West Des Moines chef Samantha Daily returns to 'MasterChef' to compete in an all star-edition
Samantha Daily pulled a bowl of pre-formed cookie dough from the fridge, chilled just enough to let the cookies stay plump instead of spreading out as they bake. She prefers melted butter instead of creamed so the cookies don’t get cakey. Just before placing them in the oven, she pressed chocolate chips on the top followed by a smidge of kosher salt. Halfway through the baking time, she rotated the cookie sheet so they bake evenly.
These extra steps are thoughtful added touches that Daily hopes moves her through “MasterChef: Back to Win,” the FOX reality show hosted by chef Gordon Ramsay that pits home chefs against each other. This Season 12 features former “MasterChef” contestants against each other for a $250,000 grand prize.
The 24-year-old Daily, who lives in West Des Moines, is no stranger to the rigorous demands of Ramsay, known for his brusque criticisms and biting barbs. He was her mentor when she competed on Season 9 of the series.
Samantha Daily competed in Season 9 of 'MasterChef'
Previously when she appeared on Season 9 of “MasterChef,” she was a senior at the University of Kentucky. “I was in a sorority and I would bake and cook for them all the time. I was a big fan of the show,” she said. When she heard “MasterChef” was holding auditions in Nashville, she decided to try out.
Daily flew to Nashville with her mom and made it through the first round of interviews, but then the producers didn’t call her back for a second round until she returned to Lexington, Kentucky.
She ended up on the show. Daily, who was 20 at the time, was the second youngest contestant to compete on the show based on a similar British version of “MasterChef.”
She cooked and baked her way through 20 episodes, recreating Ramsay’s crab eggs Benedict dish, making a dish with a mystery box of ingredients — walnuts, and cooking three filet mignons at three different temperatures. Some weeks she had immunity; others she landed in the bottom group, susceptible to elimination.
In Episode 21, she faced Gerron Hurt, the eventual winner, in the semifinals, and they traded wins, her with salmon, him with risotto. “And then it came down to the sticky toffee pudding, which is interesting,” she said. “It came down to baking.”
For someone who decided to audition on a whim, make it on the show at such a young age and come so far, the loss still felt like a blow to Daily.
“It was devastating not getting to the finale of my season because I made it so close,” she said from her apartment in West Des Moines.
Samantha Daily wins something better than $250,000
Even though she placed fourth, Ramsay has a better prize for her — tuition to the culinary school of her choice, paid for by Ramsay.
“He’s very tough,” she said of Ramsay, who was her mentor on the show. “I’m the same age as his kids, so I think he saw a little bit of his daughters in me.”
She felt like the offer to go to culinary school was Ramsay’s way of saying, “I think you would be really good in this industry and I want to help you get there.”
Daily returned to Des Moines before culinary school, sitting on the secret outcome for the show, and she worked decorating cupcakes at Scratch Cupcakery in West Des Moines and hosting at the now-closed Trostel's Dish in Clive before attending the International Culinary Center in Manhattan.
There she worked part time at pastry chef and former “MasterChef” judge Christina Tosi's Milk Bar in New York. She learned the secrets behind Tosi’s corn cookies, waffle cone pie and birthday cake, sweets that made Tosi famous in baking circles.
While in school, she remained in contact with Ramsay, who has seven Michelin stars at his 35 restaurants spanning from Las Vegas to London. She said she sent him her report cards and he sent a video congratulating her when she graduated.
Daily landed at WS New York, a members-only restaurant and lounge in Hudson Yards, working under Stephen Collucci, the executive pastry chef at the exclusive restaurant with ties to Wine Spectator. Executive chef Eli Kaimeh led the kitchen that serves American-inspired seasonal dining.
“Everyone I was working with had worked at Michelin-starred restaurant. So even though we were brand new, we obviously didn’t have a Michelin star, but we ran like a Michelin-starred kitchen,” Daily said.
Samantha Daily returns to Iowa
Once COVID-19 closed most of the nation, she returned to Iowa to work at The Bake Shoppe in Windsor Heights and learned the secrets behind Barbara's Champagne cake and then as a pastry chef at Aura Restaurant & Lounge in Clive. Now she has her own home bakery, a Daily Dose of Sugar, where those brown butter chocolate chip cookies are made.
A gluten-free monster, cornbread, Mexican chocolate crinkle and pumpkin cheesecake are among the choices that go for $3 each or two for $5.
Last year, she got the call to return to “MasterChef,” this time competing against former contestants. Filming took place in Los Angeles in October 2021, and the show started airing in May.
Of the 40 invited to return, only 20 won the live auditions that aired over the first three episodes.
The first three episodes brought 40 former contestants together to cook their way into the 20 who would compete. Chef Aarón Sánchez and restaurateur Joe Bastianich returned as well to challenge and judge the contestants.
Daily keeps rising to the challenge. She reinvented the dish that resulted in her first elimination. She made a dish using a mystery box liquor. She survived a team challenge cooking for members of the Coast Guard.
How she fares on the show is yet to be seen. “MasterChef” airs on Wednesdays on FOX at 7 p.m. CDT.