Joe Bastianich: Why I Decided To Leave ‘MasterChef’

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t really do anything. I just kind of fly here and fly there."

Joe Bastianich on 'MasterChef Junior'

'Restaurant Startup' CNBC Key ArtJoe Bastianich is walking away from the MASTERCHEF franchise to spend more time with his restaurants and family.

“MASTERCHEF is a huge time commitment,” he says.

“My daughter is going to college.  My son started high school.  I wanted to have some more time to spend with them.”

Joe, who overseas a small empire of eateries all over the world, has spent much of the past few years living out of suitcases.

“I hardly ever cook,” he tells me.  “I am usually in hotels eating muffin buffets!”

“One of the most satisfying experiences I have had in my life is the day of owning one restaurant — showing up in morning, writing the menu, putting the chairs down, greeting the customers, making them happy, finishing and having a glass of wine at the bar by myself.”

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t really do anything.  I just kind of fly here and fly there.”

But Joe isn’t ready to give up TV completely.

He currently appears as one of two culinary industry investors on the CNBC business/reality series RESTAURANT STARTUP.

“It’s not like the other restaurant [shows] on television which are like kind of fabricated catastrophes,” he tells me.

“This is a business show primarily about the business of restaurants and food and about making real investments.”

Joe, 46, shared more about the show — and his own very first restaurant startup —  during an exclusive interview with

How did you get your first restaurant off the ground?
I opened my first restaurant, Becco, in the theater district [of New York City] in 1992.  It is still open.  I lived upstairs in a brownstone.  I opened it for $110,000.  I had $30,000 of my own and I had to make a deal with my grandmother.  She gave me $80,000. I paid her back in 6 months.  And I have been paying her dividend checks for the last 23 years!

You worked at your family’s restaurant as a child.  Was it assumed that you would become a restaurateur?
No.  I tried to do other things.  My dad said, “You don’t need to work in the restaurant.  You need to have an important job like be a dentist or an accountant.” In the 1970s, being a restaurateur was like a servile, blue collar job for immigrants.

It seems like everyone wants to own a restaurant these days.
I can tell you first hand, having a successful restaurant is cool.  I am cool.  Chicks dig you when you own a cool restaurant.

But a lot of people don’t understand that it is a business.
And RESTAURANT STARTUP shows the underbelly of the business.  There is a reality to businesses and making money and what you have to do to be successful.  We discuss that and bring it to the screen — the good, bad and the ugly of the restaurant business.

I think this is a great hour of television because not only will you come away entertained, but you will learn something about the world of business, about principles or money, margin, how to make profit.  It is a life lesson that you can apply to many things in life.  I think it speaks to the popularity of shows like SHARK TANK.

What is the biggest mistake people make when trying to open a restaurant?
In the real world, people think that because they are a good host or a good cook that gives them the right to own a profitable restaurant.

Ego gets in the way?
Ego or a false sense of how good they are.

What do you think of Christina Tossi replacing you on MASTERCHEF?
I endorsed her whole heartedly.  I think she is going to be a great, great judge.

I am going to miss the MASTERCHEF family.  Gordon [Ramsay].  Graham [Elliot].  I am going to miss the kids on MASTERCHEF JUNIOR.  They were really fun.

Some of the kids told me you were their favorite judge?
Because I am the best.  [Laughs]  Look, I am a dad.  I have three kids and I just love working with the kids because of their unfiltered honesty.  They are not affected and not full of shit — which is definitely an attribute. But I don’t know why I would be their favorite.

RESTAURANT STARTUP airs Tuesdays at 10:00 PM on CNBC
MASTERCHEF JUNIOR airs Tuesdays at 8:00 PM on Fox

Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly