Season 12 of “MasterChef” is all about redemption as All-Star competitors from the last 11 seasons return to the show to see if they’ve learned from their past mistakes. For the first time ever, MasterChef once again opens the door to some of the most memorable and talented chefs in the history of the competition, including two Junior Edition chefs who are now competing as adults! Judge Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Jo Bastianich return.
After three battle-back episodes, 40 hopefuls were sifted into the top 20 finalists fighting for the MasterChef title. So let’s recap the returning home chefs, who are back for a second shot at the coveted trophy and associated prize of $250,000. Scroll through the gallery of participants above.
The Top 20 will face their first challenge in Episode 4, which airs on Fox on Wednesday, June 15 at 8pm ET/PT.
SEE MasterChef Winner List: All Seasons [PHOTOS]
Alejandro Valdivia: So that viewers hardly miss him, last season’s fourth-place finisher is back with a vengeance. You may remember him for his multiple appearances at the end, but I will always remember his challenge win in a week of nothing but Ludo Lefebvre was the guest judge. If he carries the same swing then he’s one to watch out for this season, which will be fun as fans in general seem to have a mixed reaction to him.
Amanda Saab: After returning after finishing 13th in the show’s sixth season, Amanda is (on paper) this season’s most unlikely winner. I especially remember her disastrous performance in the historic 100 of the seriesth Consequence. Possible placeholder maybe?
BowenLi: In this ninth season, the standout might only have placed 5th, but boy did he make a lasting impression. He looked like a front runner at first, but slowly moved down the ranks this season. Aside from that, his culinary creations almost always looked magazine-worthy.
Brandi Mudd: Brandi is likely the favorite to win this season, having finished 2nd in Season 7. She’s a MasterChef fan favorite, having won a whopping nine challenges with incredible dishes that looked delicious during her season. I particularly remember their cornmeal madeleine with bourbon caramel sauce, white chocolate mousse, and glazed peaches. I don’t know why this dish didn’t help her win. She’s a front runner for a reason!
Brielle “Bri” Baker: This Season 10 standout may have only placed 8th, but he went on to become one of the most popular contestants in the show’s history. My personal favorite moment from her MasterChef journey sounds like a foodie’s fever dream. Not only did she and her team win a challenge involving Joe Bastianich’s demonstration of a three-course meal, they also impressed him. It’s the culinary equivalent of growing your Grinch heart. If that doesn’t 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 couldn’t remember Season 8’s fourth-place finisher. Honestly, I have a hard time remembering anyone from that season. So I went online and saw something that reminded me strongly of her. If anyone hasn’t seen Whole-y Cow!, check out this special episode. In my mind, he lived rent-free because it seemed so easy at the time. Now I look at other cooking competitions and think how easy it is to create a dish with an ingredient that comes from a cow in 60 minutes and go wrong. But not for her, she won the challenge.
Christian Green: In Season 5, Christian placed 5th overall, which made me sad as 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 these spring rolls looked…not a big fan of dipping sauce, but apparently that was delicious too. I also remember his tendency to default fairly quickly, which doesn’t bode well for him.
Dara Yu: you want to feel old Dara took second place in the first season of MasterChef Junior! Dara is an amazing cook who lacks neither skill nor personality. It was pretty difficult to pinpoint a specific moment of their first season, but I finally landed on this gem: deep fried shrimp with scallop and shrimp wantons and Thai coconut curry sauce. She did that as a child, and at the time it seemed worthy to me to be with the adults. Lo and behold, she’s back in the adult competition and ready to continue her delicious trail of delicious dishes. Absolutely a candidate to keep an eye on this season!
Derrick (Peltz) Fox: Also returning from the sixth season of the show is that season’s runner-up. He had an extremely impressive run, but his performances in the final are particularly noteworthy to me. Who doesn’t 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 unseen.
Emily Hallock: The tenth-place finisher of season nine absolutely has the skills to stand out on the show, but also has a tendency to overthink and overcomplicate dishes, which is driving me nuts. Ironically, saying this, my favorite moment of hers came 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. Might be a contender if she can’t get into her own head.
SEE “MasterChef” Season 12 Top 20 Finalists
Fred Chang: When he placed 10th in Season 10, Fred made a memorable impression by winning immunity to a decent chunk of the competition. But that’s not at all what I remember him for. He excelled in a challenge where teams had to cook dishes for 100 VIPs and former MasterChef contestants and winners. Do I think he has a decent chance of going far in the competition? Yes, if his team’s winning streak continues. Without them he would be gone sooner rather than later.
Gabriel Lewis: When he placed seventh in season eight, Gabriel was one of my favorites. I was amazed by his ability to create one beautiful dish after another. He’s maybe the best at serving at any cook-off show I’ve seen. Saying that, I remember him for a special challenge. After being shown how to properly cook a rack of lamb in 20 minutes, he did a fair job for the judges and was deemed safe, but my family saw things a little differently. I still hear my grandmother now after seeing it: “How did that get approval? He butchered it!”
Michael Silberstein: In season 10, Michael finished 15th, which of course means the odds are already against him this season. Michael has his very own, very varied cooking style. I remember his ability to perfectly slice a whole chicken in five minutes. Are his chances of winning this season good? 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 effort to secure her place in the competition, where she had to cook three filet mignons at three different temperatures (well done, medium and rare) in 30 minutes. Again, it was unexpectedly engrossing and even I worried about her. She could be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Shanika Patterson: Shanika competed in season 9 and ended up placing 8th. She’s had quite a journey in her season, with mixed results. Her personality allowed her to stand out from the crowd, as did her love of cooking. I will forever remember her ability to make a banana cream pie in an hour that looked great but landed her in the bottom two. She is a wild card in this competition as she is very versatile.
Shayne Wells: Would you like to feel even older? Shayne placed 3rd in MasterChef Junior Season 5! At the same time, he made himself so popular with viewers that he became a fan favorite this season. Shayne had the skills back then and I would only assume he’s gotten better with age. My personal favorite moment of his journey this season was his pork dish in the semifinals. He will be the master of proteins if he cooks them as skillfully today as he did then.
Shelly Blitz: Season six represented! Shelly might not be the first person that comes to mind when thinking about this season, but in fairness she finished 9th. You may remember her incredible dish with a mysterious ingredient made from corn that looked delicious. I’d be shocked if she didn’t at least make the top 10.
Stephen Lee: Another recurring contestant from season six is his 3rd place. Stephen is one of my absolute favorite contestants as all of his food looked amazing. Of all the dishes, one dish in particular caught my eye. His team’s takeover of a Japanese restaurant will forever go down in history as a standout moment of the show’s run so far because it ran so smoothly. He’s one to watch out for!
Tom Walton: Not only is Tommy the most memorable contestant of the show’s sixth season, but of the show’s run so far. Yes, he only got 7th place, but his personality is just contagious. Regarding specific dishes that got me excited, 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 he’s taking you on this season.
Willi Mike: In Season 5, Willie placed 7th, but did so with some exquisite dishes along the way. There’s no denying he has the skills to win, but it’s time management that has been his obstacle. That being said, his ability to adapt to my all-time favorite challenge in the series still impresses me to this day. Imagine you have 52 unlabeled aluminum cans containing a variety of processed vegetables, fruits, meats and seafood. Make a dish out of it. You could see question marks in the eyes of some, but not Willie, who seemed to love the challenge. Its adaptability is its greatest strength.