BRUCE R. MILLER
Liya Chu won the MasterChef Junior contest, but she couldn’t tell anyone for three years.
“We filmed the final in 2019,” she says. “When people asked me if the show was coming out, I was just like, ‘I don’t even know.'”
Eventually, the friends stopped asking. The trophy she won? It arrived a few days before the finale aired last week. Viking cuisine and the trip to Las Vegas? They’re still pending — but for good reason. Chu will be on tour with a stage show “MasterChef Junior” which will tour the country in September and October.
Although opening her own restaurant is still a goal, Chu, 13 and soon to be 14, has other interests. “I like golf now – I like it a lot – and I’m also into the arts because I like to paint and draw.”
Cooking always takes place, usually at night. “I always try to cook with my mom for dinner,” Chu said during a Zoom interview. “I like to make dumplings…but I don’t do it as much as I used to.”
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Watching yourself on TV was “weird”, but “it was a wonderful and very unique experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Reaching the final was not a goal. “When I was in the Top 16, I was so nervous. When you see it on TV, it’s so different from being there in person.
While host Gordon Ramsay wasn’t the bully he appears on his shows (“he’s a teddy bear”), he established a rhythm that was often difficult to maintain. Working alongside him, for example, was difficult. “It’s something adults have struggled with as well. You can’t ignore the fact that it will be easier just because we are children.
Cooking with others watching isn’t easy either. The goal, Chu says, is to stay focused on the task at hand.
“Don’t look at the dishes your friends have prepared and compare them to yours. Otherwise, you think, ‘I could leave tonight.’
Collapses happen…they are just part of the kitchen. But if you’re with someone who’s going through a tough time, pause the intensity. “If I saw someone crying, I’d rather go comfort them than tend to something burning on the stove,” Chu said.
Grayson Price, the other finalist, was extremely focused. “I’ve never heard anyone talk about cooking like that – strategically. He was decidedly very devoted to the kitchen. The way he talks about it is just on an adult level.
The other candidates? Always diplomatic, Chu says, “We would hope it would be an all-female team because we worked so well together. For some people, it is more difficult to work in a group.
While the Scarsdale, New York, resident had plenty of experience working with her family members (her parents own restaurants), she knew a good background was essential, especially if things went wrong.
“You can’t question yourself,” Chu said. “But you have to take risks.”
If she knew a certain dish wasn’t quite right, she relied on visuals. “Usually people eat with their eyes,” so it’s all about the plating. “If it doesn’t taste the best, try spreading it out and making it look better. Lighting is always key.