Chopped Junior Judges' Earliest Food Memories

We asked the judges to share their first memories of food and cooking, whether it was getting in the kitchen for the first time, cooking with grandma or sitting down to eat a family meal.
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Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Jason DeCrow ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Scott Gries ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Watching Nonni Cook — Valerie Bertinelli

"I [remember] sitting on the stool watching my nonni roll out gnocchi, cappelletti and fry bread, and asking me what I wanted in the fry bread, whether I wanted it sweet or savory, jelly or cheese. I still have her rolling pin and it’s probably one of my most-prized possessions."

Drawn to the Kitchen Out of Curiosity — Amanda Freitag

"Breakfast was always my thing. I would scramble eggs. ... And then at work, I started working as a busgirl, and then I was constantly going back to the kitchen and seeing what they were doing. There was an incredible pastry department that I would look at all the different cakes, and the guys on the line looked really mean. So, I was like, 'What is this mystery behind these walls?' And, you know, of course, eventually, I got in there."

Inspired to Cook from Uninspired Leftovers — Chris Santos

"My mom worked nights, and so [when] I would come home from school ... typically it would be me pulling out leftovers. ... I wasn't satisfied with the leftovers, you know. ... So, I started playing, and we had a grocery store right around the corner, and I was able to go there and kind of have carte blanche. ... I would buy things I never had before. Some things were probably awful, but I like to remember it as being all awesome."

Sneaking a Treat When Grandma's Not Looking — Elizabeth Chambers

"My grandmother was an incredible chef and owned a very successful catering company. I distinctly remember sneaking into her walk-in freezers and stealing these little shortbread boats, and she had this huge Cambro of lemon curd, and I totally thought I was getting away with it, but obviously she knew I was in the refrigerator, scooping out the lemon curd with the little shortbread boat."

Cooking from Scratch, All the Time — Geoffrey Zakarian

"My mother, my aunts, we made everything from scratch. We're Middle Eastern, so, you know, we didn't go to restaurants; we didn't have fast food. It wasn't allowed. We made everything. So, my earliest memories [were of] having people in the kitchen all the time, every day, cooking from sunup to sundown. That's why I am what I am — without question."

The Excitement of Going to Grandma's House — Hayden Panettiere

"Both my grandmothers are big cooks. One's Northern Italian, and one cooks more Southern Italian. So, we kind of had both. But my grandma's chicken cutlet Parmesan was always my favorite. I would look forward to it. Going to her house, it was like: 'We're going to grandma's. We're going to have the chicken cutlet Parmesan.' She had her own little twist to it. So, this way she can teach me to keep the tradition going with my kid."

Sunday Suppers Surrounded by Family — Jeff Mauro

"[I remember] Sunday suppers with my grandma making mostaccioli and meatballs and braciole, and all that good stuff. ... But I could still recall the scent permeating throughout the house, and just the family, and the camaraderie that surrounded those meals every Sunday."

Biscuit Making and a Pretend Cooking Show — Kimberly Schlapman

"I remember two things. Standing on a stool, [and] my mother let me pour the milk into the biscuit bowl as she was making biscuits, and I would start pouring, and she would go, “Woah, woah, woah,” so I wouldn't put too much milk in. ... And then I remember pretending like I had my own cooking show. So, I had this silly little voice that I used, that didn't sound anything like me, and I would stand at the counter with a bowl and a spoon, and just stir and talk."

Grandma's Freshly Made Pasta — Scott Conant

"I remember [my Italian grandmother] making pasta, making orecchiette and cavatelli as my first memories, and this giant board that she would work on. It was the same board that she made pasta on all the time. The texture of that pasta, and the flavor of the raw pasta ... I mean, those are things that'll stick with me for the rest of my life."

Cooking with Grandma Over the Phone — Laila Ali

"My mom didn't cook, [but] I liked to eat. So, I had to get in there and learn how to cook for myself, and I just remember [at the age of 9] calling my grandma on the phone and just asking her ... 'How do you make gumbo?' She told me over the phone, and I tried it myself. So, there were a lot of errors along the way."

Grandma's Traditional Cooking — Sharone Hakman

"I think I was 5 or 6 years old, and I remember just being in the kitchen. My grandmother was a big part of my cooking life, you know, the old Jewish grandma who's in the kitchen from sunrise to sunset. I just remember having very fond memories of her cooking very traditional things. ... Even now she's 88 years old and she's still cooking, and ... it hits me, right in the right place."

Translation Not Necessary — Lee Anne Wong

"I was maybe 4 year old ... and my Chinese grandmother was staying with us from the Philippines, and she didn't speak any English; I didn't speak Chinese. ... I decided I wanted to make peanut butter cookies. ... I take this little toaster oven tray, I drop a bunch of, like, wet cookie dough batter on it, and I throw it in the toaster oven. ... And my grandmother comes around the corner, and she starts laughing at me, because she sees what I'm trying to do, and in that time she's like, hold on. And somehow, it was the first and only time I've ever made dim sum with [her], but we worked together, and we made Chinese sesame zeen doy, which are the sesame puff balls with the red bean paste in the middle, and it was magical."

Escaping to the Kitchen — Madison Cowan

"My stepmum taught me to cook. I was coming from London over to Detroit to visit my dad and his wife, and their family, and they would kick the crap out of me, you know, my half brothers and sisters. So, my mum actually just pulled me to the side. She taught me to cook, she taught me to clean, she taught me to sew. So that was my first foray into this whole cooking game. ... It was a form of escape for me."

Cooking Home Alone — Alex Guarnaschelli

"I remember once my parents went out to dinner, or to the theater, and they left me alone. I must have been 10, 11 ... and there was nothing in the fridge except for some uncooked chicken. So, I had to cook chicken by myself, and I had never done it before, and you just say: 'Oh, come on, you just put it in the oven. When it's done, you eat it.' Well, let's just say that I cut into it, and it was very pink in the middle."

Summers in the South of France — Marc Murphy

"My grandparents are French; my mother's French. So, every summer we'd go to the South of France. And I was either in the garage with my grandfather ... [or] I was always in the kitchen with my mother and my grandmother, helping out in there as well, because I loved food. You know, when we had lunch, we talked about dinner. When we had dinner, we talked about lunch the next day."

The Kitchen Was Off-Limits — Marcela Valladolid

"I did not cook very much when I was a kid. ... My grandfather was the cook in the family, and oh ... he'd sooner, like, hit me on the side of the head with a spatula before letting me mess with his sauce. ... So, I was just observing for many, many years before I was allowed to cook on, like, Thanksgiving or Christmas or Las Posadas — or anything like that."

On Meatball Duty — Marcus Samuelsson

"My earliest memory is cooking in my grandmother Helga's kitchen. My sisters and I were always in charge of rolling the meatballs."

Helping Mom in the Kitchen — Martha Stewart

"I have been in the kitchen since, probably ... well before I was born. My mom was a fantastic cook. As the oldest girl of six kids, I had to help her a lot, and I cooked from whenever I could, you know, handle it."

A Mother's Day Mess — Sam Kass

"I used to help my mom and dad, both of them cook, when I was young, and I would always do, like, Mother's Day breakfast in bed. ... I made a baked apple pancake once and destroyed the kitchen. So, my poor mom ... ended up cleaning up most of the kitchen on Mother's Day."

An Early Lesson in Escargot — Michelle Bernstein

"When I was 4, I learned how to make osso bucco with my mother. When I was 6, for my birthday, I asked my mother to teach me how to make escargot, because I had it in a restaurant, and it was the best thing I ever had. I never realized that it was just the butter, garlic and parsley I fell in love with. I thought it was the actual snails."

Scrambled Eggs with Jam for Dad — Mila Kunis

"My earliest memory is making my father breakfast one day: scrambled eggs. I'm pretty sure I added some shells in there by accident and dumped in, like, a Smucker's grape jam on top, thinking that was, like, culinary art."

From the Farmers Market to the Kitchen — Sam Talbot

"I was probably, like, 12, 13 years old. [I remember] going to the farmers markets with my grandmother and just making, like, scrambled eggs and cheese ... and doing it slow and low, and making sure with eggs that they're perfect, that ... they're loose and creamy the way that your grandmother makes eggs."

From Kitchen Helper to Sous Chef — Tia Mowry

"It started in the kitchen with me washing dishes at first. I was in there, helping my mom clean the kitchen. ... [But] every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's my mom would allow me to be her sous chef. So, I would wash her greens for her when I was younger. As I got older, she'd, you know, allow me to roll them up and start cutting them."

Cooking While Mom's Away — Tino Feliciano

"Oh, my first real kitchen experience alone was when I was 10 years old. My mother went out with my sisters to town to go shopping on a Saturday afternoon, and the ingredients were there, raw on top of the table and in the fridge. I was hungry, so I started cooking, and there I realized how much I love cooking [and] ... everything that can be done with food."

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