By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Megan Norz can say she cooked for Martha Stewart.
Megan, a 12-year-old farm girl from Hillsborough, had a short-lived time on screen in the Dec. 8 episode of the Food Network show “Chopped Junior,” which featured four kids whipping up dishes in a kitchen under the glare of TV lights and the scrutiny of famous judges.
Her show’s judges were former White House chef Sam Kass, Food Network’s Marc Murphy and culture maven Martha Stewart.
“Chopped Junior” showcases the talents of girls and boys ages 9 to 15. They are challenged to make unforgettable meals from mystery ingredients under a ticking clock in the Chopped kitchen.
Four youngsters compete, with one being eliminated after each of three rounds in which they are must cook, respectively, an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert.
“You have 30 minutes, my little culinary elves,” said host Ted Allen in starting the clock for the appetizer segment.
Of the four “Culinary Elves” who cooked holiday delights, Megan felt the pain of the “chopping block” — signifying she was eliminated — when the lid was lifted on her appetizer creation in the first one-third of the show.
She had used the “mystery ingredients” of beef, cheese dreidels, asparagus and a gingerbread house to make seared beef tornedos with a gingerbread sauce, and asparagus with a cheese sauce.
Megan had to think fast when, in the last minute of the segment, she lifted her meat to find much of the coating she had made from the crumbled gingerbread house had stuck to the pan. Thinking fast, she grabbed some beef stock and made a sauce that she poured over the meat in the final countdown.
Megan also cut the floweret tips off the asparagus. When Ms. Stewart asked why, Megan said she didn’t personally like the texture of the tips and she cooked the way she liked it. Judge Murphy asked her if she grew asparagus on the farm, and Megan said no.
Mr. Murphy bore the bad news, telling Megan the judges felt the beef was a bit overcooked, and there were some consistency problems with the cheese sauce.
Walking off stage, a voiceover had Megan saying that having the judges criticize her “was not that bad because I needed to hear it. There are things I need to learn so I can work on it.”
“My friends are not going to believe I cooked for Martha Stewart,” she said.
When Megan presented her dish, the judges asked what her family ate for the holidays. Megan said pierogis, and Ms. Stewart reminisced that she once ate 22 of her mother’s potato pierogis.
Based on the three rounds of appetizer, entrée and dessert, Aidan Friedson of the Bronx, New York, was the winner of the show’s $10,000 prize. Aidan, wearing a “Cooking is Life” cap, said he wanted to open a food truck.
All of the contestants were introduced in a taped “bio pack” segment at the beginning of the show. The segment took more than an hour to film, but was edited to less than a minute for viewing.
Megan used her farm background as a plus when she applied to be a contestant on the show.
“We know the food, because we grow the food,” said Megan in touting her background.
Megan is the youngest generation in a century-long line of Norzes in the South Branch valley.
Megan said on the show that she wanted to use the $10,000 prize to open a farmstand with a kitchen to cook for customers.
Her competitors were Noelle Smith (of Fairview, Pa.) and Noah Jenkins of Rochester, N.Y.
All four youngsters got featured in a 30-second bio-pic introducing themselves at the beginning of the show. Megan’s featured photos of her on the farm.
“What a wonderful place to grow up,” Ms. Stewart told her. “You’re very lucky.”
All four contestants received a Chopped Junior ornament as a gift.
“It’ll be the first one on the family tree,” she said.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor