Past favorites are ‘Back to Win’ in Season 12 of ‘MasterChef’

'MasterChef' - Cooking competition goes retro in Season 12

Joe Bastianich

There will be a better class of contestants — and thus a high standard by which they’re dishes are judged — when “MasterChef” returns for its 12th season this week.

Titled “Back to Win,” the new season that opens up Wednesday, May 25, on Fox, brings back some of the most memorable and talented chefs from the show’s history. In all, 20 all-stars from seasons past, including two “MasterChef Junior” competitors, will be given the chance to prove they have what it takes, facing the toughest challenges and the most stringent scrutiny of judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Aaron Sanchez.

In the end, the winner claims the “MasterChef” title along with a $250,000 grand prize and a complete state of the art kitchen from Viking.

“It’s like seeing familiar faces,” Bastianich says, “so you know the personality, you know the cooking ability. A lot of them shocked us in how much they evolved over the years. Some of them disappointed us but you get right into the meat of it very quickly because you don’t have that whole get-to-know-you intro period that’s very common on ‘MasterChef.’ So it’s like a family reunion, for lack of a better example.”

And these are all folks who have gone on to bigger and better since their last appearance, opening restaurants and catering services, appeared on television, written books and made names for themselves in the industry. So they’re full-blown professionals now, and the judges will view their creations through that prism.

“I stop judging and tutoring as I would an amateur home cook,” Bastianich explains, “and I start treating them like a line cook in my restaurant and that can be very severe. …”

“It’s just like I walked into my restaurant,” he continues. “I see a guy cooking and I see how he holds the saute pan, I see how he plates the dish, I taste the dish. I hold them to that professional standard – of a line cook who makes $22 an hour or $60,000 a year that’s cooking professional food that I sell for $30-40 a plate. That’s the standard.”

And those standards will apply as well to the former “MasterChef Junior” chefs, who for the first time will be competing as adults. For his part, Bastianich welcomed their youthful energy.

“That was the big shocker, too,” he says, “the juniors and sometimes bringing the level way higher than the adults. So that was great. It was interesting to see how far some of them make it. Very, very interesting variable putting the kids with the adults. It makes for a great dynamic.”

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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