West is the Best: DJ TAY Becomes a MasterMay 27, 2022 03:26PM ● By Greg Jerrett
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Tay Westberry is a man of charm, energy, and talent with a capital Tay. His main claim to fame: becoming a top 10 chef on MasterChef season 11. Tay did not win the competition, but he won over curmudgeonly chef and show host Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay said on the air he felt bad seeing Tay go and offered him a chance to work in one of his restaurants for a week.
Tay was a fan favorite who won a bake-off judged by celebrity chef Sherry Yard with a restaurant-worthy pineapple upside-down cake using canned pineapple against the warnings of Ramsay and Yard. Westberry triumphed in that round, but was unfortunately disqualified in episode eight when he forgot his uni butter—a delicacy made from sea urchins—in a five-ingredient challenge.
Before MasterChef, Westberry was already known throughout Omaha. Notable as a local radio and event DJ, Westberry rocks the mic at 106.9 FM The Power Wednesday through Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. with DJ Alyssa Siebken.
Tay started on the night shift in 2013 and catapulted to local radio popularity, doing The Blackout with Ivan Alvarez from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. In 2018 he became the station’s morning DJ.
Tay would also sometimes DJ at events until 2 a.m. "I'd have to be up at the radio station by 4 a.m., so sometimes I'd just sleep there."
While known as "Mr. West" behind the turntables, he is "Chef West" behind the grill and in the halcyon days pre-pandemic, he would light it up on the side or at after parties.
"We used to throw ridiculous barbecues where I'd make brisket, pulled pork, and jerk chicken," Tay said. "That was a time to experiment and find out what people like. I didn't know what it was leading to, I was just having fun cooking."
Tay pointed to his father, Jimmie Lee Westberry, as his primary influence.
"My mom fed us to keep us from going hungry, but my dad fed us so that we enjoyed food," said Tay, who recalls how, in lieu of oatmeal one day, his father made Chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast of fried corn tortilla pieces cooked in salsa, sprinkled with cheese and served with eggs. "He cooked with different spices and took his time. I really got to experiment at a young age with taking food and having fun with it."
Jimmie Lee remembers introducing Tay to unique flavors while making French toast one Sunday.
"I decided to make them African, doing a couple things a little different, modify a batter, give it a name and have fun with it," Jimmie Lee said. "Tay's eyes just lit up, and he was hooked from there. He learned that one of the great ways to make people feel special is through cooking. It's a great way to entertain, and it's a great way to communicate our appreciation for people."
The pandemic shook up everyday life enough for Tay to give his first love a try.
"I couldn't DJ any more and I wanted to switch gears into food," Tay said. "That was my break. It gave me a chance to make my transition."
After auditioning locally, Tay's star was launched on MasterChef. When filming ended and before his season aired, Tay started "Not Just Omaha Eats" on Instagram. He tries different local eateries with friends, eating and filming in one of Omaha's most entertaining locations: his car.
While competing on MasterChef, Tay caught the attention of folks across the nation, but also in Omaha. Joel Hassanali, corporate executive chef at Best Bison restaurant, said he was watching the show's second episode when he was first impressed with Chef Westberry.
"I saw 'Tay from Omaha' on week two of MasterChef when he won the pastry challenge with Chef Sherry Yard," said Hassanali, who worked under Yard for four years at City Perch in Bethesda, Maryland, and in Fort Lee, New Jersey. "I saw something in him on the show, a unique passion that reminded me a lot of myself. And I knew there was so much more that I could teach him and collaborate on some things together."
After connecting through Instagram, the two met, and Tay officially became Chef West. Westberry is now lead prep cook at Best Bison, 163 N. 78th St. Omahans can expect great things from him in the future.
Find Chef West on multiple platforms, from Instagram to YouTube, by searching "Not Just Omaha Eats."