Catching Up With MasterChef Winner Kelsey Murphy

A woman in an apron
MasterChef season 11 winner Kelsey Murphy.

Kelsey Murphy may have nabbed the MasterChef season 11 trophy in October, but the Indiana mother of three still faces the age-old dilemma many other parents struggle with: picky eaters. “My kids won’t eat my cooking,” she laughs. “They just want the same stuff over and over.” Murphy’s 5-year-old daughter did, however, cheer her on to victory by watching every episode, and now calls her “MasterChef Mommy.”

A Chicago native and current Fishers resident, Murphy learned to cook by watching Food Network hosts like Giada De Laurentiis, Ina Garten, and Paula Deen. “I grew up in a family that had dinner together every night,” she adds. “Once I got to college, I became a food TV junkie and just started picking things up along the way. Cooking has continued to be my creative outlet, and it’s a stress reliever after work. I love being in the kitchen and playing around.”

Something MasterChef viewers may not realize is how long and drawn out the process of casting, filming, and airing the show really is. Murphy filled out an online application form at the end of season 10. A few weeks later, she got a call for an initial phone screening. Then came a Skype interview and a series of remote cooking demonstrations. “All the other contestants auditioned in person in a city, but that didn’t work out for me, so I was able to do everything virtually,” she recalls. “I kept making it through each new step every few weeks. It was about six months before I got the invite to actually come out to L.A.”

Filming for MasterChef season 11 started in February 2020, but like everything else, soon shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wound up being split into two blocks, finally wrapping up in November 2020. During the break, Murphy conceived her third child, which presented its own set of challenges. “I wasn’t that sick with my other two pregnancies, but I was on anti-nausea medication the entire time for my third,” she explains. “When you’re filming, the adrenaline kind of takes over, so I wasn’t really bothered by it. The long hours of filming—some days were 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.—the lack of sleep, and the poor nutrition were hard, though.”

As if pregnancy wasn’t enough to deal with, Murphy also suffered a fairly intense injury during episode 13, slicing off the tip of her thumb. “It was a bad cut,” she cringes. “They downplayed it on the show, but it was a major setback, and I couldn’t take any sort of pain medication because I was pregnant. It was really painful.”

Clearly a frontrunner throughout the entire season, Murphy took it all in stride, winning a number of challenges and continually impressing judges Ramsey, Joe Bastianich, and Aarón Sánchez with her culinary know-how, her flavors, and her plate presentations. “At the beginning, there was so much uncertainty,” she says. “You’re walking in with your plate of food and setting it down in front of the judges, watching them take that first bite. My heart was racing. Luckily, as the season goes on and we got to know them, it became less intimidating and we started to look to them more as mentors than as these mystical chef creatures. They really did want us to learn and do well.”

Adding even more pressure, MasterChef season 11 brought in a culinary “legend” each week for guest judging from a roster of master chefs that included Emeril Lagasse, Nancy Silverton, and Morimoto. “Cooking for Roy Choi was definitely a fangirl moment,” Murphy says. “I’m a huge fan of his Netflix series with Jon Favreau, and he’s doing so much advocacy in the food world. And Dominique Crenn was so inspiring because of what she’s been able to accomplish as a female chef. All of the women competitors especially connected with her and took a lot of pride in being able to cook for her.”

The women, in fact, rose to the top, with Murphy, Boston bartender Autumn Moretti, and Burmese home cook Suu Khin comprising the first-ever all-female finale. “We could not be more different as individuals, but we were so supportive of each other and all just genuinely happy to have made it that far,” Murphy says.

In the end, Murphy’s four-course progression of steak tartare canape, lobster/crab ravioli appetizer, crispy-skinned duck entrée, and blueberry lavender panna cotta dessert proved worthy of the $250,000 grand prize. She plans to use her winnings to support her family as she transitions from her current career as a physical therapist into the food world. A new Viking home kitchen is part of the package, too, which Murphy hopes to employ as a set for a digital platform to include her own YouTube videos and a TikTok account. “I was surprised at how much I loved being on camera, and how many people I could reach through that channel,” she says. “I also want to get more involved in the local food community, and to be an advocate for women and mothers, showing them what they can do and just inspiring them to follow their passions.”