Life is a journey toward something much more than a trophy presented under a confetti cannon. We live for the memories that push us down and force us back up even when there is no one to give us a hand. Chase that journey, build more memories, have faith in relationships and be resilient.
That is what Samantha Daily, my friend, Kappa sister, and inspiration taught me. This year Sam left our Kappa sisters and beloved Kentucky behind, packed her bags and headed toward her dream.
From the start of MasterChef season nine, Sam was one of the youngest in the competition, but that never held her back. Regardless of a little push-pull with her confidence, she went into each challenge ready to cook her heart out, even in the “dreaded pressure tests.”
In the first half of the season, Sam floated in the middle with her consistently delicious and well-executed dishes, until she took on the cupcake challenge in episode 11.
When Chef Aarón Sanchez opened the lid of her dozen identical pink cupcakes, it was like the little girl inside me did a somersault and wanted to play with an Easy-Bake Oven.
The cupcakes were so elegantly pink and Sam was so careful to make sure each raspberry was nestled in tightly to a fluffy pink frosting swirl. The cupcakes were elegant, with two pearl sprinkles adoring the top and the “bull’s eye” plop of lemon curd in the center of each cupcake held the topping together, to the delight of the judges, especially baking expert and guest judge, Christina Tosi.
— MasterChef (@MASTERCHEFonFOX) August 2, 2018
Tosi also applauded the flavor profile of the cupcake saying, “It has been a long time since I have had a cupcake that from a flavor stand-point, is so incredibly well-balanced.” Fans at home were ecstatic and Chef Aarón hit the nail on the head when he said, “Your sorority sisters must be jumping for joy when they’re seeing this.”
Lauren Fleming, a friend and sister of Sam’s talked about the whirlwind of pride she felt for Sam after watching the cupcake episode.
“When Sam did really well during the cupcake competition, it made me so proud and honored to be her friend. She has an extreme talent for baking and she even baked my birthday cake last year (which as delicious) so it was amazing to watch her flourish in that challenge. I knew that it meant a lot to her especially from Christina Tosi, which is someone she idolizes.”
After episode 11, Sam got into a rhythm. She conquered one challenge after the next with grace and finesse.
“I was always humble in everything I presented,” Sam said. “I would be called up for the top three in a challenge and still say ‘I think it could be better’ and Chef Ramsay would always tell me how crazy I was and I needed to be more confident in myself. I really grew from this. Having a well-known professional in the industry tell you that, really changes you. Especially when he kept telling me that over and over.”
Sam conquered countless impossible obstacles throughout her experience on MasterChef. From struggling through the halibut challenge to making magic out of a family farfalle recipe with her mom watching from the balcony, Sam took in every bit of advice to make it to the final four.
A partner challenge led to her downfall in the semi-final. The final four home cooks split into two teams to present a dish for each of the judges’ mentors: chefs Daniel Boulud, Jonathan Waxman and Lidia Bastianich. Sam and Gerron presented lamb chops with rhubarb-blood orange glaze, ratatouille and swiss chard, but it was not enough to beat out Ashley and Caesar’s grilled pork chops with swiss chard, corn-mango salsa and tostones to secure a spot in the finale.
Once the guest judges sent Ashley and Caesar to the balcony, chefs Ramsay, Sanchez and Bastianich came back out to deliver Sam and Gerron the toughest challenge of the season. They had 90-minutes to make a three course dinner including spring risotto, pan-seared salmon and sticky toffee pudding.
Sam seared a perfect salmon, but Gerron created a more masterful risotto and sticky toffee pudding. If she had not forgotten to add gelatin to the mousse for her sticky toffee pudding, Sam might have made it to the finale. Despite her gallant efforts to save the meal, it was too late.
Gerron Hurt, 25, from Louisville, Kentucky went on to win the MasterChef title in the season nine finale. Sam was happy to have shared the kitchen with Gerron in her last MasterChef battle.
“Gerron and I worked closely to produce a show-stopping semifinal dish,” said Sam. “I am so proud of all we accomplished with that! For him to go on and win was amazing. I knew he was talented the minute I met him. He’s such a nice guy and an overall great person. He has grown so much in this competition so to see him win is amazing. It should give everyone hope that they can accomplish their dreams.”
When Sam was eliminated, she hugged the judges goodbye and set her apron at her station. Then, Chef Ramsay shocked us all. Ramsay offered to finance Sam’s lifelong dream to attend culinary school.
“She has achieved so much at such a young age so I saw her going home as another door opening for her and that door is culinary school,” Sam’s friend Lauren said of her sister being sent back to Kentucky.
In a final comment, Sam said, “I finally see a path for my life to take. I’m just waiting for the next spontaneous adventure to come my way!”
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