Sunday Sitdown: Addison Smith, 10, on winning ‘MasterChef Junior’
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Addison Osta Smith has been cooking for as long as she can remember. The 10-year-old from River Forest says she started whisking up pancakes and doing waffles since she was 2 or 3. In January — she was still 9 then — the Roosevelt Middle School fifth-grader was crowned “MasterChef Junior” champ on the hit reality TV show, beating the 24 competitors who ultimately made it to the Fox series out of thousands of hopefuls. She’s the first girl to win the cooking competition hosted and judged by celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi, who described Addison’s cooking as everything from “elevated Midwest comfort food” to “sophisticated entrees with Asian flair.”
Her winning three-course menu included a sophisticated sake shrimp appetizer with seaweed and sea bean salad, a miso black cod entree with shiitake mushrooms in coconut-ginger broth and, for dessert, a green tea panna cotta with bruleed plums.
The budding chef spoke with the Sun-Times’ Miriam Di Nunzio about her passion for kitchen creations.
“My mom called me after school one day and said she saw an open casting call for ‘Master Chef Junior’ and asked if I wanted to go. And I started screaming that I wanted to go. I absolutely knew I had to go.
“I love that there’s a freedom in cooking. There’s so many things you can do. You don’t have to stick with two ingredients. You can cook with hundreds of different ingredients. You can experiment. It might work or it might not. But most of the time it works.
“On Saturdays, me and my sister would plan a meal and cook outside when we lived in Oakland. So we’d have brunch outside and help our parents make all the food. My sister loves to cook as well. She loves to help me and taste everything. She’s my official food taster.”
“My mom, who’s Italian, taught me a lot of recipes from her family. She taught me how to make pesto, which has become one of my specialties. She taught me how to make my dad’s birthday cake, which I make every year. She taught me how to make different lasagnas and enchiladas and salads with so many cool ingredients. From my dad, I learned just about everything about cooking. One of the key things he taught me is how to marinate and cook meat and cook a lot of different things on the grill. I learned a lot off of YouTube, too. I’d go to YouTube and see this cool cooking tutorial, and I’d want to make that dish. My dad would take me to the grocery store for the ingredients, and we’d come home and make it together.
“Prepping ingredients gives me time to think about what I want do with them. For example, if I’m cutting up radishes, I start thinking about what I can do with them. But I’m also concentrating on making them all the same size and shape because that’s so important.
“Christina Tosi and Gordon Ramsay were like teachers to me. Yes, they were judges who decide who goes home, but mostly along the way they teach you how to do things. They tell you what’s wrong with your dish so next time you can do it better.
“I got to work one day with Graham Elliot at his bistro in Chicago. It was amazing. I was with all his chefs and executive chef David Fingerman. He’s amazing. I felt like I was right at home in that kitchen. But I didn’t want to mess anything up because the dishes were going out to people. I just felt like I was in the zone and concentrated on the cooking.
“Cooking is not hard, and it’s not easy. But if you have to have passion for it, you make it fun and easy.
“I have a sophisticated palate. So when we were tasting blindly on the show, I just knew the ingredients. It’s like when I’m eating meatballs, people will ask what’s in this meatball? And I just know.
“The key ingredients I think every kitchen should have are fresh herbs, spices, flour and eggs. You can make so many things with those ingredients.”
Addison Smith will join other “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior” all-stars Nov. 6-13 on the second Masterchef Cruise in the Caribbean. If you’d like to sail along, see www.masterchefcruise.com for details.