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Get to Know the Contestants Competing on MasterChef Season 9 So Far

Get ready to root for your favorite contestant and drool over dishes you only wish you could make — MasterChef is back! Season 9 of the cooking competition will see 43 of America’s best home chefs compete for one of the top 24’s coveted white aprons.

More: 10 Reasons MasterChef Junior Is the Perfect Family Reality Show

But this year, there’s a twist. The contestants aren’t just competing against each other… the judges are too. Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez and Joe Bastianich each have only eight aprons to hand out. They will then mentor their team for the entirety of the season in hopes that one of their original white-apron picks will be the last home chef standing.

Just think of it as the culinary version of The Voice.

Of course, this undoubtedly means the judges will be more selective than ever. They want to ensure that the home chefs they give their aprons too give them the greatest chance possible to earn those end-of-season bragging rights. I mean, c’mon, we all know that Bastianich hates to lose at anything.

More: Cheryl Hines Stole the Show on MasterChef Celebrity Showdown

And so far, it seems the judges won’t be disappointed. Here’s what we know about the first crop of home chefs who’ve earned an apron.

1. Bowen

MasterChef Season 9 Bowen
Image: Fox

Prepare to get in your feels quickly, people. Twenty-four-year-old Bowen is the stuff good stories are made of. Originally from Tianjin, China, he came to the U.S. at age 15. In China, his father is a professional chef whom Bowen likens to Ramsay (“always yelling in the kitchen”). But Bowen’s backstory gets emotional when the young pilot explains that he was in a severe car accident nearly two years before, spending a year of recovery in the hospital. “MasterChef got me through it,” he says, explaining it was the only show he watched. *BRB, crying*

For Bowen’s dish, he made a dish called Lion’s Head meatball garnished with pickled radish. All of the judges raved about the taste of the meal, and ultimately, both Bastianich and Ramsay offered Bowen an apron. Through tears, Bowen accepted the apron offered by Ramsay — who said the home chef was, “a fascinating character.”

2. Emily

MasterChef Season 9 Emily
Image: Fox

This 28-year-old food research analyst (pictured above right) from Neenah, Wisconsin, has a few things going for her. Not only is her career centered on all things culinary — she calls herself a “food anthropologist” — but she has also traveled nearly every continent, sampling a wide range of global cuisines.

Although Bastianich was initially put off by Emily’s use of garlic and onion powder on her filet mignon, the judges praised the steak as well as her mushroom duxelle and fondant potato with red wine pan sauce. It was enough for Bastianich to offer her an apron if she could assure him she was worth it (which she did).

3. Samantha

MasterChef Season 9 Samantha
Image: Fox

Most of this 20-year-old’s culinary experience comes from cooking “hangover food” for her sorority sisters in West Des Moines, Iowa. However, her love for food stretches back much further to her family. But sadly, Samantha’s father was diagnosed with — and subsequently succumbed to — stage-4 renal cell carcinoma when she was a teen. Coming into the competition, she feels like her dad is looking over her.

Although all the judges thought the chicken portion of Samantha’s chicken piccata was cooked beautifully, they found fault with her potato purée and wine reduction. Sánchez and Bastianich both passed on the college student, but Ramsay saw tremendous potential in her — and it earned her one of his aprons.

More: Brunch Recipes Inspired by a MasterChef Junior Champ

4. Mark

MasterChef Season 9 Mark
Image: Fox

Oh, Mark. This cocky 19-year-old dishwasher from Rockport, Maine, came into the MasterChef kitchen and proclaimed himself “one of the most talented chefs in the room.” Having amassed tons of life experience working at his family’s restaurant, Mark claimed he didn’t need culinary school. Everyone seemed anxious to see whether he could back his swagger.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Mark’s pan-roasted lamb chops fell flat with the judges — largely because they were extremely undercooked. Ramsay seemed especially unimpressed, calling Mark “full of shit” and telling him to “man up a little bit.” Sánchez and Bastianich both also passed. Or, wait, did they? As Ramsay dismissed Mark and told him to come back next year, Bastianich offered up an apron. Plot twist!

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Also making the first cut was 34-year-old Miami, Florida event promoter Shanika, 34, who promised, “I cook how I look: bold, tough, daring.” That confidence (and some culinary skills) impressed Bastianich enough to land Shanika a spot on his team. Sánchez picked up a home chef named Julia, and Ramsay added a home chef named Sid to his roster.

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