Chopped Junior

Tune into Food Network on May 10 when Montclair sixth grader, Zoe Gelsi, will compete on Chopped Junior.

Much like the adult version of the show Chopped, this series highlights the culinary talents of girls and boys who aim to wow judges’ palates in three mouthwatering rounds – appetizer, entrée and dessert – with ingredients from mystery baskets and in a limited amount of time.  One-by-one, contestants will be eliminated until the final Chopped Junior Champion remains in the kitchen to claim the $10,000 prize.  Gelsi says that she has been a huge fan of Food Network for years and is thrilled to be on the show.

Her love for cooking started when she was four-years-old. She would watch and copy her mom while she prepared family meals. When Gelsi discovered Food Network, she stretched her skills even more. She enjoys all of the network’s shows and has not singled out any one chef as her favorite, she says. “They are all really awesome.” She recently completed a bunch of classes – including French and South American dishes – from the Montclair Culinary Academy.  

At home, she often cooks for her family and enjoys preparing a variety of dishes, including homemade pasta and chicken with mushroom sauce. “I really like experimenting,” Gelsi explains. She has even made her own cookies, cakes and barbecue sauce.

So, how did Gelsi jump from family chef to TV contestant?

“I had been telling my mom for a while that I wanted to be on Food Network,” says Gelsi. When she and her mom found an application for a show with junior chefs, they quickly applied. Gelsi eventually got a call to schedule an interview in NYC. “My mom waited for my birthday to tell me that I made the show,” Gelsi recalls. “I screamed and yelled and laughed. I was so excited.”

Gelsi soon got to work preparing for her television debut. She booked private cooking lessons, purchased a new set of knives and watched cooking videos. Her mom also timed her preparing different meals. Gelsi says she tried to soak up as much information as she could. She also notes that her friends were very supportive.

Before the taping, Gelsi was most nervous to meet the judges. She soon realized that she didn’t have to stress over the judging panel – which included Maneet Chauhan, actor Rico Rodriguez and Fabio Viviani for her episode. Gelsi says they were “really fun and awesome and made the whole experience more special.” Participating on Chopped Junior has only fanned her passion for cooking. Gelsi plans to open her own Italian restaurant when she gets older.

The upcoming Chopped Junior season premiers on Tuesday, April 26 at 8 pm.