Season 12 of “MasterChef” is all about redemption, when All-Star competitors from the last 11 seasons return to the show to see if they have learned from their past mistakes. For the first time ever, “MasterChef” is re-opening the door to some of the most memorable and talented cooks in the competition’s history, including two “Junior Edition” cooks now competing as adults! Judges Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich return.
Following three battle-back episodes, 40 hopefuls were winnowed down to the Top 20 finalists competing for the title of MasterChef. So let’s reintroduce ourselves to the returning home cooks who are back for a second shot at the coveted trophy and a $250,000 prize that goes with it. Scroll through the the gallery of contestants above.
The Top 20 will face their first challenge on episode 4 airing Wednesday, June 15 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
SEE ‘MasterChef’ winners list: All seasons [PHOTOS]
Alejandro Valdivia: Giving the viewers little time to miss him, last season’s fourth place finisher is back with a vengeance. You might remember him for his multiple appearances at the bottom, but I will always remember his challenge win on a week where none other than Ludo Lefebvre was the guest judge. If he carries that same momentum, he is one to watch out for this season, which is going to be fun since fans seem to have a mixed reaction on him in general.
Amanda Saab: Returning after placing 13th in the show’s sixth season, Amanda is (on paper) the least likely to win this season. I mostly remember her for her disastrous performance in the show’s historic 100th episode. Possible wildcard perhaps?
Bowen Li: This season nine standout may have only placed 5th but boy did he leave a lasting impression. He started off looking like a front-runner, but slowly moved down the ranks that season. Saying that, his culinary creations almost always looked magazine-worthy.
Brandi Mudd: Brandi is probably the favorite to win this season after coming in 2nd place in season seven. She is a “MasterChef” fan favorite that won a whopping nine challenges in her season with incredible dishes that looked delicious. I especially remember her cornmeal madeleine with bourbon caramel sauce, white chocolate mousse, and glazed peaches. How that dish did not clinch her the win I do not know. She is a front-runner for a reason!
Brielle “Bri” Baker: This 10th season standout may have only placed 8th, but became one of the most popular contestants in the show’s history. My personal favorite moment from her “MasterChef” journey sounds like a fever dream for any foodie. Not only did she and her team win a challenge centered on Joe Bastianich’s three-course meal demonstration, but they impressed him. That’s the culinary equivalent of the Grinch’s heart growing. If that does not impress you, just try one of her recipes and report back after your emotional breakdown. A contender for sure this season.
Caitlin “Cate” Meade: At first, I did not remember the 4th-place finisher of the eighth season. In all fairness, I have a hard time remembering anyone from that season. So off to the internet I went and saw something that made me remember her in a big way. If anyone has yet to see “Whole-y Cow!” watch this particular episode. This one has lived rent-free in my head because it just seemed so easy at the time. Now, I watch other cooking competitions and think creating a dish involving an ingredient that comes from a cow within 60 minutes can go wrong so easily. But not for her, she won the challenge.
Christian Green: In season five Christian placed 5th overall, which saddened me since he was my favorite. I will forever associate him with the pressure test that required contestants to make spring rolls with a dipping sauce, which he won. That’s how good those spring rolls looked…not much of a dipping sauce fan, but apparently that was delicious as well. I also remember his tendency to get behind schedule rather quickly, which does not bode well for him.
Dara Yu : Do you want to feel old? Dara placed second on the first season of “MasterChef Junior”! Dara is an amazing chef that has no lack of skill nor personality. Pinpointing a specific moment of her first season was pretty difficult but I eventually landed on this gem: fried spot prawns with scallop-shrimp wontons and Thai coconut curry sauce. She did that as a child and it struck me as worthy of being with the adults then. Lo and behold, she is back in the adult competition and ready to continue her delicious trail of mouthwatering dishes. Absolutely a contestant to watch out for this season!
Derrick (Peltz) Fox: Also returning from the show’s sixth season is that season’s runner-up. He had an extremely impressive run, but his offerings at the finale stand out to me as particularly noteworthy. Who does not salivate at the thought of lemon mousse in a chocolate shell with green tea cake and raspberry sauce? Derrick is my pick to win this season, obviously sight unseen.
Emily Hallock: The 10th place finisher of season nine absolutely has the skills to excel on the show, but also tends to overthink and over-complicate dishes, which drives me insane. Saying that, my favorite moment from her came ironically from a dish I hate. The idea of a fresh version of a Salisbury steak makes me nauseous, but somehow she made one that even I would try. Could be a contender if she does not get in her own head.
SEE “MasterChef’ season 12 Top 20 finalists
Fred Chang: Coming in 10th place in the 10th season, Fred made a very memorable impression by winning immunity for a decent portion of the competition. But, that is not what I remember him for at all. In a challenge where teams had to cook dishes for 100 VIP’s and former MasterChef contestants and winners, he shined. Do I think he has a decent shot to go far in the competition? Yes, if his streak of team wins continues. Without those, he might be gone sooner rather than later.
Gabriel Lewis: Finishing 7th in the eighth season, Gabriel was one of my favorites. His ability to create gorgeous dish after gorgeous dish wowed me. He might be the best at plating on any cooking competition show I have seen. Saying that, I remember him for one particular challenge. After being shown how to French a rack of lamb properly in 20 minutes, he did an adequate enough job for the judges and was deemed safe, but in my family it was viewed a bit differently. I still hear my grandmother now after she watched it going “How did that get approval? He butchered it!”
Michael Silverstein: In season ten, Michael placed 15th, which naturally means the odds are already stacked against him this season. Saying that, Michael has a cooking style that was all his own since it was much diversified. I remember his ability to perfectly cut a whole chicken in five minutes. Are his odds to win this season great? No, but America loves an underdog.
Samantha Daily: In the ninth season, Samantha placed 4th and did so while creating exquisite dishes. Saying that, I remember her most for her performance to save her spot in the competition where she had to cook three filet mignons in three different temperatures (well done, medium, and rare) in 30 minutes. Again, it was unexpectedly captivating and even I was worried for her. She could be a force to reckon with this season.
Shanika Patterson: Shanika competed in season nine, eventually placing 8th. She had quite the journey on her season, with mixed results. Saying that, her personality allowed her to stand out from the crowd as did her love for cooking. I will forever remember her ability to make a banana cream pie in an hour, which looked great but landed her in the bottom two. She is a wildcard in this competition since she is very versatile.
Shayne Wells: Do you want to feel even older? Shayne placed 3rd on the fifth season of “MasterChef Junior”! Simultaneously, he also endeared himself so much with the viewers that he became a fan favorite that season. Shayne had the skills then and I would only guess that he has gotten better with age. My personal favorite moment of his journey that season was his pork dish in the semi-finals. He will be the master of proteins if he is as adept at cooking them now as he was then.
Shelly Flash: Season six represent! Shelly might not be the first person you think of when one thinks of that season, but in all fairness, she did come in 9th place. You guys might remember her for her incredible dish with a mystery ingredient of corn that looked delicious. I would be shocked if she does not make it to at least the top 10.
Stephen Lee: Another returning contestant from the sixth season is its 3rd place finisher. Stephen is one of my all-time favorite contestants since all his food looked incredible. Saying that, there is one dish that stands out to me amongst them all. His team’s takeover of a Japanese restaurant will forever go down as a standout moment of the show’s run so far because it ran so smoothly. He’s one to watch out for!
Tommy Walton: Tommy is the most memorable contestant of not only the sixth season of the show, but the show’s run thus far. Yes, he only reached 7th place but his personality is just infectious. In terms of specific dishes that wowed me, I have three words for you: Bamboo Rice Jambalaya. It looked incredible. Do I think he will win? Probably not, but just enjoy the ride that he takes you on this season.
Willie Mike: In season five, Willie placed 7th but did so with some exquisite dishes along the way. There is no denying that he has the skills to win, but it is the time management that was his hindrance. Saying that, his ability to adapt to my favorite challenge ever on the show still impresses me to this day. Imagine having 52 unlabeled aluminum cans containing various processed vegetables, fruits, meats and seafoods. Make a dish out of that. You could see question marks in the eyes of some, but not Willie, who seemed to love the challenge. His adaptability is his biggest strength.