With six home cooks still battling it out on MasterChef, the kitchen couldn’t be hotter. For the rest of the Top 22, however, the judges put their dreams of taking home the “coveted trophy” on ice. 

We’re checking in on three of the season 6 contestants who left early. Guess what? They haven’t put down their knives just yet. Hearing about their experiences, two things are clear. First, if you want to make friends for life, audition for MasterChef. Second, even without a trophy, you can walk away a winner. (Though, admittedly, not richer.)

Veronica Cili Layers on the Love

You probably remember Veronica Cili for her flowing blond mane and vibrant, eccentric spirit. Despite flunking the Salisbury steak/TV dinner challenge, the Miami, Florida, beauty consultant continues her culinary adventures. She’s hard at work on a food blog, doing interviews, cooking for fans, and authoring a cookbook for her children and grandchildren.

I asked the head of “Cilipepper Nation” what she regretted not having the chance to show viewers at home. 

“I really wish I’d had the chance to show off my 43 years of experience cooking Italian comfort food,” she says. “I also wish I could have demonstrated my unique, one-of-a-kind desserts!

“I was eliminated the episode before the 100th episode.The challenge was to bake Christina Tosi’s birthday cake. The day after I came home from the show, I made a four-layer, 12-inch round, wedding-cake-sized, Tosi birthday cake for my four-year-old granddaughter. It fed 75 people!”

Nevertheless, she says, “I am beyond grateful that I was on MasterChef. Winning the apron [to make it into the Top 22] was my biggest achievement. All my life I’ve made things happen for others, not myself. I’ve lived to see my husband, children, and grandchildren be proud of me. They’re my biggest fans.” According to Veronica, that affirmation is as valuable as any trophy. 

“The MasterChef contestants built lifetime friendships,” she adds. “We share a special bond like no other! Even our toughest opponents became our dearest friends afterward. It’s really amazing.” 

Jesse Romero Offers upTrue Southern Hospitality

Call it the “TV dinner curse”: In a shocking turn of events, Jesse Romero went home on the same episode as Veronica. Since filming ended, the petroleum landman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has returned to his day job. But he hasn’t given up his culinary dreams.

“I don’t think my journey is over quite yet. I’m always sharpening up my skills and learning new things in the kitchen in hopes of being a big name in the culinary world. I compete in cooking competitions, often for charities, with my crew, TealTeam6. We recently cooked at a tailgate party for over 100 people, serving quite the spread.”

Like Veronica, he wishes viewers had seen more of his cooking chops. “I would have liked to be featured more in the two team challenges I was victorious in. I really feel like I led by example in both of those episodes.

A lot of on-the-fly education ended up on the cutting-room floor as well. “They didn’t show many of my conversations with the judges on TV. That was by far the most fulfilling part of being on the show.”

Jesse, too, made tight friendships. “Believe it or not, I talk to every single one of the contestants weekly. It’s really amazing how quickly the whole crew bonded and how strong our friendships are.”

And he’d like to be your friend, too. “I want all my fans to know that if you’re ever in Louisiana, please contact me. I’d be happy to show you southern hospitality and provide you with a nice southern meal.” Road trip, anyone?

Brianna Watson Wishes You Knew Her Better

It’s always hard to go home after the first elimination challenge of the season. This year, Brianna Watson and Mateo McConnell had the misfortune to bake poorly received apple pies. For the record, Mateo went home first. (Before you get all snarky, remember they both beat out thousands of other home cooks to win their aprons.)

Right now, Brianna’s back in Worcester, Massachusetts, serving as cheerleading coach for her daughter’s Pop Warner team. She’s also making plans to head back to California to pursue a new career.

Given her early departure, viewers didn’t see many of her talents. For example, despite the apple pie fail, she’s actually an excellent baker. “I also wish I could’ve been in the cowboy ranch episode. I’m a steak and potatoes kind of girl, and I know I would’ve rocked that team challenge.”

She spent enough time on the show to learn it’s not exactly the way it seems from home. “The timing surprised me,” she says. “When you’re watching it on TV, it seems like it goes on forever! When you’re in the kitchen, time flies by.”

Nevertheless, she had enough time to form tight attachments with the others. “I keep in touch with almost all the Top 22. They’re like my family, and the best friends I could ask for.”

Would she do it again? “I would totally do it again! I feel like it gave me the confidence to get out of my comfort zone and follow my dreams. I’m still pretty bummed I went home so early, especially seeing certain episodes. Since then, I’ve kicked myself into overdrive and made myself a better chef.”

Do You Have the Right Stuff for MasterChef?

If you’re a strong home cook, you’ve probably watched MC and wondered if you could bake that cake, saute that duck, or grill that steak to the exacting specifications of the judges. 

According to someone who knows — Jesse — it’s time to step up and show your stuff.  

“To all of the viewers who watch the show and think, ‘I can do that,’ go to an audition. You most certainly can do it. 

“It takes hard work and passion, and if you have that, then you should at least try out. I wouldn’t trade my time on MasterChef for anything.”

Why wait? Auditions for season 7 are getting underway in cities all over the country. Visit the MasterChef casting site to apply. 

MasterChef airs Wednesdays at 8pm on FOX.

(Images courtesy of Greg Gayne, FOX.)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV