“I want to be a professional chef and maybe own a few of my own restaurants,” the always-smiling eighth grader says.
“I am going to go to college and then culinary school. That way, just in case my restaurants don’t work out, I can be something boring — like a lawyer.”
Jenna — the daughter of New York City attorney — should have no problem holding her own in front of a judge.
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During her first “Mystery Box Challenge” the culinary whiz kid trades smiles and playful jabs with chef Gordon Ramsay — at one point reminding him, “You have a track record [for dropping F-bombs]!”
“I expected to be really intimidated by the judges,” she tells me. “But I just felt really welcomed. I just made friends with so many of the other kids and the judges were so nice. It was such a fun place to be.”
Jenna, a straight A student, is one of 19 young home cooks competing on the Fox reality show, which returns January 6 at 8:00 PM.
She told me all about her love of cooking — and more — when we spoke just before the holidays.
How long did it take you to become such a good chef?
Well, ever since I was little — when I was like 2, 3, 4 — I would make these prepackaged cookies and I really liked it. Then my babysitter once said to me, “People do this from scratch.” And I was like, “I’m totally in to that.” So I started baking from scratch and I got myself into making dinner and everything and it kind of went off from there.
Do you cook all the time at home or do you get a night off?
Most of the time I cook dinner for my family, but usually on Saturdays we go out.
Do you get disappointed when you go to a restaurant and the food isn’t good?
Yeah. A lot of times if I order a dish that I have made by myself, I will find myself comparing my dish to their dish. What about mine was better? So sometimes it turns into more of me analyzing the dish.
What made you want to go on TV and show the world what you can do?
Ever since I was little, I was always watching cooking shows and I was always saying “Why don’t they have one for kids?” I swear I said that! And I was like, “I just want to grow up so I can be on one of those.” Then I saw MASTERCHEF JUNIOR, so I found the casting website and I signed up.
And the rest is history…
Yeah. I was really nervous at first, when I started the whole audition process. I really didn’t think I was going to make the show, but we took it one audition at a time and I made it.
What kind of a restaurant do you think you will have one day?
I haven’t really worked out all of the details yet. I am thinking maybe a French restaurant because I always go to a French restaurant on my birthday and I always love it. So hopefully I can make that something that other people can enjoy.
What else do you enjoy doing when you are not in the kitchen?
I really like to golf. Ever since I was little, I have gone golfing with my dad and my brother. It is a really great way for me and my family to spend time together. And I am not that bad at it either. At camp, I picked up a lot of new sports. I tried rock climbing and I thought that was a lot of fun. So I am thinking about maybe getting more lessons.
How old is your brother?
He is 14. We used to go to the same school. Since we are so close in age, we can kind of relate to each other. Sometimes we fight, but most of the time we are really understanding because my brother has just been through what I am going through now with school and everything. So it is good to have a brother.
Is it true you also want to be an actress?
I think acting is really fun, but I am more in to the whole cooking thing. It is just more fun for me. If I get to be a chef when I grow up, I wouldn’t feel like I ever worked a day, you know what I mean? I would just be having fun.
Are you excited to become kind of famous?
I am excited for the show to air. It is going to be really fun to see myself on TV. And I will probably meet a lot of people that I haven’t met before so it will be a really great experience.
You made the show a few months ago — even before season 2 aired. How hard was it to keep everything a secret?
For me it wasn’t hard to keep the show a secret, because a lot of my closest friends now are kids from the show. I made such good friends on the show. So I could talk to them about it whenever I wanted to. Whenever I wanted to tell my friends from school something, I would just call my friends from from the show.
Who did you become closest with?
On the show I became closest with Mia, Ryan Kate, Kayla and Alexis.
Did you get to hang out and do fun girl stuff in between filming?
Most of the time, we would be filming really late. But on some days we got days off and our hotel was really close to Universal Studios, so we would always go to Universal Studios and we would have dinner together and have fun. They were the best people I could have spent time in California with.
Are your parents good cooks?
Not really. Nobody else in my family is really in to cooking that much. For the most part, I learned to cook because most of my family members don’t like to cook. That is what motivated me. I wanted to make my family good food.
How did you develop such a diverse palate?
Ever since I was little I have always been good about experimenting with some new types of food. I was always open to trying seafood and all sorts of things while all of my friends in school were like “Eww… That’s gross!”
Do you ever eat fast food?
I am not going to lie. I really love McDonald’s french fries. But I only have them once in a while — like if I am on a road trip with my family and we stop somewhere.
What is your comfort food?
Whenever it is a [mundane] kind of day, my family will have some pasta. Usually I will make homemade pasta. It is not that hard to make and it is a really quick, easy dinner. So I really like to have pasta and then I will experiment with different types of sauces.
Is there anything you can’t cook?
I failed like 50 times at making macaroons and I just perfected them yesterday. Macaroons are really hard to make. You have to do this thing called “the macaroon-age” where you fold together your dry ingredients and the egg whites. And you have to deflate the egg whites just enough so that the macaroons have the little ridges around the bottom. Its really hard to do and a lot of professional chefs still haven’t mastered it. So I am really glad that I finally learned how to do that.
MASTERCHEF JUNIOR airs Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM ET on Fox.
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