LINCOLN PARK — Chicago's two contestants on Wednesday night's premiere of "MasterChef" come from very different backgrounds.
One is a fashion designer at the Art Institute of Chicago and the other left a career as a medical device salesman to test his hand in the kitchen.
Viewers might recognize fashion designer Tommy Walton from his numerous stints on Chicago's "Check, Please!" including the show's all-stars episode.
Walton was also a finalist to become the host of "Check, Please!" You can view his audition tape below.
During the past 20 years of teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Walton has been crafting his cooking skills at home. He feels like he is finally ready to let them shine.
"What a lot of people don't know is that I was always very interested in cooking from a young age," Walton said. "I came from a big family of Creole cooks."
Walton, who is well known in Chicago for his style, has taught fashion design in five countries including Holland, Belgium, Brazil and Argentina.
Those travels, as well as his memory, have translated into the kitchen.
"I've got this incredible palate from traveling so much and have sensory memory of remembering everything I've tasted," he said. "I can remember tables of food from 20 years ago down to what everyone ate at a birthday party."
The season premiere of the show is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday on Fox.
Walton, a 52-year-old resident of the Loop, said the experience on the show cooking for Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi has been a dream.
"To have them as your mentors is a dream, it really is," Walton said. "My cooking skill has notched itself up to the level deemed appropriate for one of [Ramsay's] restaurants ... it is totally a revelation to me."
Chicago's other contestant, 29-year-old Nate Love, honed his cooking skills hosting dinner parties for friends.
Love, who lives in Lincoln Park, sold medical devices for the past six years, but had always been interested in cooking.
About seven years ago he hosted his first dinner party for friends. Those parties have gotten more and more extravagant.
"We started off with basically chicken and trying to get that down right. And over time it's gotten a lot better," Love said.
Some of his favorite shops to go to include neighborhood staples Gepperth's Meat Market and Dirk's Fish Shop.
"A lot of females talk about buying purses," Love said. "I like going to the grocery store, the meat market."
After coming back from L.A. to film the show, Love decided to leave his former sales job and has been working as a restaurant technology consultant in Chicago.
"I wasn't really passionate about it, and food and dining has been something I've just always loved to do," he said.
Competing with 39 of the other top homecooks in America gave him a new outlook on life.
"It gave me the confidence to know my cooking skills are on par or better than a lot of my peers that I was even going against," Love said. "Coming back I knew I wanted to be in or around food in some capacity."
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