When Cartersville resident Dorian Hunter tried out for "Masterchef" last year at the Art Institute of Atlanta, she was the first one in the door. But she wasn't feeling good and texted her husband that she was just going to leave.
“I was tired and still grieving my mom passing away,” said a teary Hunter in an interview Monday before Wednesday’s pre-taped finale. “My husband told me to stay and see this through. If they don’t like the dish, at least you tried. I see that now that I’m in the finale.”
She added: “It amazes me how when you walk out, you step out on faith, you just really invest in yourself and give yourself a chance, the sky’s the limit!”
[UPDATE 9/18/19 10:31 p.m. Yes! She won!]
Dorian is one of three amateur chefs vying for the $250,000 prize and training time with the judges. The 45-year-old textile worker is up against a fearless 22-year-old cooking prodigy named Nick DiGiovanni and a 32-year-old Army veteran and plating expert Sarah Faherty.
She said she started the show with very little confidence, beaten down by life’s travails. “I came in extremely subdued, questioning my ability,” she said.
But with each successful challenge, she found a way to keep going. Soon, she realized could actually win this entire competition.
While other cast members bonded closely, Dorian focused more on the prize: the win. "I kept the competition close to my heart," Dorian said, admitting that team challenges were tougher for her than individual ones. (Noah Sims of Epsworth, who finished fourth, said he respected Dorian's game play but they were not buddies during or after the show.)
“I kept my head down,” she said. “I observed a lot. There was too much on the line.”
During the show, she felt the closest kinship among the three judges to Gordon Ramsay, her biggest cheerleader during the season. Joe Bastianich? Not so much. But she took all their critiques to heart and tried her best to learn from them.
And Bastianich summarized her approach well during the critique of her final dish before the finale, shot in London.
The challenge focused on venison, a meat she had never cooked before. She basted her venison with cocoa butter. and added fingerling potatoes and rhubarb current compote.
“This dish speaks of you,” said Bastianich. ‘You’re consistent with your style and I think you are one of the rare cooks who can transfer your emotion, your actions into dishes that truly reflect who you are.”
Winning the show, Dorian said, will open doors for her and she said it’s a title that will be attached to her name forever, which is a good thing. The money is nice, she said, but being called “Masterchef” winner is more crucial.
Dorian said her cooking improved greatly after doing “Masterchef.” She takes more chances and has more tools in her cooking toolbox to play with. She is also willing to take more time to make dishes with fresh herbs such as lemongrass and fresh produce rather than rely on cheaper canned goods. She visits Asian markets more. Her two kids and her husband, she said, have learned to be more patient but are rewarded with even tastier food.
Epworth's Sims, a septic tank technician, just missed the cut, finishing fourth last week. I spoke with him as well because my first conversation with him was so wild. He is ambitious and quirky and opinionated. He is now traveling all over the place and said he has fans worldwide.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” Noah said. “Without question, it changed me, transformed my life. I’ve lost 45 pounds since the show is over. I’m in the best shape of my life.”
He’s writing a book about weight loss and organizing pop ups with other “Masterchef” finalists, including his buddy Noah. “I’m striking while the steel is hot,” he said. “I’m feeding the fire and working the seal.”
“Masterchef” season finale at 8 p.m. Wednesday, September 18, 2019 on Fox
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.