Meet MasterChef’s Joe Bastianich: The Simon Cowell of the Food World

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Joe Bastianich was never supposed to become the Simon Cowell of the food world. He was never even supposed to be on television. The son of accomplished restaurateurs, Bastianich was always the consummate back-of-house guy, the one who counted receipts after hours and fired servers who stole from the tip jar. He prospered—he now oversees a 20-restaurant empire on two continents—but when he was younger, he lived under the shadow of two culinary giants: his mother Lidia, the matriarch of Italian food in the U.S., and his friend Mario Batali, the virtuoso front man for their restaurants.

Now Bastianich, 43, has become an improbable but compelling TV personality. On Sept. 4, Fox is set to air the third-season finale of MasterChef, which has quickly become one of the most popular cooking shows in the U.S.—and, if you consider its iterations in more than 20 other countries, probably the…

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