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MasterChef Junior

By Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager
After a rigorous audition process that spanned several months, including submitting a variety of cooking videos from home, Evan Estrada ’23 was selected to be a contestant on the reality cooking show MasterChef Junior Season 6 hosted by award-winning chef Gordon Ramsay on FOX. Recorded at the end of 2016, the show started airing in March 2018, and Evan advanced to the top seven!

The culinary competition started with 40 selected junior home cooks chosen among hundreds of children across the country between the ages of 8 and 13. Contestants competed in a series of challenges to showcase their culinary abilities and passion for food.

Evan spoke with Jennifer Fogarty, communications content manager, to share what the now 13-year-old learned from this experience and what’s next for the “new Gordon.”

Jennifer Fogarty: What did you learn from this experience?
Evan Estrada: I learned not to underestimate the younger contestants. Just because they are 8 or 9 years old, they are still amazing chefs. I also learned to listen carefully to the culinary group instructors. We had a group of culinary instructors who gave us cooking lessons on different techniques and recipes in between filming. We had to keep studying our recipes because we never knew when we would get that challenge. No help is allowed during the challenge. What you see is truly everyone cooking on their own.

JF: What was your favorite part?
EE: My favorite part of this experience was being there and meeting the other contestants. We text all the time, which is really awesome.

JF: How did you get your culinary start, and do you do all the cooking at home now?
EE: Yes, if my homework is done. I’ve always wanted to be in the kitchen since I was 3 or 4 years old, but it didn’t happen until I was 10 when my mom was in Miami with my brother while he was filming a TV show. It was just my dad and me, and he found this show about Scandinavian food. I thought, “Where the heck is that? The food looks amazing!” They have super smart techniques when they roast garlic in the oven. They puree it to make other things really garlicky and sweet. I thought that was a really cool idea. I loved learning new things. I asked my dad if I could try them, and they were really good. Once my mom came back, I cooked more and tried new recipes, and I really loved it. I like to take a lot of risks, so I experiment with new dishes and food combinations.

JF: Do you think LJCDS prepared you for this competition?
EE: I’ve been here since kindergarten, and I’ve always had confidence in myself, but the school has helped me learn to talk to people. Being on the show, you had to talk constantly, and the producers wanted to hear your story.

When I was younger, I had trouble with speech. I was constantly pausing and saying “uh,” and I would lose my train of thought. I worked with the Learning Resource Center for five years, and they helped me with my speech and my thinking. Maintaining that thought in my head for a long time was very helpful, so I could stay on task. During filming, all the teachers at LJCDS were great with providing homework and support. We couldn’t say why we were gone from school, but everyone was very supportive in allowing me to be offsite and continue my studies.

JF: No matter how well you cook, what food is a favorite cooked by a family member?
EE: I love almost every kind of food I’ve tried in the world. My grandmother’s paella is one of my favorites. I don’t know how she gets it so good. And my mom makes the best beef barley stew with lots of vegetables, and it’s super hearty. My dad taught me how to cook burgers. I was really lucky because that’s the challenge I won on the show, the Tilly burger. It’s kind of a big deal for him. He started telling everyone, “He learned from the best.”

JF: Have you cooked professionally outside your own home?
EE: Yes, I’ve had catering jobs with nonprofits, and it’s a lot of fun. One was for a board retreat in D.C., and one was for ConnectMed International here in San Diego. My FHAO [Facing History and Ourselves] community service project was with the nonprofit San Diego Center for Children. I did a lecture and teaching session one day and helped 15 contestants with their dish in preparation for the Young Master Chef Competition another day. And I’ll be participating in the fundraiser for Joey’s Wings to support children undergoing cancer treatment at Rady Children’s Hospital.

JF: What’s next for you?
EE: I’m super excited to be presenting with the culinary lineup at KAABOO Del Mar in September. I’ll also be a guest chef and teaching classes for three nights at Rancho La Puerta spa in Baja this summer. Cooking is my passion, and I want it to be my profession. I will continue to cater, and I want to own a couple of restaurants one day and be the new Gordon Ramsey.

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