Meet the Food Network Star, Season 12 Finalists

Get to know the rivals competing for the ultimate culinary career.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Introducing: The Competitors

Learn all about this year's crop of hopefuls, and find out how they got their start in the culinary industry and what they're hoping to teach Food Network viewers.

Aaron Crumbaugh (Spokane)

Aaron, 36, grew up in a small town and spent a lot of time working on his grandparents’ farm. He learned to cook at the age of 5, when he would make meals for his family. Since graduating culinary school, he’s had a successful career in Chicago working in restaurants, and he's now in Spokane, running his own catering company. Aaron’s determined to go after what he wants, and he wants to be on Food Network!

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Ana Quincoces (Coral Gables, Fla.)

Ana, 49, is a former lawyer with 20 years of experience. She dreams of winning her own Food Network show, and she's confident she is the one thing Food Network is missing. Ana is passionate about showing viewers how to spice up their dishes with Cuban flair; she has written Cuban cookbooks and currently produces her own Latin-inspired food line. 

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Damiano Carrara (Moorpark, Calif.)

Growing up in the Tuscan city of Lucca in Italy, Damiano, 30, spent most of his childhood in the kitchen cooking alongside his brother. The two brothers always dreamed of opening their own business together, and they left the Italian countryside for California in 2009 to follow their dreams of opening an authentic Italian pasticceria. Sticking to his roots with traditional Italian recipes, Damiano wants to share his vast knowledge of Italian cooking with a wide audience.

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Erin Campbell (Woodbury, Minn.)

Erin, 24, was introduced to a vast array of food types during childhood but eventually realized that sweets were her calling, learning how to decorate cakes in her grandmother’s kitchen. After graduating from pastry school and working at a variety of bakeries, this California girl moved to snowy Minnesota to run her bakery’s flagship store. While she loves sweets, she also cooks flavorful comfort food, which she describes as “Grandma food kicked up a notch.”

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Havird Usry (Augusta, Ga.)

Havird, 28, took over his family business, running one of Augusta’s most-popular restaurants since the ‘40s. He grew up learning how to cook in the family restaurant and received a formal culinary degree from Helm’s College, where he graduated first in his class. With a focus on modern Southern cuisine, Havird creates fresh, modern dishes from staples such as fried chicken and shrimp and grits. Ultra-competitive, he won’t hold back when it comes to going after what he wants.

Jernard Wells (Atlanta)

With a wife of 16 years and nine children, Jernard, 37, has deemed himself “The Chef of Love.” He believes food and love go hand in hand and wants everyone to know how easy cooking can be — and how much excitement it can add to your life. As an executive chef, Jernard has traveled all over the world, including cooking for Tyler Perry, and has even published three cookbooks. Currently the general manager of a tavern in Georgia, Jernard loves to infuse any dish with his Southern flavors and a Cajun twist.  

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Joy Thompson (Thomasville, N.C.)

Amid owning a restaurant and bakery, and wrangling her five children, Joy, 40, has a lot going on. She draws inspiration from her childhood and manages to maintain a self-deprecating wit through all the chaos, creating upscale Southern food that looks good but also satisfies, such as fried green tomatoes and chicken and waffles. Joy is ready to teach accessible Southern cooking without any of the stuffiness.

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Martita Jara (San Diego)

Martita, 39, showcased her talent on Season 8 of Food Network Star. She began working in her family’s restaurant business at a young age, with her mom’s authentic Mexican home cooking inspiring her culinary passion. Martita's parents moved to the United States two years before she was born, and she credits them with her work ethic and perseverance. Martita attended a few semesters of culinary school, but most of her skills are self-taught. She loves to entertain and cooks with loads of Mexican flavor!

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Melissa Pfeister (Los Angeles)

Melissa, 34, trained for her whole life to play basketball, but when an injury ended her career, she turned to cooking for inspiration. Melissa now takes the everyday foods we love and re-creates them in healthy and delicious ways. Melissa moved from Ohio to Los Angeles to pursue her culinary dream, and she would love to combine her passion for food and sports on her own Food Network show.

Monterey Salka (Nashville)

Having deprived herself of culinary indulgences for so many years as a model, Monterey, 26, decided enough was enough and finally gave in to her one true love: food. Holding onto skills and confidence gained through trial and error as a chef and caterer, Monterey knows that food isn’t something to be scared of — it’s meant to be celebrated. Inspired by her unrelenting culinary wanderlust and her jet-setting past, Monterey has discovered that her best dishes are made from the adventures and flavors she’s experienced during her travels.

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Rob Burmeister (Staten Island, N.Y.)

Rob, 45, started out washing dishes 25 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. His culinary resume is quite extensive, and it includes his role as executive chef and owner of his own catering and private chef company in New York City. Rob would like to teach viewers how to use and combine meal leftovers to make delicious dishes.

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Tregaye Fraser (Atlanta)

A seasoned chef who likes to twist old-fashioned recipes with her own unique flair, Tregaye, 31, has a passion for the untraditional. She learned the basics at Le Cordon Bleu, but she soon realized that her love for cooking came from her youthful soul and love for fusion cuisine. A successful self-employed mother who relates best to a younger generation, Tregaye dreams of having a culinary talk show.

Yaku Moton-Spruill (San Francisco)

Standing at 6 feet 9 inches, Yaku, 33, was pretty much guaranteed to have the basketball world’s attention from an early age. But even while playing professionally in Europe, he couldn’t shake the fact that nothing made him as happy as cooking did. Born in Inkster, Mich., Yaku learned the art of the hustle, selling chicken dinners out of his dorm room in college to make money. Yaku draws his food philosophy from his Southern and Caribbean heritage, and he specializes in stick-to-your-ribs Latin American comfort food that's shareable.

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Visit the Star headquarters for more insider photos, plus video highlights and exclusive interviews with the finalists and mentors.

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