The Hamptons and North Fork are home to countless talented chefs, several of whom have appeared on cooking competition shows — however, such stardom has typically been reserved for the adults. Just shy of 14 years old, young Eva of Sag Harbor will be making her culinary TV debut a little early when she competes on Season 8 of MasterChef Junior, premiering on FOX Thursday, March 17 at 8 p.m.
Judges/mentors Gordon Ramsay, Daphne Oz and Aarón Sánchez will put 16 gifted junior chefs, ages 8–13, through a series of surprising and messy challenges involving cooking for Renaissance fairs, monster truck derbies and the WWE as they determine who will win $100,000 and the title of America’s next MasterChef Junior. In the first episode, the pint-sized prodigies will need to punch a hole through a square in the wall of mystery, revealing which of the mystery ingredients each contestant must cook into something the judges will love.
Having recorded the season when she was 11, one of the “most exciting experiences of (her) life,” Eva reminisces about her time on the show and culinary journey, as she prepares to make her TV debut. And the East End will be right there cheering her on each week!
How did you get into cooking and develop your skills?
My dad, my grandparents and my mom, they were always really big into cooking. Just watching them and growing up, I kind of gravitated toward the kitchen and ended up helping them out a lot, and that really grew into something bigger and more exciting.
Do you consider any of them or another professional chef to be your culinary role model?
I look up to my dad a lot because he cooks a lot — he cooks a lot of amazing dishes — and I like and enjoy watching him cook. Also, I’ve been watching Gordon Ramsay shows for a really long time, and I always thought that he was amazing, and I loved his cooking, too, so that’s another inspiration.
Growing up in Sag Harbor, how have the local restaurants and markets influenced your cooking style and the flavors you like?
Each restaurant made me think of different things. At Il Capuccino in Sag Harbor, I always loved their (Italian). At Sen, for the Japanese, I love their food. And at the markets, everything is fresh, clean, beautiful, homemade and natural. And organic, of course, so all of that just tied even more into my cooking, and I think that going out so much to the restaurants, before the pandemic, also really helped out a lot with my cooking.
Is there a particular restaurant that inspired your dream of owning a 3-star Michelin restaurant?
I don’t know if there’s a particular restaurant, but I think that every single time I would go to a restaurant and I’d order something, I would always look at the presentation, look at the way they cooked it, and that played a big part in it, too.
What made you want to audition for MasterChef Junior?
One day my mom called me up, and she was like, “Do you want to audition?” And I was like, “You know what, I would love to,” because I’d been cooking before, a lot, and I’d watched the show and it looked like SO much fun — like one of the funnest things to do. … And I really wanted to go outside my comfort zone and really take that additional step into cooking.
Being a big fan of Gordon Ramsay, would you say you were more nervous or excited to cook for him?
I was definitely excited — I was so excited to meet him and for him to watch me cook and really see how I cook — but, of course, I was a little nervous. Meeting Gordon Ramsay is a little nerve-wracking, but at the end of the day he was really helpful and supportive as I cooked.
Having watched the show, did you feel prepared for the challenges you faced or were there more challenging surprises than you expected?
Since I watched it, I knew that something crazy was going to happen — like crazy things for each challenge — but everything is always new for each season. So for this one, I didn’t see any of the things coming, but they were SO amazing, and honestly, I loved that I had no idea because it made it even more exciting.
How did that mystery factor affect the way you went about creating your dishes?
Since, you know, you have no idea what you’re going to do until you do it, it really helps your brain work a lot faster, because it’s like, “Thank you guys for coming, and today this is the challenge.” And you’re like, “Oh my God!” So your brain is working really hard, and I think it helped me a lot to become a stronger chef, being able to work with whatever is thrown at me.
What was your favorite part of the MasterChef Junior experience?
Honestly, the people. Everyone was so nice, and my friends that I worked with on the show were so supportive, so funny and amazing to work with. And the judges were amazing. Gordon Ramsay — to meet him was crazy. Daphne Oz was such a nice person, and so was Aarón Sánchez. I loved everyone who I got to be there with. Everyone made me feel really supported, good and excited because it was something so new.
Did you make any lasting friendships from the experience?
Oh yeah, definitely! Everyone that I was there with is a good friend of mine. You grow so close when you’re together for so long, and I became amazing friends with everyone. So definitely, there are lasting friendships.
What’s something you gained or learned from the experience?
I think I gained how to be creative, because when you’re in one of those situations, there’s no recipe to look at, no one to turn to. … I think what made it amazing was that not really knowing what was going to happen, it makes your head move a lot quicker, and it basically made me much more creative because I had to think about what I’ve made before, what I’ve read, what my parents have taught me, and then that really tied in to being able to think on my feet really quick.
How have your cooking skills continued to develop since recording this season when you were 11?
During the pandemic, of course you’re home for a very long time, so I got to be very creative. I got to spend a lot of time on a dish and really perfect something, work hard and try new things because I could do it right after school, because you’re at home already. I think having that additional time at home and not going out or eating out as much, it gives you more time to really perfect your dishes.
See Eva compete on MasterChef Junior Season 8, premiering on FOX this Thursday, March 17 at 8 p.m.