Former islander can stand the heat, stays in ‘MasterChef’ kitchen

Watching their daughter on national television has proven to be pretty tough at times for Molly and Steve Greist. But not for the reasons one might expect.

Watching their daughter on national television has proven to be pretty tough at times for Molly and Steve Greist.

But not for the reasons one might expect.

No, it’s not the unpredictable scrutiny of über-chefs Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich.

“We don’t even get television very well. If the cat and dog move the wrong way, we lose reception,” Molly Greist laughed.

That problem’s been solved with the help of neighbors who have a VCR, though, and the Bainbridge Island couple haven’t missed an episode of the hit Fox television program “MasterChef”.

Good thing, because their daughter, Anna (Greist) Rossi is a competitor on the reality television show.

And for a while, so was the couple’s son-in-law, Anna’s husband, AJ Rossi.

The couple, who live in Boston’s Back Bay, were picked from more than 60,000 people who auditioned to be in the top 100 amateur cooks in the country and a chance to land a spot on the show, now in its third season.

Anna Rossi, 28, is a 2001 graduate of Bainbridge Island High. She recalled how she decided to try out for the show.

“I was just flipping through things and found ads that they were doing a national casting call Cordon Bleu (College of Culinary Arts) in Cambridge,” she recalled.

“I thought I better sign us both up. We weren’t doing anything that Saturday,” she laughed.

At the tryouts, they both cooked their signature dishes. He made his “very famous” roasted yellow pepper with anchovy puree and grilled toasts, and she made a butternut squash ravioli with crispy pancetta and wilted arugula.

The two dishes were a hit, and so were the couple.

“Round after round we kept getting call-backs,” she said.

During the top 100 competition, Rossi made a white clam pizza, using her mom’s 35-minute pizza dough. Her husband presented a “dirty lobster” recipe.

While AJ made it to the top 36, the couple had to part as he was eliminated from the show after he earned his coveted “MasterChef” apron. Anna is still competing in the show.

The show wrapped up filming in April, and Anna Rossi has been sworn to secrecy about where “MasterChef” will go in the weeks to come. During this week’s episodes, Rossi has made the cut to the final 13 chefs.

The experience has been amazing, she said.

“Everyone here knows how to cook. I feel just so honored to be among such talented peers,” she said.

“The filming schedule is crazy; 17-hour days on set and tons of cameras and Gordon Ramsay. He’s amazing,” she quickly added. “He’s every bit of intense, if not more, as he appears on television.”

Despite the pressure, the contestants have bonded through their ordeal, Rossi added.

“Both AJ and I agree; it was just immediate, this connection you have with people — whether your specialty is southern comfort, or California, (we’re representing New England) —you all share a love of hunger and appetite that unites you,” she said. “It’s been a dream come true.”

Rossi said managing her emotions has been the toughest part of the show.

“Your culinary life is on the line with every challenge,” she said.

Cooking is her passion, her love, and to have it pulled apart and examined is, well, hard.

“It’s part of the way I communicate and put my love for community or friends or family, and put that forward on the plate,” she said. “To have that scrutinized and really picked apart is really difficult.”

And there’s the race against the clock, as well. The competitions are timed, and the contestants have just one hour to complete the challenge.

Rossi said her usual style means moseying around the kitchen, glass of wine in hand, with NPR on the radio in the background.

“They give you about two hours less than I would like,” she said.

One of her greatest moments on the show came this week, after Rossi prepared her molten lava cake that’s been described as a bit of chocolate heaven.

One of the judges, Bastianich — the founder of such legendary restaurants in New York such as Del Posto, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, Lupa Osteria Romana and others — gave Rossi’s recipe his highest praise. It was “baking perfection,” he said.

“It made my life saying he would serve it in his restaurant,” she said.

“I could have died and gone to heaven right there,” she said.

Rossi probably could have died earlier this week, too, when she was recognized in public for the first time.

She was at her local grocery store, when she noticed a family of five that was following her around the store.

After about 15 minutes, one of them approached: “Are you that girl from “MasterChef”?”

Much to Rossi’s embarrassment, the only things in her cart was a precooked rotisserie chicken and a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

“The one day I’ve had mac-and-cheese in the last seven years,” she laughed.

Rossi hopes her appearance on “MasterChef” will lead to success in the catering business, and said it would be wonderful to create a space that could teach others the benefits of local farm-to-kitchen cooking.

Rossi currently writes a food and cooking blog, at, that extols the virtues of healthful cooking (and includes many of her recipes, some from “MasterChef”).

She encourages her fellow islanders back on Bainbridge to keep watching “MasterChef” to see what happens next.

“There’s never a dull moment in the “MasterChef” kitchen,” she said. “The story is still unfolding.”