Four young chefs-in-training entered the competition on tonight’s second episode of the five-part Chopped Teen Tournament. But only one kid made it through all three rounds of mystery baskets, securing a spot in the grand finale, where he or she will have the chance to win $25,000 in prize money, a $40,000 culinary school scholarship and bragging rights as the first Chopped Teen Grand Champion, which goes pretty far when you’re just a kid in high school. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the teen-chef winner from Part 2.
Appetizer: jumbo shrimp, chunky peanut butter, jalapenos and sticky rice
Entree: frog’s legs, mafaldine, bok choy and lobster mushrooms
Dessert: black-and-white cookies, fruit leather strips, cashews and agave nectar
First round: Mikayla
Second round: Eyan
Final round: Lucy
Judges: Geoffrey Zakarian, Amanda Freitag and Marc Murphy
Dante came into the competition wanting to prove his doubters wrong and show that he could cook his way to the end. He did just that, using well-practiced techniques that impressed the judges. And when he had trouble in the dessert round, he turned it around by thinking on his feet. He’ll be back Aug. 12 to compete alongside Part 1 winner Jason and the winners of the next two preliminary rounds in the tournament.
How does it feel to win today?
It feels great. I feel like I trained so hard to get to this moment. I think a lot of people didn’t believe in me. And now I can prove them all wrong.
Did you practice before coming on the show?
Yes, I practiced a lot with my chef teacher. I practiced with him every day since I knew I was going to be on the show. He’d make me a basket, then I would train with it. And if I did wrong on that basket I’d get the same basket and try again. Also he taught me different knife cuts to save time, and also simple, versatile recipes using things like tortillas, egg roll papers or spring roll papers. You can put anything in those and make it work.
How different was actually competing than what you might have imagined?
People say time goes fast. It does! And also it feels that the kitchen is smaller than you see on TV. That thing is small! You really have to be careful when you go behind somebody. I almost got cut like six times by someone running behind me.
What was the hardest basket for you today?
The hardest basket for me was dessert. Because I think with the appetizer I knocked it out of the park. My entree was strong on my part, but I should have worked the ingredients differently. The dessert round was a little challenging, because some of the ingredients, like the agave nectar, I’ve never seen or tasted in my life. I didn’t know how to work it. And the ingredients themselves were very temperamental.
In the dessert round, you said you settled for the fritter, that it was your plan B. What would have been your perfect dessert?
I probably would have made an ice cream. And if I would have poured the agave nectar caramel over the fritter it would have been perfect. I think there would be no question. Because I think my compote was delicious. I think that’s the only reason that carried me — that I had a really good, composed dish.
In the entree round, you were the only competitor to debone the frog’s legs and mix them into the pasta. How did you come up with that idea?
I got the idea because I had the presence of mind to think that you would not want to eat a bone in pasta. I saw down the line everybody was doing the same thing. I thought I’ve got to be different. It took a lot of time to do it, don’t get me wrong. But I thank God for it, because that pretty much helped me. And as the case may be, I was a bit more relaxed in the entree round. Still, I did something different.
How did you first get interested in cooking?
When I was in sixth or seventh grade, my mom taught me how to cook big meals and I loved it. I go to a high school with a nationally renowned culinary program. Without those teachers I would not be here today.
What’s your strategy going into the finale?
Season everything. That is my strategy. I think that my first plate was seasoned perfectly — my curry was good. My second plate was not seasoned well. My third plate should have been a little bit sweeter, and that could have been done with a more-seasoned caramel. So, season more.
What do you think your family and friends will say when they see this on TV?
My family would say: “That’s my baby. That’s my man.” They’re the only people that believed in me. Even my friends, a lot of people in my school, didn’t believe I’m good enough to make it past even the appetizer round. I proved everybody wrong. I praise God for that.
Visit Chopped headquarters for the latest on the Teen Tournament.