February 8, 2023

Meet the 3 Chicago-area home cooks competing on ‘MasterChef’

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ByTracy Swartz From Chicago Tribune

Nik Stewart, a fashion model from the Cayman Islands, won the first season of “Caribbean’s Next Top Model” in 2013 and now she’s set her sights on winning “MasterChef.”

“I’m a very competitive person all around, so I feel like anything I do, I’m always competing, even if it’s against myself,” said Stewart, who lives in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

Stewart, South Loop resident Julia Danno and Midwestern University dental student Farhan Momin compete for the $250,000 prize with 40 other home cooks on Season 9 of “MasterChef,” which is scheduled to premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Fox.

After years of individual competition, the new season features a twist: Judges Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich each hand out eight aprons to castmates they will mentor throughout the contest. The home cooks battle for a place in the top 24 on Wednesday’s two-hour premiere. The rest of the auditions are scheduled to air next week.

Momin, who grew up in Georgia, attended Emory University and now lives in Downers Grove, said he has been a Ramsay fan for years.

“That’s my guy. In college, my friends and I would watch all of his shows on YouTube and wherever we could find clips,” said Momin, 25. “We all had our own version of the accent, and we’d just yell at each other in our apartment.”

Momin’s signature dish is a nihari sandwich, a take on a classic Pakistani curry, which is on the menu at his family’s Tava Indian Bistro in Georgia. Momin, a first-generation American, said he was raised in the restaurant business, but he decided to study dentistry because he believes it would provide a more stable lifestyle.

He said if he wins the prize money, he would give half to his parents for their retirement fund.

Stewart, 29, said she would use the money to go to cooking school. Danno, 43, said she would explore her roots and the culinary scene in Italy and donate some of the winnings to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Danno, a sales manager for a stone company, said her family didn’t support her pursuing a cooking career when she was growing up in North Riverside, but she decided to just go for her dream.

“The experience I’ve had thus far, it’s just been amazing. I’m glad I finally did it,” Danno said.

IMAGE: Local ‘MasterChef’ contestants
Sales manager Julia Danno, from left, dental student Farhan Momin and model Nik Stewart are the three Chicago-area residents competing on Season 9 of “MasterChef.” (Julia Danno / Farhan Momin / Zane Petty)

For more on this story go to: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chicagoinc/ct-ent-masterchef-nik-stewart-julia-danno-farhan-momin-0530-story.html

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