Atlanta’s Dorian Hunter, ‘MasterChef’ 2019 winner, returns to mentor season 11 contestants

Dorian Hunter in the "MasterChef" finale in 2019.  Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX.
Dorian Hunter in the "MasterChef" finale in 2019. Photo: Greg Gayne/FOX.

Credit: CR: Greg Gayne/FOX Dorian Hunter during the finale of "Masterchef" season 10 which aired Wednesday, Sept 10, 2019.

Credit: CR: Greg Gayne/FOX Dorian Hunter during the finale of "Masterchef" season 10 which aired Wednesday, Sept 10, 2019.

The new season debuts on Wednesday, June 2.

Dorian Hunter, the first amateur “MasterChef” winner from Georgia who took the crown in 2019, will be back on the show’s first three episodes as a mentor to the contestants of season 11.

She joins two runners-up from her season, Sarah Faherty and Nick DiGiovanni.

“Whether you get an apron or not,” Hunter tells them early in the first episode, airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 2, on Fox, “this is only a hurdle. You’ve already beaten thousands of people, so that’s definitely something to be proud of.”

Hunter, who won $250,000, did live appearances and demo classes across the country after her victory that aired in September 2019.

Then the pandemic came and shut all that down. Hunter pivoted, building a mini-studio and teaching Zoom classes online instead. Her husband Charles Turks, who has an audio/visual background, organizes them.

“We do mostly Southern cooking,” she said. “We do touch on French techniques. I have a class on June 6 on mint chocolate chip cake.” She said 15 to 25 people usually sign up.

“I have a core group that takes all the classes,” she added. “We have a whole production studio in my living room and kitchen.”

She said her cooking techniques have improved since the show taped two years ago. “The classes challenge me to be better and work harder,” she said. “My food has elevated itself even past the show. I’m proud of myself in the presentation of my dishes.”

This particular season of “MasterChef” was partially shot before the pandemic. Ten out of 18 episodes, including the ones Hunter appears in, were finished before production was shut down for seven months. The final eight episodes were shot in October and November.

In those early episodes, there will be lots of hugging, family members galore and no social distancing whatsoever. It will be interesting to see how much of that shifts when episode 11 airs later this summer.

Besides the three judges ― Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Aarón Sánchez ― this newest season will include a raft of big-name chefs as judges such as Curtis Stone, Emeril Lagasse, Jonathan Waxman, Roy Choi, Nancy Silverton, Morimoto and Georgia’s own Paula Deen. The cast over the first three episodes will be pared down to just 15 finalists.

In the first episode, Atlanta resident and Cuba native Alejandro Valdivia is seeking an apron. He cooks fresh herb-crusted lamb chops for Ramsay, Bastianich, Sanchez and Lagasse. “As a little boy in Cuba, there wasn’t much around,” he said. “It is humbling to just cook for the four of you.”

TV PREVIEW

“MasterChef Legends.” Season 11 debuts at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 2, on Fox.

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