A local chef has been serving up homemade goodies for about two years now — a large portion of her life, considering she’s only 12 years old.
Kiersten Williamson, a Hillsboro Christian Academy student from New Market, said it’s hard to tell what dish is her favorite, but she makes a pretty good venison sirloin – good enough, in fact, to earn her a trip to New York City for an appearance on the hit Food Network TV show “Chopped Junior.”
It all started last June when Kiersten was watching the show at home, she said, and decided she’d like to apply to get on. What followed was a long summer full of paperwork, phone and Skype interviews, and, finally, several weeks of waiting to hear if she earned a slot on the show.
Kiersten’s mom, Cathy Williamson, said when Kiersten approached her about applying, she had her doubts.
“I didn’t want her to get her hopes up,” Cathy said. “I told her, ‘I’m sure it’s hard to get on,’ but she submitted some pictures and filled out some initial questions, and a few weeks later, I got a call.”
“At first, she thought it was a prank call,” Kiersten said with a giggle. “But then she was like, ‘Oh, wait, this is really real, this is Chopped Junior calling.’”
First, the show required a 10-page application. Then came the Skype interview during which Kiersten had to present her signature dish — a venison tenderloin over red and green peppers alongside stuffed portobello mushrooms, asparagus and baby potatoes. After that, an audition video – this time for a shrimp and kale dish – followed by parents’ releases, confidentiality agreements, and even setting up a trust account.
Between the phone calls, interviews and paperwork, Cathy described her family’s summer as “quite a gruelling process.”
“We still didn’t even know if she got on the show,” Cathy said.
After several phone interviews in August, the producers said they would call in the third week of September. Until then, Cathy said, it was a waiting game.
Soon enough, Kiersten got the all-clear, and traveled to New York City in early October for filming.
Kiersten said she was one of four contestants on the show.
“They give you a few ingredients in a basket, and you have 30 minutes to make a dish,” she said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking. Everything I did was going to be seen. When you just walked somewhere, a whole group of cameramen would follow you… And people would be like, ‘Okay, what are you going to go get,’ because they wanted to make sure you were done on time.”
While challenging, the competition wasn’t too far off from Kiersten’s regular style of cooking – and she’s certainly seen her share of cooking shows.
“I learned from cooking shows, mostly,” Kiersten said. “MasterChef” and “Pioneer Woman” are two of her top picks, she said, with her mom adding that her family’s DVR is full of them.
“It’s really fun,” Kiersten said. “I like to experiment and just try new things. Sometimes I’ll see a dish, and I’ll add a little something, whether it’s a part of the dish or just part of the presentation.”
Kiersten said she prepared for her appearance on “Chopped Junior” all summer by cooking a wide variety of foods, from alligator, to lobster, to king crab, but rarely practiced cooking breakfast. That was why, when it was announced five days before the competition that the meal of choice would be breakfast, the pressure was on.
As to how it all turned out, Kiersten said, everyone will just have to watch the show.
Kiersten’s episode will air 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14 on Food Network.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.