'MasterChef': Meet the 14 contestants

masterchef-contestants.jpgJudges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot have chosen the 14 hopefuls who will compete for the title of America's first-ever "MasterChef."

Throughout the season, the home cooks will undergo a series of high-pressure individual and team challenges from creating incredible gourmet dishes using mystery ingredients and identifying components in a complex dish to providing an all-American send-off meal for hundreds of U.S. Marines and catering a high-end wedding. The judges are looking for the contestant who possesses a refined palate as well as the right blend of skill, passion and creativity.

The competition heats up next when the "MasterChef" contestants enter the kitchen on a new night and time beginning Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.

The contestants are:

Sheetal Bhagat
Age: 37        
Occupation: Teacher
Hometown: Chicago, IL      

Cooking inspiration: My mom had the biggest influence on me. Everything she made used fresh ingredients; there was nothing canned or processed. I have carried her philosophy of healthy eating using only pure fresh ingredients into my cooking today.


Tony Carbone
Age: 31
Occupation: Server
Hometown: Boston, MA     

Cooking inspiration: My mother and grandmother. They spoiled me with great food growing up, so I knew that when I got older if I wanted to keep eating as good as I did growing up, then I'd need to learn to cook like them.


Jake Gandolfo
Age: 38
Occupation: Construction Worker
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA      

Cooking inspiration: My mother and Julia Child. Some of my earliest memories are of standing on a stool and canning vegetables from the family garden with my mom while watching "The French Chef" on television.


Sharone Hakman
Age: 28
Occupation: Financial Advisor
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA     

Cooking inspiration: I'd have to say I inspired myself. When I was a kid, my mother was not part of our lives, and my dad was always working to support us. When my grandma wasn't around, I had to go into our fridge and make something out of nothing. I taught myself how to create dishes at a very young age. This "survival" mode was how I started out, but cooking then became a creative outlet that I haven't been able to stop since.


Jenna Hamiter
Age: 23
Occupation: Homemaker
Hometown: Euless, TX     

Cooking inspiration: My 85-year-old grandmother, who is a successful homemaker with nine children and 25 grandchildren. She's has always been the gracious hostess, turning out spectacular desserts and parties for decades. I am thankful and privileged to still enjoy moments with her in the kitchen.


Kim Dung "Slim" Huynh
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Hometown: Harvey, LA     

Cooking inspiration: My mom. As a child, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen trying to see over the stove to find out what she was cooking.


Faruq Jenkins
Age: 30
Occupation: Bartender
Hometown: Glendale, CA     

Cooking inspiration: My mother and grandmother. My fondest memories of the holidays are staying up late and waking up early to help cook. The time I was able to spend with them in the kitchen was priceless.


Mike Kim
Age: 34
Occupation: Server
Hometown: Redondo Beach, CA      

Cooking inspiration: While my parents were instrumental in inspiring me to cook, fishing also played an important role. I started deep-sea fishing when I moved to California, and as I encountered a plethora of the freshest fish imaginable - from Yellowtail to Pacific Sheepshead and more - my understanding, passion and inspiration for cooking reached a whole new level.


Lee Knaz
Age: 27
Occupation: Bartender
Hometown: Venice, CA      

Cooking inspiration: I grew up in a family of non-cooks, but growing up in Israel I would watch hours of cooking shows. My first memories are of satellite-broadcasted French channels that would air cooking shows with Joël Robuchon and Jacques Pépin. I didn't understand a word they were saying, but I was completely fascinated by them.


David Miller
Age: 29
Occupation: Software Engineer
Hometown: Newton Centre, MA     

Cooking inspiration: My mother. I always loved helping her in the kitchen - whether it was doing prep work, making gravy or doing dishes. As a teenager, I was vegetarian, and my mom accommodated that - she loves making people happy through food.


Whitney Miller

Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Hometown: Poplarville, MS      

Cooking inspiration: My great-grandmother. My family would eat lunch at her house every Sunday when I was younger. I spent hours watching her make homemade biscuits, seafood gumbo, lemon meringue pies and countless other Southern favorites.


Tracy Nailor
Age: 42
Occupation: Doctor
Currently Resides: Atlanta, GA      

Cooking inspiration: My mother is the person who taught me the fundamentals of cooking. When I create a dish or prepare a family favorite, I am carrying on her legacy and honoring her memory by doing something she loved. I am grateful we were able to share that time.


Avis White
Age: 47
Occupation: Elderly Caregiver
Currently Resides: Vacherie, LA      

Cooking Inspiration: My grandmother always instilled in me the importance of family. She also felt it was important that I knew how to cook, clean, pay bills, and take care of myself at a young age. The one thing she wanted me to be really good at was cooking and baking, so she spent countless hours teaching me how to do just that. I am so grateful for those life lessons because it has made me the great cook that I am.


Sheena Zadeh
Age: 26
Occupation: Marketing Executive
Hometown: Anaheim, CA     

Cooking Inspiration: My first urge to cook came from watching cooking shows on television, but I was truly inspired to cook when I saw the smile on my dad's face the first time I put dinner on the table for my family.

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Photo credit: FOX

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