Four San Diegans Make Top 15 on Fox's MasterChef | Part One of SanDiegoVille's 4-Part Series: An Interview with San Diego MasterChef Howard Simpson

Top Left Clockwise:  Lynn Chyi, Natasha Crnjac
Howard Simpson and Savannah Sturges
Photo by Greg Gayne/Fox
Copyright 2013 Fox Broadcasting

June 22, 2013

A formidable four people from San Diego have made it to the Top 15 Finalists on season four of Fox's hit cooking competition MasterChef. Howard Simpson, Natasha Crnjac, Lynn Chyi, and Savannah Sturges are all from America's Finest City and surpassed thousands of aspiring home cooks to solidify their spot on primetime television.  We recently sat down with these MasterChef hopefuls to discuss our glorious city and what makes it fantastic for food enthusiasts.  Check out SanDiegoVille's four part series of interviews with San Diego's MasterChefs.

Howard Simpson was (SPOILER) unfortunately eliminated from the competition this week (in an overly harsh fashion), but this former Army soldier and barback has a huge heart, lots of talent and passion, and hey, he gives a pretty good interview too.  So let's welcome Howard back to his hometown with open arms and cheers him for positively representing San Diego.
What do you believe San Diego's greatest asset/contribution to the culinary world to be? 

I believe here in San Diego our ability to obtain great, fresh and local seafood really influences the way we portray our culinary scene. Also the fact that we neighbor Mexico, San Diego has a tremendous amount of Mexican inspired establishments, which are very popular in the local community.

What are your three favorite places to dine in San Diego, and what dishes are not to miss?  

Oh how I love to dine in San Diego. I will have to say my three top places to go to are:  Tajima Ramen House - I always get their seafood curry ramen; Searsucker - my favorite appetizer is  carb free crab cake jumbo lump + Tabasco; and Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop - my favorite item is the California Surfing Burrito.

Howard Simpson taking care of business on MasterChef
Photo by Greg Gayne/Fox
Copyright 2013 Fox Broadcasting
What is your favorite San Diego neighborhood and why?

Even though I grew up in East County my favorite San Diego neighborhood has to be Del Mar. The beautiful beach, the people, the rad shops and bars, driving up the coast to lunch in Del Mar always puts a smile on my face!

Let us in on your favorite recipe.

I’m a simple guy when it comes to food at home. My favorite thing to make my girlfriend and myself is basil pesto stuffed pork roulade with garlic cauliflower puree and baked asparagus. That’s my own comfort food!

You said Chef Brian Malarkey is your primary cooking inspiration.  We can only assume that you've experienced some of his recent launches. Which of his restaurants has been your favorite and why?

Chef Malarkey, I believe, should be a inspiration to ever culinarian from San Diego. He has put San Diego’s culinary scene on the map. My favorite establishment he has opened was his first restaurant, Searsucker in downtown. The ambiance of Searsucker is just fun! You feel like your at your friends house having cocktails, it’s a very comfortable and unique dinning experience.

Where did you barback prior to joining the MasterChef competition?  What are some of your favorite bars in San Diego?

Before going on MasterChef, I was a barback at barleymash in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. barleymash is hands down in one of the best downtown experiences you will have when you come to San Diego. The food is amazing, the variety of alcohol is just above any other bar in town, and there is a DJ seven nights a week. What more can you ask for?

You say you make a "super awesome" guac?  What's your secret?

Oh yes my guac, I love lots of citrus and spice in my guacamole, so im very generous when it comes to lemon and lime juice - sometimes I add a little grapefruit juice. Also, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika for the spice.

You said your favorite type of cuisine is Mexican, and we know San Diego is a mecca.  Tell us about your favorite Mexican joints and your favorite dishes from each! Who makes your favorite California burrito?

In San Diego I believe you’ll find some of the best Mexican food in the most hole in the wall shops. The fact that we have taco shops on almost every corner, you learn to love certain places. Two of my favorite spots are more Americanized style of Mexican cuisine: Lucha Libre and Sombreros. I love their California burritos!! Lucha Libre is my ultimate favorite but I ditched class many times in high school to get my hands on a California burrito from the drive through at Sombreros in El Cajon.

We'll be publishing the rest of this four part series throughout the week, so stay tuned and keep rooting for our locals.  MasterChef airs on Fox network Wednesdays starting at 8pm.  For more information, visit the website at

Check out part 2 with MasterChef contestant Natasha Crnjac!