Local youth competes on MasterChef Junior

Local youth competes on MasterChef Junior
Andrew Zappley, wearing a white T-shirt, watches himself compete on the television cooking show MasterChef Junior on Jan. 6. Andrew’s school, Holy Trinity in Westville Grove, invited the school community to view the show in the gym. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Andrew Zappley, wearing a white T-shirt, watches himself compete on the television cooking show MasterChef Junior on Jan. 6. Andrew’s school, Holy Trinity in Westville Grove, invited the school community to view the show in the gym.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

One judge called his dish “just about as good as a pasta served at many restaurants,” and congratulated him on “one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever tasted” in the show’s history.

And Gordon Ramsay, the often foul-mouthed celebrity chef and television personality, praised his “simply delicious” plate, created “with great finesse.”

Indeed, the pappardelle pasta with bacon cream sauce, topped with parmesan cheese, was one of the top three dishes of the competition.

And Andrew Zappley, a 12-year old West Deptford resident and seventh grader at Holy Trinity Regional School in Westville Grove, advanced to the next round of the MasterChef Junior television cooking program.

On Tuesday, Jan. 6, the latest incarnation of the show premiered on the Fox network with, per its title, 19 of the “best 8-13 year old chefs in the country,” according to Ramsay, competing for $100,000 and the title of MasterChef Junior.

For Andrew, the weekly program is not only an opportunity for bragging rights, but to show off the culinary skills he started perfecting at the age of 3.

“At 3, he was baking cakes with his grandmother, and by the age of 4, he was using the stove,” said his mother, Karen.

“Most kids his age are playing video games, but he’s watching cooking shows,” she said.

In late 2013, Andrew applied to be a contestant on MasterChef Junior and, in January of last year, he, his mother and his aunt traveled to New York City for an audition.

Wowing producers with his camera presence and culinary expertise as he prepared Chicken Milanese with creamed spinach and cucumber garnish (“the first time he’s ever made that,” his mother said), Andrew was selected as one of 19 among thousands, and flew out to California for the show’s taping. (As filming ended months ago, Andrew is sworn to secrecy on how far he advances in the competition.)

On the Tuesday premiere, the 19 young chefs were introduced to judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliott, who immediately threw the contestants into the fire, asking them to make a “restaurant-quality dish” using the ingredients out of a mystery box, which turned out to be salmon, mango, broccolini, soy sauce, coconut milk, puff pastry and tomatillos.

After three of the best in the initial competition were singled out and advanced to the next round, the 16 remaining chefs were tasked with making their own fresh pasta pappardelle dish.

After admitting that he had never made fresh pasta, and saying that “I’m gonna be 1,000 percent honest, I’m scared,” Andrew became more confident as he cooked.

“I’m from Jersey, I’m Italian, and the food I put on the plate is delicious,” he said. “You can give me anything. I’ll cook it, and win this competition. I’m cool as a cucumber, and (my pasta is) gonna be a great dish.”

The judges agreed and liked Andrew’s technique. Ramsay loved his “delicious dish” and found it “pretty impressive” that the 12-year-old told him that he “cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day of the week” for his parents and his brother.

Bastianich said Andrew’s creation tasted “very authentic,” made by “someone who really knows what pasta’s supposed to taste like.”

In the midst of some tears, cut fingers, and burnt sausage among other contestants, Andrew’s dish was in the top three, and he advanced to the next round. The show continues each Tuesday on the Fox Network at 8 p.m.

Andrew, his family, fellow students, school parents, teachers, and supporters packed the Holy Trinity School gym for the show’s premiere on Jan. 6. The price of admission was a canned good for a local food pantry.

His classmates are no stranger to his skills, as Andrew has shared his cooking with them in the classroom before.

Andrew’s “inner confidence, intelligence, and initiative to set goals without hesitation, all shined through on the show,” said Elsie Tedeski, Holy Trinity principal. “We’re all proud of him and cheering him on.”

“I practiced my cooking more and more, and here I am today,” Andrew said.

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