First person: Proud family watches daughter get into superhero mode for ‘Chopped Junior’

Host Ted Allen checks in on 12-year-old Violet Waterhouse of Decatur, who’s competing on the Sept. 26 episode of “Chopped Junior” on Food Network. CONTRIBUTED BY FOOD NETWORK

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Host Ted Allen checks in on 12-year-old Violet Waterhouse of Decatur, who’s competing on the Sept. 26 episode of “Chopped Junior” on Food Network. CONTRIBUTED BY FOOD NETWORK

Girl power continues lassoing pop culture. Just look at everyone celebrating the “Wonder Woman” flick’s superhero feminism.

I’m no exception. But instead of an Amazonian princess with bulletproof bracelets, I’ll be cheering on a 12-year-old girl armed with a spatula. At 8 p.m. Tuesday, our daughter Violet competes on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.”

The TV show pits four young chefs against one another for three rounds: appetizer, entree and dessert. They create impromptu dishes from baskets of mystery ingredients. A trio of judges sample the contestants’ food. At the end of each round, the judges eliminate a competitor. The last childlike Julia Child walks away with $10,000.

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Violet Waterhouse, 12, of Decatur competes on the Sept. 26 episode of “Chopped Junior” on Food Network. CONTRIBUTED BY FOOD NETWORK

Violet Waterhouse, 12, of Decatur competes on the Sept. 26 episode of “Chopped Junior” on Food Network. CONTRIBUTED BY FOOD NETWORK

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Violet Waterhouse, 12, of Decatur competes on the Sept. 26 episode of “Chopped Junior” on Food Network. CONTRIBUTED BY FOOD NETWORK

Violet will be one of the four on the episode “Tropical Vibes.” Call me a braggadocious dad, but she’s my superhero. Not for landing a spot on a TV show, but for undertaking the daunting task to get there. Despite an experience simmering with blood, tears and self-doubt, Violet rose from the deep fryer, reaching her goal.

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Like all supers, Violet took a hero’s journey. It began with binge-watching “Chopped Junior.” A cooking fan since baking bread in Montessori school at age 3, a tween Violet devoured countless episodes. This led to kitchen experimentation.

For her 11th birthday, Violet wanted a cooking-themed birthday party. So her mom, Annie, and I rang our friend Juliet Peters — currently the culinary instructor with Levy Restaurants' Westside Works Culinary Academy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium — to wrangle a gaggle of girls through a pizza-making bash. The kids loved it, especially Violet. Juliet told us she'd love to cook with Violet anytime.

Violet spent a majority of the next nine months in the kitchen. Cooking became her superpower, whipping up dinners in a single bound and catering our holiday parties.

Some titans hide behind mild-mannered personas. Ditto with Violet, who’s often painfully shy. Annie and I lifted her up by nurturing her hobby with encouragement and endless trips to the grocery store.

Violet’s two brothers, Max and Levi, have dwarfism, giant personalities and cast big shadows. They stepped out of the spotlight, complimenting their sister’s kitchen skills and eating the results.

In August 2016, Violet asked me for the umpteenth time to fill out an online application for “Chopped Junior.”

Seeing Violet adopting a yes-I-can approach thrilled us, so I applied. Less than a week later, I learned “Chopped Junior” was interested.

After wiping away joyful tears, Violet faced the challenging audition process.

This went on for more than a month. Skype and phone interviews, more applications, and submitting photo galleries of Violet were all part of the process. Annie patiently spent an entire Sunday afternoon filming and editing a 10-minute video of Violet cooking her signature dish, deconstructed Panang curry with tofu.

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Violet Waterhouse poses with her signature dish, deconstructed Panang curry with tofu, while auditioning for Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.” CONTRIBUTED BY JON WATERHOUSE

Violet Waterhouse poses with her signature dish, deconstructed Panang curry with tofu, while auditioning for Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.” CONTRIBUTED BY JON WATERHOUSE

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Violet Waterhouse poses with her signature dish, deconstructed Panang curry with tofu, while auditioning for Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.” CONTRIBUTED BY JON WATERHOUSE

After finishing the entire application process, we soon learned Violet would be invited to appear on the show at an undetermined date.

In the meantime, the producers told Violet to practice incessantly. Since all great superheroes need mentors, Violet reached for Chef Juliet. Honoring her offer, Juliet coached Violet, passing on kitchen savvy. A vegetarian since birth, Violet had to grill steak, fry fish, and debone chicken for the first time. Juliet, a veg herself, showed Violet how to tackle the carnivorous challenge.

Each night, Violet cooked dinner, often timing herself in the process. One evening, I heard screaming from the kitchen. Violet had cut her thumb, which was gushing with blood.

The trip to the emergency room didn’t require stitches, just a serious bandage. And like Superman shaking off Kryptonite, Violet quickly returned to the kitchen.

In late October, we received the call giving us Violet’s shoot date in New York City. It would take place two weeks later. The contract required Violet to keep the news under wraps. With our elder son Max working out of state, the remaining four of us quickly planned our trip.

For the two-day “Chopped Junior” shoot, the producers allow one parent to accompany the child each day. Knowing she might need her mama on competition day, I escorted Violet on the first day when they filmed her introductory segments.

Early on a drizzling morning, a production assistant picked us up at our hotel. She made sure Violet, the talent, stayed dry beneath an umbrella. Me? I was the cake left out in the rain.

Now a stage dad, I waited in the dressing room as the crew interviewed Violet and filmed her cooking her signature delicacy in the studio kitchen. I heard only whispers of the interview drifting down the hall.

After an afternoon break, we were told we’d get a tour of the set. A mysterious black van arrived at the hotel for Violet, myself and the rest of the episode’s contestants and their respective parents. As we sat in the van waiting to leave, a few of the other kids fidgeting about, Violet said it felt like a scene from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

The van took us to Chelsea Market, home of Food Network studios. Parents were whisked away to sign more forms, as members of the crew took the kids on set.

We were later escorted toward the set to see our children. Passing through the studio corridors, I began noticing the familiar “Chopped Junior” decor and backdrops. Eyes moistening, it hit me. Our girl had done it.

After we arrived on set, the crew allowed the parents to photograph our kids. The studio lights beamed down upon the vibrant kitchen packed with state-of-the-art cooking equipment. Massive jars housed a rainbow’s worth of colorful fruit, a bin of rolling pins sitting nearby.

The kids posed in front of their respective baskets, which would hold the mystery ingredients during competition. Violet smiled brightly, but I sensed anxiety was looming.

Back at the hotel, Violet broke down. Fear, doubt and uncertainty crashed upon her. The producers had warned us of this, and they had an alternate in place should any of the contestants crack under pressure.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she cried. We weren’t sure Violet could muster the courage for the intense competition less than 12 hours away.

“Let’s call Juliet,” Annie said.

A pep talk from her mentor slowly eased Violet. “You’ve earned this,” Juliet told her. “You deserve to be there.”

The next morning, we all waited in the hotel room as Violet got dressed in the adjacent bathroom. She and her mom would soon depart for the competition. Levi and I would be forcibly detached, only receiving short text updates from Annie throughout the day.

Violet emerged donning her approved wardrobe, a floral headband crowning her head. Her skin shimmered with a youthful glow, and I was struck by her innocent beauty. Drudging up confidence, Violet smiled, lifting her rosy cheekbones toward her eyes. I clenched her goodbye, shedding tears myself.

“You can do it,” I told her.

My wife and I kissed farewell, and I watched as Violet walked away hand in hand with her mother toward the bus that would take them to the competition.

That would be the last time I would see Violet until the end of the day. Wondering if she would emerge victorious, I knew in my heart she had already won. Heroic girl power prevailing, Violet had swiftly taken down the villains of shyness, fear and self-doubt.

Our Wonder Woman had made it on “Chopped Junior.”

TV PREVIEW

"Chopped Junior"

8 p.m. Tuesday, Food Network

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