Fans of Fox's hit television series MasterChef know that the show searches for the best of the nation's home cooks and then lets them compete in a series of culinary challenges to win a cookbook deal and a $250,000 grand prize. The show's fifth season premiers next week and on Monday, May 26 the top 30 contestants will travel to Los Angeles to present their signature dishes to judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich.
Among them will be Phoenix resident Natanya Spears a mother and construction coordinator who says she'd considered opening a restaurant but never thought she'd end up on reality T.V.
"I just never had the notion that I'd want to do anything on the level on MasterChef," Spears says.
Spears, originally from Minneapolis, Minn., moved to the Valley three and a half years ago. At that time she was working in storm restoration and came to Phoenix following that fall hail storm that damages thousands of homes and cars.
She says she's enjoyed throwing dinner parties in her spare time, but never really explored the idea of turning her passion into a full-time career. The self-taught cook says she learned her way around the kitchen out of necessity -- as the older daughter of two girls with a busy mom, she just ended up doing a lot of the cooking.
"I kind of taught myself to make something out of nothing," Spears says. "That's sort of where the passion started."
But when it came to auditioning for MasterChef, Spears says she had reservations. Though Spears says she's done modeling and acting since she was a little kid, the idea of playing herself on television was an uncomfortable one.
Obviously, it didn't stop her from rocking the try outs.
Spears put out red wine braised short ribs with a white truffle oil potato gratin as her signature dish, even going the extra step to offer a palette cleanser with her dish.
"I love indulgent food but I don't like the calories that come with it," Spears says of her culinary style.
The home cook says she aims to prepare healthy food that doesn't sacrifice anything in the way of bold flavors.
"I didn't go into [the auditions] thinking I had a good chance," Spears says. But before she knew it she found herself moving forward in the lengthy vetting process. She can still remember the day she got the big call. She was at work.
"I got the phone call and I dropped to my knees and started crying," she says.
So far, Spears says the experience has been surreal -- especially seeing herself featured in the commercials for the upcoming season of the show. Though getting to meet the celebrity judges was also quite a thrill.
"I'm a huge fan of Gordon Ramsey, Joe [Bastianich], and Graham [Elliot] especially," Spears says.
It may come as a surprise to hear that Spears found restaurateur, winemaker, and food writer Bastianich to be the most intimidating of the three judges -- even more so than infamously shouty chef Gordon Ramsay.
"He came across to as as the sweetest guy ever," Spears says of chef Ramsay. "He is a genuine guy. Hard as nails."
Prior to being on the show, Spears says had a hard time taking public criticism of her food, though the experience has helped her overcome that.
"My favorite thing about the show is that it's home cook but we're on the level of chefs, some of us," Spears says. "That's what really drew me to the show, because it's just normal people who have a passion for it."
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You can catch the season five premier of MasterChef on Fox on Monday, May 26. Check your local listings.
For more information visit the MasterChef website.