Jasmine Stewart of Milton is the new “MasterChef Junior” champion.
“This is the biggest moment of my entire life. Who would ever think a little girl from Milton, Georgia would ever win “MasterChef Junior?” said an elated Jasmine, moments after winning the final round of competition in “MasterChef Junior,” which aired Thursday evening on Fox in a two-hour-long finale.
Jasmine, who is 12, is a sixth-grader at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. She is also the new MasterChef Junior, winning a trophy — and a $100,000 grand prize.
“Some of the highlights of the show was winning of course,” Jasmine told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview. “But I did love it when I got an apron. I never thought I would even make it on the show, let alone be getting an apron and get to wear it.”
Also in the top two was another local contestant -- Justise Mayberry, 11, of Sugar Hill. Justise is a sixth-grader at Lanier Middle School in Gwinnett County.
During the first half of the show Thursday, Jasmine and Justise were in the final four in this culinary competition, now in its fifth season, and hosted by Gordon Ramsay, British star chef of “Hell’s Kitchen” and Christina Tosi, renowned pastry chef.
After winning a molten lava cake challenge and impressing the judges with a rack of lamb dish followed by three-course-meal which included a scallop and white fish appetizer with a green papaya salad, a lobster tail and coconut curry entree and for dessert, a sticky rum cake with pineapple chips, Jasmine was declared the winner.
“Whether she’s baking flawless French macaroons or putting together stunning sushi, Jasmine’s culinary skill and sophisticated palate make her talented well beyond her years,” said Tosi.
After winning the first challenge — baking a flawless molten lava cake — Jasmine got to decide the choice of meat for contestants in the next challenge. Jasmine opted for a more challenging rack of lamb over beef and pork. She made a Mediterranean lamb dish with herb couscous, olive puree and pickled bell peppers. Ramsay called the lamb “breathtaking.”
Meanwhile, Justise made a goat curry dish with cilantro-scented rice and crispy shallots. She also wowed the judges.
“You made this in an hour?” said Ramsay. “The meat is incredible. It is fragrant, spicy. . . It is absolutely phenomenal.”
The impressive meat dishes paved the way for the two contestants from metro Atlanta to land in the finale.
They were tasked with preparing a three-course meal.
On Thursday, renowned chef Wolfgang Puck and Martha Stewart helped judge the dishes and gave high marks to both contestants.
While Jasmine’s made a scallop and white fish appetizer and lobster tail entree received high marks, it was her dessert -- the sticky rum cake with pineapple chips -- that helped secure her victory. Stewart said she wanted the recipe. Tosi said she could open a pastry shop and just sell the sticky rum cake, it was that good.
Justise made grilled spot prawns with basil pesto, chili watermelon and avocado balls, cider-based pork belly with wilted greens, pickled peaches, grits and onion rings for the entree, and a buttermilk panna cotta with balsamic strawberries and strawberry meringue for dessert. She called her menu. “Georgia-based with a healthy spin.” She also impressed the judges with her dessert.
Last Thursday, Jasmine and Justise were part of a team that won a difficult cooking challenge, preparing a meal (pan-roasted scallops with polenta cakes and fried quail eggs for an appetizer, and pan-seared red snapper with purple potato gnocchi and chorizo-saffron lemon broth for the main dish) at a pop-up restaurant on the beach. Diners included food critics and magazine writers — all of whom were impressed by the dishes but had no idea their meals were prepared by kids — until after they finished the meal, and critiqued the dishes.
Throughout the competition, Ramsay and Tosi coached and encouraged the hopefuls to cook like pros and teach them the tricks of the trade along the way. Surprise guests and diners have included former first lady Michelle Obama and the Muppets.
During a recent episode, Jasmine was eliminated, but she, along with five other contestants, were brought back for another chance. She ended up winning her cooking challenge (she broke down a whole chicken) and has remained in the competition ever since. The season premiered in February, and the episodes were filmed in Los Angeles last spring.
In a recent interview with the AJC, Jasmine said she draws inspiration from her parents.
“My mom loves to cook Southern food, and kind of homestyle cooking that makes you feel warm inside, and my dad loves to cook a lot of elaborate breakfast foods — things that wake you up in the morning and make you super-excited to start the day, like tomato pancakes or homemade French toast or crepes,” she said. “Another thing is our household is busy, but we can make quick, tasty and good food.”
In an interview, Jasmine and her mother, Deborah Stewart, said they plan to save the money for college. Jasmine added she would like to also use some of the winnings for a new car when she is old enough to drive.
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