When most high school seniors were busy polishing their college applications with debate team or volunteering at the local animal hospital, Ahran Cho was refining her skills on the set of Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef. A high school senior, Cho was one of the youngest people ever to compete on the home-cook reality show.
After her August 11 elimination (putting her in Season 5’s top 10), the South Korean-born amateur chef packed up her knives (and school supplies) and moved to Las Vegas. Last month, Cho embarked on another epicurean adventure: a UNLV hospitality degree.
What made you want to attend UNLV? The reason I chose UNLV was because of the hospitality program. I’m studying hotel management here with a concentration in food and beverage management. I just thought it would be really perfect with what I want to pursue in the future. After MasterChef I realized I didn’t really want to go into the culinary field, because cooking is more of a passion for me … I would rather pursue it as a hobby on the side.
So, what are you hoping to do with your degree? I’m really hoping that I can start up my own hotel in the future. And if not, possibly own a restaurant inside of a hotel, and kind of plan out the whole concept of the restaurant and the menu—not necessarily cook in it—but just own it and kind of oversee everything that happens.
How popular is MasterChef at UNLV? Are you being noticed on campus? I’ve had maybe like 10 people total. A lot of times they’ll tweet me and be like, “I think I just saw you walking around campus,” and I’ll tweet them back and be like, “Yeah, you probably did.” (laughs)
You’re living in the dorms. Have your fellow residents been asking you to cook for them? Yeah, definitely! They ask, but we don’t have kitchens in our dorms, so we can’t really do anything.
Many of UNLV’s hospitality degrees require an internship or work-study. Where would you like to intern? Actually, I just got offered a job at a restaurant on the Strip as a server. I think, for now, that’s going to be a really good start, because it’s a really nice restaurant. It’s Giada. … I’m really excited for that.
What made you want to audition for MasterChef? I was a huge fan of the show; I used to watch it all the time. I was watching the finale episode, and at the end chef Ramsay encourages the audience to audition if they’re interested. So I looked up all the guidelines and it said you had to be 18 by January 1, and my birthday was two weeks before that. … You also had to be an American citizen and I had just gotten my citizenship, so I felt like it was something that I had to do.
You were competing against people with much more experience, but you made it to the top 10. When did you realize you had a real shot at winning? There was an episode where I made a savory tiramisu and the judges really liked it. I was able to become team captain after that, and I think it was then that I was like, “Wow, I actually am a strong contender. I know what I’m doing.” And after that I was really convinced I had a shot at winning, but clearly not! (laughs)
When did you start cooking? I started cooking when I was about 8 years old. I would watch the Food Network all the time; I was so interested in just the whole concept of seeing them create a dish from start to finish. I wasn’t allowed to use an oven at that time because my mom was scared I’d burn the house down, so I’d use an Easy Bake Oven. I kind of worked my way up to be able to use a real oven.
THREE THINGS CHO COOKED ON MASTERCHEF
Spicy Asian seafood stew Episode 4
Rolled sponge cake with fruit cocktail Episode 6
Pork belly tostada Episode 7