composition was “bizarre” and Valdivia cheapened the dish by blowtorching a cucumber.

Fortunately, another dish by another competitor Elyce Wooten of Chicago was deemed worse than his. So the Atlanta resident survived.

He said in future episodes you’ll see him get emotional multiple times. “You’ll see my cry,” he said. “I love this country more than anything besides God and my family.”

And he said he accepted the critiques from the judges. “I took it on the chin sometimes and that’s okay,” he said. “I can handle it and learn from it.”

As a child, he remembers opening the fridge and sometimes finding nothing in it to eat. He’d have to split a piece of bread with his brother as an entire meal for a day. His life did get better once he came stateside, he said, and he fell in love with cooking.

He enjoys preparing wild game, be it octopus, duck or venison. “I’m a big meat guy,” he said.

Valdivia ran a marathon in Atlanta 11 years ago, then the AJC Peachtree Road Race, which inspired him to move here. “I fell in love with the food and the people,” he said. He started a motorized shades business with a friend in Buckhead and now runs AV Dog Training.

“I’m living the American dream,” he said.

ON TV

“MasterChef,” 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Fox and on Hulu the next day

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