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Tonight is the night for all food lovers out there, as the most epic season of MasterChef is kicking things off like never before.

The legendary trio of judges – Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Aarón Sánchez – are all returning to welcome and mentor a brand-new cast of the United States’ most talented chefs. This season, titled MasterChef: United Tastes of America, is unlike anything MasterChef fans have ever seen. The contestants will be divided into four teams based on where they are from regionally: the West, Northeast, Midwest, or South. In order to progress in the competition, they will have to work in teams with fellow chefs from their region. The twist showcases a much more strategic side of the competition than there’s been in past seasons, and it’s sure to create some fiery drama in the kitchen!

From cooking in Dodger Stadium to performing classic mystery box challenges, this season will continue to prove that MasterChef is one of the most fun, fresh, and enjoyable culinary competition shows on air.

Pop Crave had a quick chat with chef Aarón Sánchez to get the inside scoop on Season 13 of MasterChef before tonight’s grand premiere at 8/7c on FOX. Keep reading for the full interview!

Hi Chef Aarón! Thank you so much for chatting with me today. Now, this season divides contestants into four teams where they must work with other chefs from their region of the U.S. How would you say this twist amplifies the strategy and competitiveness of Season 13 in comparison to past seasons?

Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, look. At the end of the day, we all come from different places, and I think American regional cuisine has started to be appreciated and understood. The fact that we all have tried some family recipes, and then also regional recipes, everybody has their own opinion about it. I think that that is what’s contributing to the competitiveness. You know, everyone has a great fried chicken recipe, right? My mom’s enchilada sauce is probably better than your mom’s enchilada sauce, because she might put cumin in it or roasted onions with a couple cloves in it, you know what I mean? Those subtle nuances are very important to the success of the season. I gotta tell you, it’s gonna be fireworks!

This season looks like it has a lot in store, with a State Fair challenge, mystery box challenges, a tag team event, and even a trip to Dodger Stadium. What cooking trial or challenge are you most excited for fans to see play out this season?

To be honest, it’s nice to get out of the studio, but I love the skill challenges. I love to see it, because that’s a great barometer of how they are progressing. How they chop, how they shear a piece of chicken, how they season… are they gonna do something that’s just a safe dish? The skill challenges bring that out, and that’s why I like them. They’re a little bit more telling, you know what I mean?

The chemistry between you, Gordon, and Joe as judges is a big reason why my mom loves the show. Don’t tell them this, but you’re actually her favorite judge [laughs]. Is there a favorite memory or funny moment you have of being on set with Gordon and Joe for Season 13?

Of course! Well, first of all, I know Joe from New York. I grew up in New York City and had restaurants. My mom had a restaurant, his mom had a restaurant, he had a restaurant, and all that. I’ve known Joe a long time, over 20 years, so Joe and I have a funny rapport. But, you know, Gordon and I are the chefs. He’s like the restaurant guy, so we always give him slack about being the pretty guy in the front, and we’re out in the back sweating our whatevers off, you know what I’m saying? So, we’re constantly poking fun. A funny moment [at Dodgers Stadium], Gordon’s out catching fly balls, and I’m just sitting there… Fun stuff like that, yeah, fun stuff like that [laughs].

Courtesy of FOX

Along with the show’s core set of judges, there are also going to be some amazing special guest judges this season. Was there any special guest judge in particular that you were really excited to see as part of Season 13?

I mean, I love them all! It’s like picking between your favorite child, but I mean, we have Daphne Oz who’s my colleague on MasterChef Jr. And you know, you have Tiffany Derry who’s a fantastic chef from Dallas who does southern roots food. Then you have Graham Elliot who’s a prior judge on MasterChef, and then we kind of bring it home with all these others, and Susan Feniger from California… I just think it’s really neat that we think big and bold. That’s what makes MasterChef the best culinary competition show in the world, because we’re not afraid to ask favors from friends and colleagues that we admire. That’s what makes it so good, I think.

MasterChef has that reality TV magic! The show somehow never gets repetitive even after so many successful seasons. Being a judge on the show for so many years now, what do you think it is about the concept of the show that keeps fans coming back for more and more after all these years?

I think, to be honest, it’s that we have a beautiful and creative team that are there. And then there’s many factors. First of all, Gordon is an executive producer. You have a chef producing a culinary competition. It’s not a producer who’s never been in the kitchen, so that’s a big part of it. The challenges are realistic, and they’re curated by Gordon. You’re getting the real essence of what it is to be a chef. That’s one. The second part would be the mentoring, right? So, even if you don’t win, you still build the confidence of wanting to launch your own business. You’ve gone through master classes, you’ve gone through our critiques and mentoring, and so now you’re like, “You know what? I’m a lawyer but not anymore! I’m gonna open up my cupcake shop,” or whatever it is, you know what I mean? So, those are a couple of reasons why the show is so interesting and so engaging. We’re trying to make it something unique every time we do it.

The MasterChef: United Tastes of America premiere airs in just one day from now! What kind of meal do you think you’ll be enjoying as you sit down and watch the show tomorrow night?

Great question! I’ll be in San Francisco. I’m in New York right now. I think I’m going to have cioppino or a little crab. A crab, kind of seafood stew with tomato paste and pasta. I think that’s probably my plan tomorrow when I watch.

Wow! Unpopular opinion, but seafood is my favorite genre of food!

It’s the hardest to cook, by the way! It’s the most challenging thing to cook because it can go sideways real quick, you know what I mean?

Courtesy of FOX

Season 13 of MasterChef premieres tonight, May 24, at 8/7c on FOX.