Forks up, Phoenix! Chow Bella and Roosevelt Row present the third annual Pie Social Saturday, November 3rd, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. We've got an all-star line up of bakers making pies for you to taste, and from now til Pie Social, we'll introduce them to you, one by one. We challenged each to make us a dish -- other than pie.
Today: Monti Carlo from Master Chef makes banana bread muffins.
Monti Carlo is not your everyday chef. She's not even your everyday person. From her beginnings in Puerto Rico to her cooking fame as one of the final five contests on Fox's Master Chef, the chapters of Monti's life could easily fill a book we'd all want to read.
But since she has yet to publish a book detailing her life adventures (though she does plan on publishing a cookbook for budget conscious moms) the best way to hear stories of Monti's trials and travels is by joining her and her 3 year old son Danger for a baking session in the kitchen -- which is exactly what Chow Bella did on a recent Saturday.
The directions to Monti's were pretty straightforward. "Look for the pink mid century house next door to what looks like a crack house. There will be a pink bike out front. That's my son's."
Right off the bat, we know our baking session with Monti is going to be full of laughs. While she's made a career in radio as an emcee, Monti has also gotten press for her performances as a stand up comic. And even though she's only been in Arizona for a few months, she's already made her mark.
The inside of Monti's house is cute and tidy, just like Monti, who's clean cut and casual in dark jeans, curled hair, black Ray Ban glasses and pin-up worthy red lipstick. It's late in the afternoon and Monti has just finished moving her younger sister out of the house. Monti is one of 11 children, which is bizarre seeing that she isn't the first chef we've profiled with that same sibling ratio.
"My father was like the Spanish Johnny Apple Seed," she explains. "He really wanted to sow that seed." Monti goes on to say that there are siblings out there there that she's technically related to but has yet to meet.
Her one and only son, Danger, pulls up a wooden step ladder and eagerly helps us in the kitchen. He's talkative and sweet, and you can tell that he enjoys doing this a lot. Monti encourages these experiences in the kitchen with her son. She fondly describes helping her grandmother in the kitchen and hopes to create those memories for Danger.
She hands Danger a dry basting brush so he can "paint" the counter tops while she gets out the ingredients for banana nut bread muffins. As she preps her kitchen she tells me the story of how she landed this whole Master Chef / baking gig.
It all started back in Seattle. Monti's career as radio emcee had really taken off and she was making a lot of money at a popular Seattle metro station. When she returned home one day she discovered that her personal life, contrary to her professional one, had taken a rather dark turn. A cheating husband led to a nasty divorce and lost savings, followed soon after by a lost job. Monti ultimately found herself a single unemployed mom living off food stamps.
Without decent funds coming in, going out to eat was no longer an option; and cooking had now become a necessity. Monti had to find a way to feed Danger (and herself) on just $10 a day. They frequented the dollar store, grocery sales, and used their food stamps at the farmers markets.
In a weird twist of fate, Monti found herself eating healthier and cooking more from scratch. Not only had cooking become a means to survive, it also turned into a sort of cheap therapy to wade through the shit storm that had suddenly become her life.
On one of her earliest visits to the farmers market Monti stocked up on a heavy helping of in-season apples. After eating apples for breakfast, lunch and dinner, she quickly realized that she was going to need to find new ways to prepared her bargain fruit in order to stomach any more of it - that's where the pies came in.
Monti coined her first apple pie after her ex husband, calling it, "I Hope You Choke Apple Pie." The pies were not only a great way to feed her little family but also a new outlet funneling some residual anger.
"I couldn't afford therapy at the time, so when I was cutting up the apples I would just pretend it was my husband's face." She laughs as she measures her ingredients, occasionally leaning over to glance at hand written recipe sitting by the sink.
Monti lets Danger do all of his favorite parts, cracking the eggs, using the sifter. It's messy and occasionally ingredients get thrown into bowls they shouldn't, but Monti just laughs it off and makes the necessary adjustments to fix it.
She goes on to explain how she ended up on Master Chef. In the beginning she wasn't looking for stardom, nor was she even looking for a spot as a main contestant on the show- she had never even seen the show. But out of 60,000 applicants, Monti had made the cut. Overall she talks about her experience on Master Chef with a positive attitude, although she admits she was surprised by the amount of trash talking that went on by other contestants in private interviews. "I was just there to have fun!" she says as she pours the now gooey muffin batter into the tin.
Danger begins licking the batter out of the muffin tin and Monti compromises by handing him a spoon. When he's had his batter fix, Monti sprinkles oats over the tops of the muffins and throws them into the oven to bake. We take a break in the backyard while we wait for the muffins to be done. Danger is on the porch playing with his toy trucks and Monti is showing us videos of some her old stand up routines.
Monti gives out laughs as much as she takes them in. She's edgy yet maternal, serving up freshly baked muffins and calling her son "dude." What was initially mean to be a one hour baking session has now turned into a full-fledged two hour hang out. And when we finally do leave Monti's house, to return to what now seems like a very boring life, one thing becomes very clear: This year's Pie Social lineup will be epic.
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Want to read about the other competitors? Brady Breese Makes Pumpkin Bread Joan O'Connor Makes Mediterranean Pasta Salad Monti Carlo Makes Banana Bread Muffins Mamma Toledo Makes Egg Sammies with Horseradish Cheese Slade Grove Makes Gluten-Free Amaretti Cookies Jeff Kraus Makes the "First Time Crepe" -- Nutella, Elderflower, Spiced Walnuts and More David Duarte Makes Peanut Butter Crunch Bars Winnona Herr Makes Butterscotch Bananas Foster Pudding