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Chopped Review: Teen Talent

This week on Chopped, a $40,000 scholarship to the International Culinary School at the Art Institutes was on the line when four teenaged chefs entered the kitchen.

The Contestants:
Hunter, age 13
Roxy, age 15
Matthew, age 16
Simona, age 14

This Week’s Judges: Marcus Samuelson, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Joseph Brown.

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The Appetizer Round

The teen chefs had 20 minutes to create an appetizer using swordfish steaks, broccoli rabe, tiger figs, and cherry-flavored drink.

Matthew was the clear top dog in this round, with the judges praising the flavors and techniques used in his fish recipe. Hunter and Simona both presented strong dishes, especially when you consider that they are only 13 and 14 years old, though the judges felt that Hunter’s broccoli rabe was bitter and that Simona’s fish was overcooked.

Roxy, however, struggled to properly execute her cherry-flavored drink reduction sauce, a crucial element on her plate, and the watery “sauce” was enough to send her to the chopping block.

The Dinner Round

The contestants had 30 minutes to create an entrée containing toaster pastries, filet mignon, canned truffles, and heirloom tomatoes.

This round was a surprise after the results of the appetizer round. Simona and Hunter once again found themselves receiving mixed feedback from the judges; the judges enjoyed Hunter’s steak, but felt that his fried tomatoes were soggy and his truffle sauce too salty. Simona, on the other hand, was successful with her tomato dish but had an overly heavy hand with the pepper in her steak recipe.

Matthew once again received overwhelmingly positive reviews on his dish; the judges were quite impressed with him, noting that his dish had a definite maturity to it. Yet, at the end of the day, this was apparently not enough to keep him around, as they felt that his failure to successfully integrate the toaster pastries into the dish was enough reason to send him home. Personally, I am still not sure that I agree with this decision, but at least all is not lost for Matthew thanks to Marcus’s offer of an internship at his restaurant.

The Dessert Round

The two remaining contestants had 30 minutes to create a dessert using strawberry mints, salt bagels, cream cheese, and cotton candy grapes.

In the many, many episodes of Chopped that I have seen, never have I seen such a contrast in performances during the dessert round as in tonight’s show. While Hunter sailed through the round quite cheerfully, Simona forgot to add sugar to her brownies, burned the bagels for her dessert croutons, and forgot to add the strawberry mints to her final dish. With the two chefs neck-and-neck prior to the dessert round, Simona’s errors in this round was all it took to give Hunter the unexpected edge he needed to win the $40,000 scholarship.

But, yet again, all was not lost for the other teens; as a surprise twist, Roxy and Matthew were each awarded $5,000 scholarships and Simona was awarded a $20,000 scholarship. While each of these students definitely gained some much-needed money towards their future education, the school also gained some great future students with that money.