While Gordon Ramsay is no stranger to Las Vegas (the dude has three eponymous restaurants on the Strip), Las Vegas-based cooks have remained outsiders to his culinary competition show MasterChef.
When Season 7 of the popular Fox program debuts June 1, six of the 40 home chefs vying for the MasterChef title—and the cookbook deal and $250,000 prize—will be local.
“I didn’t feel like I was a stranger in the competition. I felt like Vegas had a little alliance going in,” says D’Andre Balaoing, a bartender at Downtown’s Huntridge Tavern. “Nobody from Vegas had ever made the Top 100 or the Top 40. This is the first time you’ll see Vegas people on the show.”
The UNLV alum joined fellow locals David Williams (a professional poker player), Shaun O’Neale (a DJ), James Woods (a truck driver), Shawn Norris (a restaurant manager) and Will Staten (a karate instructor) in the MasterChef kitchen.
Will Vegas rise to the top and steal that final white apron? Six out of 40 seems like good odds, but we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, consider saddling up to a barstool at Huntridge—Balaoing says he’s trying to organize MasterChef viewing parties at the beloved dive.
How many times have you auditioned? Twice. I came in for Season 5 and I made it to the top 100, which I was really excited about, but I didn’t do as well as I wanted. So I decided to take a year off and become a better chef and sharpen my skills, and I came back for Season 7.
How exactly do you audition for a cooking challenge? The way the casting process works is, you bring a signature dish of yours that showcases you on a plate. Some of the judges and casting officials come and they try your dish and they ask you questions. They want to see how much you know about food. … I did a spin on Korean fried chicken. I wanted to bring some of my Asian heritage with soul food, so I did Korean fried chicken with a sesame-buckwheat waffle and kimchi syrup.
Did you know any of the other local contestants before you met them during filming? Vegas is a really small town. I didn’t know any of them personally, but I had seen almost all of the names before.
Are you hoping to parlay this into a culinary career? Cooking has always been my passion. I’ve cooked for as long as I can remember. … I’d really love to see myself in the professional culinary industry. I think it’s just a matter of time, though, for me to figure out where I fit. Some people might want restaurants, some people might want food trucks—but I’m thinking of going a different route. And we’ll see where that takes me.