Four young chefs-in-training entered the competition on tonight’s fourth 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 4.
Appetizer: salsa verde, chicken breast, bundle lunch kits and blue-corn tortilla chips
Entree: buffalo tenderloin, rainbow chard, couscous, squeezable blueberry yogurt
Dessert: chocolate Swiss roll, popcorn balls, blackberries and gummy fish
First round: Antonio
Second round: Jake
Final round: Morgan
Judges: Chris Santos, Alex Guarnaschelli and Alex Stupak
Sequoia might have had a rocky start in the appetizer round, but she turned things around by finding her composure by the entree round. In the dessert round she found the freedom to be extra creative and fearless when putting out a dish that pushed the envelope. Sequoia showed the judges she could go from fearing the unknown to being fearless. She’ll be back Aug. 12 to compete alongside Part 1 winner Jason, Part 2 winner Dante and Part 3 winner Tommi Rae in the Teen Tournament finale.
How does it feel to win today?
It was all I’ve ever dreamed of, all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t think it’s anything I can put into words, how it feels; it’s just amazing.
Did you think you would make it this far?
After the appetizer round I thought that it was going to be me going home for sure. But once I made it past that, and got over my nerves, I felt like I had at least a chance.
How different was actually competing than what you might have imagined?
The clock is so fast. It’s the most nerve-wracking thing ever. You don’t really get the nerves when you’re watching the show on TV, but when you’re actually competing, it’s an unreal amount of nerves.
What was the hardest basket for you today?
I think the appetizer one. It just threw me for a loop even though it seemed kind of simple. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but my nerves made it so that I didn’t execute it that well. Overall it didn’t represent me very well. I’ll just blame it on the basket.
After you finished the entree round, you said you had more composure. Why was that, do you think?
It was really strange that immediately after the appetizer round, I felt totally elated, so peaceful. People kept asking me, “Is everything OK? Are you all right?” I was like, “I’m actually great.” I felt really ready to do the entree round, and even further on I felt really ready to do the dessert round if I made it that far. I’ve always felt critical of people who just stared at the baskets for a while. In the appetizer round, I just started cooking, because I thought that’s what I needed to do. But actually that’s the wrong thing to do, because it threw me for a loop. I spun around in a circle for, like, 10 minutes. I realized I just needed to look at the basket ingredients and focus and gather an idea really quickly. You can’t go anywhere if you don’t have a direction.
When Chris said that he felt your dessert was more like a bunch of garnishes, what was going through your mind?
I felt the exact same way. That round, I actually thought that I completely would have understood why I would be chopped. Morgan had a very composed idea. She had three solid components. She made an ice cream, which I thought was really smart. My dessert was basically a bunch of garnishes. His critique was totally right about how I could have made more on the anti-griddle or made a Napoleon.
How did you first get interested in cooking?
When I was younger, I used to make all these strange concoctions in my kitchen. I would put sauces together and try to make all these things, and obviously they never worked out. Then I started watching Food Network, and it truly taught me how to cook. It’s all I watched all day, just sitting on my couch. If I liked something I’d write it down, and then I’d go to my kitchen and try to re-create it. One time in the middle of the day I wanted to make a pear tart, and I added salt instead of sugar. It was horrible. But I’ve had this amazing interest in cooking as far as I can remember. When I was introduced to the culinary program at my school, I found my niche. I knew that cooking was kind of my thing from day one.
What’s your strategy going into the finale?
Well, Chris said it today, and I totally agree: I’m not going into Round 1; I’m going into Round 5. Of course the nerves will be there. With all these other competitors it will be a lot fiercer. I definitely know that I will give my best. That way, if I know I’ve tried my hardest, if I get chopped in the first round it will be a lot easier for me to accept. My strategy is just to try hard and focus, and that’s all you can really do.
Visit Chopped headquarters for the latest on the Teen Tournament.