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New Season of MasterChef Features Local Contestants

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Lynn Chyi, courtesy photo

Season 4 of Fox's "MasterChef" premiers tonight at 8 p.m. and audition hopefuls from the San Diego area, including Chula Vista, Escondido and La Jolla, flocked to the casting calls for the chance to cook their signature dish for acclaimed chefs Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot, and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.

Eater caught up with local Masterchef contestant Lynn Chyi, a food photographer and IT systems administrator who also works on the Sam the Cooking Guy livecast. Watch the first episode with him at a premiere party tonight at Pacific Beach's The Duck Dive from 7 to 10 p.m. and tune into next week's episode to see if Chyi or any other local folks make the top 40 cut.

What inspired you to enter the show?
I'd gone without high expectations of making it, it was just about trying something fun. I tried out for season 2 in 2011 and got rejected, so I was more motivated to do a higher-level dish this time around. I just poured all the eating and cooking experiences I've had since then into one place.

What was appealing about this show in particular?
If I was going to spend time trying out for a show, it was going to be the biggest one on television. I remember watching MasterChef for the first time when it debuted and thinking it could be the show for me.

What's your background in food?
Both my parents worked in the restaurant industry but I didn't really like to cook when I was at home. In college, I realized that food could be more and I think I just got tired of eating the same thing every day; generally when I pick up new things, I put everything I can into it and I'm really competitive, so I learned fast and started to put together nice dinners.

I've always been intrigued by the San Diego food scene, and I started by mixing my passion for photography with networking with chefs and doing some food photos for free to build a portfolio. Then I found the job with Sam [Zien], as the technical director for his online cooking show.

What's your ultimate ambition in the food world?
I want to help change San Diego's food media. I don't think I necessarily want to be a chef, but it's something you need to know. I'd really like to create a San Diego-based cookbook with my photography; something tangible that I can hold or put on my coffee table.

What dish did you first prepare for the judges?
I ended making a dish called Fall Scallops, with ingredients that I associate with the season; it was scallops with butternut squash puree, Brussels sprout chips and a fennel, apple bacon salad with maple gastrique.

What was your first impression of Ramsay and the other judges?
First seeing them was a frightening experience, but after getting to talk to them it was very apparent that they were just really curious about what I was cooking. They have to be critical, but they were actually very nice and supportive.

What'd you think of the whole reality show experience? Would you do it again?
The whole experience from start to finish was surreal. You know you're on camera but after a while you forget about them because there's so much going on. I don't think I'll believe it really happened until I see myself on TV.
· MasterChef [Official Site]
· All Eater Interviews [~ESD~]