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Tonight the four teen winners from the four preliminary rounds of the Chopped Teen Tournament — Dante, Sequoia, Tommi Rae and Jason — returned for the last fight to the finish line. They’d battled before and now they battled once again, but only one of them left with $25,000 in prize money, a coveted culinary school scholarship worth $40,000 and the title of Chopped Teen Grand Champion, the bragging rights of which are priceless when it comes to being just a kid in school. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the grand prize winner.
Appetizer: purple cauliflower, kumquats, coconut caramel cookies, octopus
Entree: antelope chops, red curry paste, ants on a log, rainbow carrots
Dessert: chocolate-covered crickets, frozen mocha cappuccino, jelly doughnuts, Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese
First round: Sequoia
Second round: Jason
Final round: Dante
Winner: Tommi Rae
Judges: Amanda Freitag, Alex Guarnaschelli and Alex Stupak
Tommi Rae was the epitome of grace under fire when it came to competing in the finale. Right after the appetizer round she became the last girl in the competition, and she fought hard to ensure herself one of two spots remaining in the dessert round. There she found a steady pace that caught the judges off guard but showed a quiet confidence. Her three courses revealed a deft grasp of Southern cuisine and also proved she wasn’t afraid to take risks. Tommi Rae is the first-ever Teen Grand Champion!
What does this win mean for you?
Oh my goodness, it means everything. I’m going to be able to go to college.
How did this compare to the last time you were on?
This was way more major. I’ve just won the huge grand prize. Last time it was the pressure to win so I could get to this point. And now I’m here. It’s crazy.
Which basket was the most difficult for you?
The basket that was the most difficult for me was the appetizer. That octopus was insane. Each basket had its points where I was like, “What is this ingredient even doing in here?” But the octopus really freaked me out. I’ve never cooked with octopus before. I’ve seen other people cook with it, but I’ve never done it until now.
After you finished the entree round, Alex G. said that it looked like you were holding back, that it looked like you were afraid, and you said that you had trouble coming out in full force. What do you think was holding you back?
I think the first chopping is always the worst and the hardest because it really sets you up: This is a competition, this is real. Sequoia is a great person and she’s very bubbly, happy and energetic. So she brought out that side of me more, because my other competitors were very serious. They weren’t singing Frozen with me. She and I were kind of on the same page.
Your energy level also seemed to dip in the dessert round. Ted even commented that you should be rushing to finish but looked like you were sauntering. What was going through your mind then?
Looking back on it now, I realize I was a bit slower than I should have been. I should have been faster but I was really just taking the time to enjoy it all, because that was my last time in the kitchen. And it’s been a super-amazing experience, and I guess I just I wanted to get it all in and take it for all it’s worth. But I think taking my time and pacing myself helped me out a lot.
What did you think of the cricket when you tasted it?
Oh my goodness, that was almost as scary as the octopus in the first round. The taste was mainly chocolate, but the texture was what really got me. It’s not the most pleasant. You feel every single leg and fiber. It’s not to my liking. The crunchy quality in them was what gave me the thought of grinding them up.
What did you like most about being on Chopped?
Everything. It’s not what it seems to be on television, this super-stressful race against time. But for me it was really enjoyable, because I got to meet some amazing chefs and really get all the experience of it. It’s hard, and you do have to race against the clock. But I think if you use your time wisely, it seems like there’s more than people make it out to be.
What are you going to do with the $25,000? Anything fun?
I’m going to Disney World and I’m taking my niece and nephew with me. I want to see their faces light up when they see all the Disney characters. I’m definitely going to get myself a KitchenAid stand mixer, because I’ve wanted that since Christmas. And I’m going to get a food processor, and probably most of it will go toward kitchen supplies, because I want to have the best kitchen ever.
What are your dreams for the future?
I would definitely love to have a restaurant, but not right after I get out of culinary school. I want to travel and really experience as much cuisine as I can, to get a full grasp on a lot of things. I love Southern homey food. It’s where I came from and it’s who I am. But I want to see what interests I pick up as I go along my way.
Visit Chopped headquarters for the latest on the Teen Tournament.