In the end, it came down to the beef cheek ravioli.
The slightly undercooked entrée seemed to be the one misstep in an otherwise flawless three-course meal for 12-year old Andrew Zappley, and it cost the West Deptford resident and Holy Trinity Regional School student $100,000 and the title of MasterChef Junior.
On Feb. 24, Andrew, his family and friends gathered in the Holy Trinity School gym to watch him compete in the previously-taped finale on the Fox Network. For the past six weeks, he and fellow contestant Nathan Odom, from San Diego, have chopped, seared and braised, and outlasted other young chefs in front of judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliott.
In the hour-long finale, East Coast vs. West Coast, the final two were tasked to create a three-course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) in 90 minutes.
Andrew’s appetizer of herbed ricotta cheese from scratch with roasted beets and pumpernickel bread, entrée of beef cheek ravioli, and dessert of sweet risotto with figs and verjus got high praise from the judges, but his undercooked beef left the three judges wanting more.
Nathan’s roasted fennel gratin with French ham and shaved fennel salad, herb-crusted lamb chop with fava beans and white asparagus puree, and Earl Grey tea tart with meyer lemon and blood orange ultimately sent him to the top.
Although the result is not what he expected, Andrew knows this is just the next step in his culinary career.
“I’m so proud of everything I did,” he said in a post-show press conference.
For Andrew and his family and friends, and for the Holy Trinity School community, it has been a unifying experience these past six weeks. Viewing parties have been held at school when the show airs. Walking to class, eating lunch, and outside at recess, Andrew has become a celebrity and inspiration for students.
After the show, before the press conference, principal Elsie Tedeski presented Andrew with a plaque of recognition for “the excellent manner in which he represented the school community on the show,” a framed “#TeamAndrew” T-shirt, and a framed collection of newspaper clippings chronicling his MasterChef Jr. experience.
The students have been “thrilled and excited” for Andrew, said Tedeski.
“It’s great being a part of it.”
For all the recognition he has gotten from the school, local and national press, “he’s still Andrew,” his father, Phillip, said. “He loves to sign autographs, he loves to meet people, but it hasn’t gone to his head.”
Phillip was with his son for the tapings last spring and was able to witness his son’s journey long before television audiences.
“He did a phenomenal job. There’s nobody that wanted (the win) more than him,” he said.
Phillip noted that while out in California for the taping, Andrew alternated filming with schoolwork and maintained the honor roll at Holy Trinity.
When asked about the next culinary steps for Andrew, his father mentioned that local restaurants have talked to the 12-year old about helping to cultivate his skills further, an opportunity that Andrew “is excited about.”
Just the next step in Andrew’s dream of opening a restaurant: “Holy Crepe.”
(See sidebar below for one of Zappley’s favorite recipes.)
A favorite recipe:
Mini Philly Cheese Steak Crostini
Cook sliced steak in a frying pan, season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
Cut into very small pieces
Start a roux in a skillet by adding 1 stick of butter and flour (two rounded tbsp.)
Add 1 ½ cups of heavy cream. Cook flour. When mixture comes to nearly a boil, add sliced provolone cheese (approximately 6 ozs., one slice at a time until dissolved).
Coat warm crostini with provolone cheese sauce then add sliced steak.
Add freshly ground black pepper and sea salt again to taste.
Feel free to add some of your fresh bruschetta on top. Enjoy immediately!