If you’re watching Chopped Junior this season, you might notice a familiar face. 12-year-old Janie Wilson, who is on the cover of the Fall 2015 issue of ChopChop (holding a chicken) is a competitor on the new show. Chopped Junior, which premiered October 27th, is the kids’ version of Chopped, the Food Network cooking show. Contestants are between the ages of 9 to 15.
Janie, who is from Peabody, Massachusetts, near the ChopChop headquarters, will be on a winter episode hosted by Ted Allen with mystery judges (Janie was good at keeping secrets and didn’t tell us the judges or the mystery ingredients). And on December 16th, the mayor of Peabody has declared Janie Wilson Day, to encourage families to cook together. Before Janie’s busy month, we got to talk to Janie about Chopped and ChopChop. (Say that 10 times fast!)
ChopChop: Can you explain Chopped to someone who might not have seen it?
Janie: Chopped is a show that gives you mystery ingredients to cook something for each round. There are three rounds-appetizer, main course, and dessert-and you have to use the ingredients to make a dish. There are judges and celebrities who pick the best one.
ChopChop: What inspired you to try out for Chopped Junior?
Janie: I am a HUGE fan of the show Chopped. Mainly what I watch on TV is Food Network and Chopped. I wanted to really try to test myself because when I see the ingredients they give to the adults I think, “I could do that” and think of something to cook. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could cook.
ChopChop: So you like to cook then?
Janie: I’ve been cooking for six years and I just enjoy it. Every year I keep getting more into it. I cook dinner most nights. I cook a big variety like tortellini soup, lasagna, fajitas, mac and cheese, and turkey chili.
ChopChop: Chopped Junior is all about thinking on your feet. How did you learn to improvise in the kitchen?
Janie: I just wanted to try different things and make different flavors with some flavors you might probably not think of. Sometimes I just buy ingredients and try to make them cook together. I’ll pick up pasta, vegetables, a protein, and mix them all together and be creative.
ChopChop: I know you can’t reveal the secret ingredients from your show, yet, but what is one of the weirdest ingredients you’ve seen on the adult version of Chopped?
Janie: I’ve seen chicken feet, cow tongue, and eyeballs.
ChopChop: Wow! If someone gave you eyeballs as an ingredient what would you do?
Janie: I’d be kind of grossed out because they might be staring at me, but I would try to find a way to use them.
ChopChop: Have you ever messed up a recipe? What was it and what happened?
Janie: One time when I was preparing for Chopped Junior, I did a lot of research and saw that one of the most used ingredients was broccoli rabe. I’d never had it, heard of it, or tasted it before, so I cooked it lightly like spinach. Then I tried it and I was the most bitter thing ever! It tasted terrible and I completely messed it up. My family all spit it out.
ChopChop: Do you have any advice for kids just learning to cook and who may be nervous? Or who haven't learned but want to?
Janie: Mistakes are good and you learn from your mistakes.
ChopChop: What is the most fun part of cooking?
Janie: The most fun part of cooking is the creativity you have to explore flavors and mix and match and try to create a different thing, like art with your food. Instead of mixing and matching colors, you’re mixing and matching the food. For presentation, instead of drawing you are plating to make it look appetizing and delicious.
ChopChop: You want to go to culinary school. Does that mean you want to be a professional chef when you grow up, or is there something else you want to do?
Janie: I want to be a professional chef and own a few restaurants and have my own cooking show on TV. I already have a cooking show in the city of Peabody and I really like doing it. The show is called “The Three J’s and That Guy’s Kitchen.” It’s me cooking by myself but there’s a segment called “Snack Attack” where my friends help me film and edit. It’s a teaching lesson. In the first episode I quiz them about the ingredients for fruit salad.
ChopChop: You’re on the cover of the fall issue of ChopChop. What was the photo shoot like?
Janie: It was really fun and the first time that I ever got to hold a chicken so that was cool and different. Once it got in my arms it was relaxed so it was pretty easy. I was afraid it was going to open its wings.
ChopChop: I know you’re a member of the ChopChop Cooking Club, which has recipes we think all kids should learn to cook. What is one recipe you think all kids should learn to cook?
Janie: Turkey chili with rice. It has vegetables, protein, grains with the rice, and it’s simple. Once you cook your meat and put the rice in rice cooker you just cook it and let it sit.