Quick return for Atlanta’s Alejandro Valdivia on ‘MasterChef’ season 12

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Alejandro Valdivia in the “Semi Finale Pt. 2 - 3 Chef Showdown." © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX.

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MASTERCHEF: Contestant Alejandro Valdivia in the “Semi Finale Pt. 2 - 3 Chef Showdown." © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX.

Fox brings back the show May 25.

Sandy Springs resident Alejandro Valdivia made the semifinals last year on Fox’s “MasterChef.” He figured he could move on and maybe try to get his own TV show.

Then much to his surprise, the producers invited him to come right back for a redemption season that debuts Wednesday featuring 20 returning non-winners from both “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior.” He was the only one from season 11 to get the call.

“It caught me off guard,” said Valdivia, a Cuban immigrant whose emotional storytelling abilities and high-intensity cooking made him an endearing figure last season. “I was just starting to digest the season airing on TV. All of a sudden, I’m back in. But they don’t guarantee an apron. You have to battle your way back in.”

An animal trainer, Valdivia began season 11 in the bottom three three times in the first five challenges. He looked like Dead Chef Walking. But he took advice from the judges and began paring down his ingredients and simplifying his overly complicated dishes. He also slowed down his manic style of cooking. It worked. He made it to the final four.

“I came into the show wanting to showcase my cooking skills,” he said. “With Chef Morimoto, I wanted to show off multiple sauces and make fish two ways. All these things got me in trouble.”

He said his dishes now are much more simplified and allow particular ingredients, whether they are Japanese or Spanish or Italian, to shine.

Valdivia still does some animal training but is now focused on his culinary pursuits. “I am doing parties, pop-ups, private chef events,” he said, including a meal for Sean Hannity. He wants to start an online series of cooking classes and plans to eventually host his own TV show.

Coming back to Gordon Ramsay and his crew so soon after the last season is not to his advantage, he said.

“It’s a Catch-22,” he said. “You know how they approach judging but they also know my flaws. They’re looking for that and they just saw me so it’s all very fresh in their minds.”

But Valdivia loves telling his immigrant story, how he grew up super poor and came stateside to live a better life. So far, he sees himself the epitome of the vaunted American Dream.

“I can do anything I set my mind to,” he said.

ON TV

“Masterchef,” returns for season 12 at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, on Fox, available on Hulu the next day