Chopped Junior Judges Remember Their First Kitchen Memories

Whether they initially loved to cook or hated it, each guest judge has a first memory of stepping foot in the kitchen. For some it sparked a life of culinary bliss, while others now leave the cooking to the pros.

Photo By: Scott Gries

Photo By: Scott Gries

Photo By: Susan Magnano

Photo By: Susan Magnano

Cracking Under Pressure — Ruben Studdard

“I remember the first time I tried to cook to impress a girl — I might have been like 16, and it was terrible. I used all my money from my job and bought these nice steaks and potatoes and bought all these sauces. I burned the steaks, overcooked the potatoes. Everything was wrong. We ended up going to a burger joint, but what I learned that day is that I really wanted to be able to cook, and so I started.”

Bringing French Cooking Into the Kitchen — Stephanie Izard

“When I was 8, we went to Epcot, and we went to France and had these crepes. They had a mushroom cream sauce and ham, and I thought they were amazing. I went back home and looked up how to make crepes, and then the rest of it I just kind of made up. My mom always would tell me that they tasted exactly like they did when we had them at Epcot, so from that point forward I was always in the kitchen.”

The Most-Important Meal of the Day — Kevin McHale

“I’ve always been obsessed with breakfast food, and I remember having a stool and standing up by the counter with my mom’s cookbook and trying to learn every breakfast recipe in it and then trying to make everybody eat it. I became sort of the breakfast chef in the house.”

Remembering an Extra-Special Meal — Kym Whitley

“My earliest memory of being in the kitchen is eating. I’ve never been a good cook, but I would say watching my mom cook. She always made this dish — she called it 'special.' At the end of the day, I realized all it is is ground beef, some elbow macaroni, and I think she put vinegar and sugar in it. That was it.”

Grandmas Cook Best — Ashley Graham

"We cooked a lot at my grandma’s house, and she would make this thing called zwieback. It was German bread, like ... rolls, and after you would make it, you would tear it open and put varsh in the middle and a piece of cheese, and it would be a sandwich. So, I remember sweating over the oven with my grandma probably at 6 years old making zwieback."

Exploring Different Cuisines — Zachary Quinto

"My dad loved to cook. Italian cooking was a big part of my growing up. I remember at a

certain point he got into Asian cooking, so all of a sudden we had a bunch of woks around the

house. He always experimented in the kitchen, and I always loved being a part of that."

The BBQ Master — Jernard Wells

"One of the things my father did a lot was barbecue, and he always wanted to make barbecue sauce. To me, just being able to stir it was so fascinating — just to be able to stir and see it bubble. And I remember my father telling me, 'Anytime you cook something, you always want to make sure you cook it to please yourself.' And later on he said that if you love it, then you can make anybody else love it."

Sparking a Love for Baking Early On — Betsy Brandt

"My grandmother was a really great baker, and I’d have a small pie tin and extra dough, and she would let me make a little pie with her. If I make quiche with spinach in it, my son doesn’t like it, so I always make a little Lorraine for him in that little pie [tin], and I tell him and he loves it, and I said that I baked with Grandma Sadie in the pie tin."

Finding a Love for Food Through Pizza — Harley Morenstein

“My first memory of being in the kitchen was being in kindergarten and getting to dress our own pizza from the tomato sauce and all the ingredients on top of it.”

The String Bean Monster — Anika Noni Rose

"It’s so funny because there’s a cassette tape of me, I’m not quite 2 years old, and I’m in the kitchen with my grandmother. She hands me something to eat, and you hear me, like, really loud, saying, 'STRINNNNNNGGGG BEAAAAAAAAAANS!' I had, like, this monster sound in my voice. So, I don’t actually physically remember the moment, but since I have it on tape, I have that memory in my mind of me as a little baby monster person in the kitchen yelling about string beans."

Feasting During the Holidays — George Mendes

“The holidays were always a big feast. I can still remember my aunt and my mom standing at the stove, and I still remember the aromas. The smell of the olive oil, onions, garlic, bay leaf and paprika sizzling away for the rice dish the next day. Those are very strong memories, and when I first started cooking, I think my first savory dish was chicken roulade with spinach and mushrooms and a champagne sauce.”

Starting with Simple Foods — JB Smoove

“Everybody learned how to make breakfast first. I could make a good pancake when I was younger, made good eggs back then, and I could make oatmeal. Kids nowadays are a bit more advanced, but back then that’s all I could cook.”

Learning the Basics First — Misty Copeland

“My stepfather is from Hawaii, and he had all of us kids helping out in some way. I think that was one of the first memories I have of being in the kitchen and helping out, chopping up garlic, things like that in the kitchen. I still do that today.”

Craving Yellow Cake — Nguyen Tran

“My first memory of being in the kitchen was out of necessity. I really wanted yellow cake, and I remember I was really small, I was like 5, so I’d climb onto the counters, almost fall off, get the cake, bring it down, read the instructions — batter and flour everywhere. And the first time it came out, it came out green, and I was so distraught.”

Making a Hot Mess — Sunny Anderson

“My earliest memory of being in the kitchen is watching my mom make biscuits. I just remember it being a hot mess. There was flour everywhere, and I loved it, and then at the end you got to eat something that was warm and cushy and buttery. And I still make a mess in the kitchen.”

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Meringue Pie — Dan Churchill

“My earliest memory would be picking lemons from our lemon tree and making a lemon meringue pie from scratch. It was awesome to think that we had this way of being creative, and it was probably the first time, when I first made that, it was like I could do this much more often.”

Learning the Art of Improvising — Ziggy Marley

“The earliest memories were in the fridge. There were two things in my fridge, there was an octopus and bread, and I was really hungry, and I didn’t like octopus. We had a tomato and there was some sugar, so I took the bread and I sliced some tomato, and I put some sugar — that’s my most-vivid memory of food. I never had that after that. That was the first and only time.”

Spending the Holidays with Grandpa — Bryan Voltaggio

“I always go back to my mom’s father, my grandfather. I cooked with him a lot, especially during holidays. I remember having my own apron and getting my first cookbook. I think we naturally started cooking because we cooked a lot at home. There was a garden in the back, so we’d go out and steal peas and get in trouble for it. That’s the kind of upbringing we had, so I think it kind of translated to who we are as chefs now.”

Going from No Cook to Pro Cook — Michael Voltaggio

“I didn’t like food when I was a kid at all, to be honest. I didn’t develop a liking for food until I started working with it and cooking myself. Once I was able to start putting my hands on it, I started to really love it a lot more just because I wanted to see what else I could do with it.”

The Best Flour Tortillas on the Planet — Martita Jara

"With my mother. ... Probably her rolling tortillas. My mother makes the best flour tortillas on the planet."

Family Get-Togethers Mean Great Meals — Ryan Guzman

“My best memories are family get-togethers. My grandmother cooked a lot — I have a big Mexican family — so it was always really, really good Mexican food. Even if it was simple American food like eggs or pancakes, it was a Mexicanized version of it.”

Not All the Magic Happens in the Kitchen — Rebecca Lang

“I don’t really have an earliest memory of being in the kitchen; I have an earliest memory of being right outside the kitchen. My two grandmothers, my mom and my sisters and I were out on the screened porch, and we’d go play in the hose in the backyard and come back and shell a few peas and go back again. I remember that family atmosphere when the harvest came and my dad would bring home four bushels of peas; it took all of us to get them all ready.”

Making Food for Ghosts (and Little Brothers) — Michelle Park

“I have two little brothers, and we came up with this name for this dish that I make; they call it ghost food. I have no idea how this came about. So, kimchi is a Korean food. So I would make that, and then I would take regular white rice and mix it with butter, so it was super creamy, and combine those two things — best thing ever. I still make it for them because it’s still good.”

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