A West Des Moines cooking enthusiast with a penchant for comfort food has found her way onto the summer’s top-rated food show, featuring award-winning chef Gordon Ramsay, chef Aaron Sanchez and renowned restaurant owner Joe Bastianich — for the second time.
Samantha Daily was a fourth-place finisher on MasterChef season nine, which aired in summer 2018. Fox invited her back for season 12, along with other memorable chefs from previous seasons for a chance to win the Masterchef: Back to Win title, a $250,000 grand prize, and their very own kitchen from VIKING.
Throughout the season are challenges including feeding the Coast Guard, creating a flavorful vegan dish, cooking for Horsetown cowboys and competing in the fan-favorite restaurant takeover challenge at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago.
Although Daily enjoyed her learning experience on season nine, she never dreamed of competing on MasterChef once let alone twice, she told Little Village. She and her college roommate were watching MasterChef season eight when a message popped up advertising casting auditions. Daily was dared to audition. The auditions in Nashville weren’t far from her location in Kentucky. When the day came to make the three-hour trip, the friends that were supposed to tag along bailed, but Mom came to the rescue and accompanied her.
“I just thought it would be fun to go through the process of auditioning,” she said.
Daily never expected to make it far on season nine, but to her surprise, she did a fine job. Before she knew it, she made it through the top 15, then the top 10. And even then, she still questioned her credibility to be there.
“To be honest, on season nine, I looked back on it and I was like, wow! I really had no idea what I was doing. I think honestly, what got me so far was my attitude. I was there to learn. I was there to have fun. I tried to be really respectful to everybody involved in the process. I wasn’t there to win. I was more just along for the ride,” Daily said.
Daily was eliminated on Wednesday’s MasterChef: Back to Win episode during a vegan dish round. She made a stuffed potato pancake with a vegan sour cream. She planned to add caramelized onions but with the realization that they were burned, she decided to not add them to the presentation. She admits the dish lacked variety and accepts her elimination, but she appreciates her “incredible experience on MasterChef.”
Who inspired you to cook?
That was mostly my parents growing up. When I was really young, my sister and I were picky eaters. And my mom got us in the kitchen cooking with her so that we would be a little bit more adventurous. If you see what’s going into the food, then you’re more likely to eat it. We took some cooking classes when we were kids, like a summer camp-type thing. And then when I was a little bit older, my stepdad, now my adoptive dad, came into my life. He and I connected through cooking because I like to do it. And he did a lot of adventurous things. Then in college, it was a cheaper way to eat. So, I started doing it for myself and my roommate. And then that became my friends. Everyone would pitch in $5 and I would do all the cooking and we’d have a big family dinner and it was awesome! So, it definitely started with my mom and then my stepdad-now-dad, and then my sorority sisters, and my roommates and friends in college.
Why did you choose to stick with cooking?
In high school, and in college, I was always really into science, which is why I chose to go to baking school because it’s a little bit more of a science. I like the preciseness of it. But I also like that once you know what the rules are, you can break them. And it’s just really relaxing. It’s really comforting. And once you get to a point with your cooking that you really know what you like, and how you like things to be made, especially if you’re cooking for yourself, it’s hard to eat out. I’m like, “Oh, I would have done something totally different.” But it’s always an adventure. It’s just, sometimes it’s exhausting to be on my feet all day but I really like making people happy. I like making myself happy. So that’s why I’ve stuck with it so far.
How did season 12 go for you?
So, obviously, I was eliminated a lot earlier than I was in season nine and it’s not ideal. I was hoping to make it a little bit longer. Obviously, I was back to win. But again, I was more there for the process and therefore to learn and to continue to grow.
But it wasn’t exactly the same. I still loved working with everybody. The competition was just a lot tougher. The expectations are different. Something I said coming off the show that they aired, and I still think it really holds true, is on season nine and seasons before they definitely judged based off of potential. And season 12 everyone had potential.
So, it really came down to the food and it came down to, are you going at the level that we want? And because I tend to stick with a little bit more comfort food, I was not doing 600 elements, I wasn’t doing all the things that they wanted and that’s fine. I wasn’t happy with the dish I put forward that got me sent home but at least I wasn’t proud of something that ended up getting me sent home; I would rather know where the mistakes were and know where the improvements could have been made than be like, “Wow! That was a perfect dish. Why did I go home?”
How was your experience working with Chef Ramsay?
We obviously had a little bit of mentorship on season nine. That was the premise behind that season. But then it didn’t stop there. At the end of season nine, he [Ramsay] offered to send me to culinary school. With that came lots of emails back and forth, updates of grades and where I was standing in the class and how far I was in the program. So, lots of communication. He’s a really nice guy. He’s really supportive. And he was kind of always just like, cheering me on from the sidelines throughout my culinary school experience.
My biggest take is no matter how big you get or how far you go. Being respectful to those you’re working with and those around you is a key to being a successful person.
What do you think is the key to being a successful chef?
The key to being a successful chef is to believe in yourself, that’s a big thing. Find out what you’re good at and get better. And don’t be afraid to be open to other people’s opinions and ideas as well.