Local girl wows judges on cooking show

Abby Major, 9, makes pasta at her Winchester home. Abby was a contestant on the Fox TV show "MasterChef Junior." Photo courtesy of Maggie Major.

WINCHESTER — Abby Major has big plans for the $100,000 she has a shot at winning.

“I would donate most of it to charity,” she said, “and I could buy a horse.”

The Winchester 9 year old is one of the contestants on the second season of “MasterChef Junior,” a kids cooking competition on Fox that airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Abby, a fourth-grader at the Powhatan School in Boyce, breezed past the competition in the season premiere last week, surviving the first four eliminations from the show.

“Kitchen Nightmares” host Gordon Ramsay, chef Graham Elliot and restaurant and winery owner Joe Bastianich serve as the show’s three judges.

“It’s kind of about just that kids can cook, and that they can have the same level as all adult chefs,” Abby said.

After auditioning for the show in New York City this spring, she passed three rounds of interviews before finding out she had been chosen.

Abby was 8 years old when she was at the Los Angeles set for filming at the end of March and throughout April.

She’s the youngest out of the 15 other junior chefs, whose ages range from 9 to 12, but she remains unfazed.

She said she started cooking when she was 2, making cakes and cookies with her parents, Art and Maggie.

When Abby turned 6, she said she “really got into cooking,” adding scrambled eggs, spaghetti carbonara and French toast to her culinary repertoire.

“I guess it was just a byproduct of living in our house,” said her mom, “because I cook a lot and she literally grew up in the kitchen. From the time she was sitting up in a high chair, she was sitting in the kitchen with me while I cooked.”

Abby described the Hollywood set kitchen as “humongous,” and added that it was “20 times bigger” than her kitchen at home.

The TV cameras were equally as massive, she said.

“They were like always up and you could always see them,” Abby said, “and there was this big one that was always towering over everyone.”

The season premiere kicked off with a mystery box challenge.

The 16 junior chefs were asked to create a dish in one hour from the following ingredients: a pork chop, pork tenderloin, Granny Smith apples, hazelnuts, brussels sprouts, phyllo dough, fingerling potatoes, wild rice, whole grain mustard and artichokes.

After lugging a food processor up to the countertop, Abby created a pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and coleslaw.

The second challenge of the episode tasked contestants with making a chicken dish within one hour.

From atop her stepstool, Abby created a plate of Mexican fried chicken and grilled corn salad and zucchini with a hot sauce sour cream.

The judges were impressed.

“Delicious,” Bastianich said, biting into a piece of chicken. “It’s spicy, it’s crunchy. You might be the youngest here, Abby, but you got big, big potential.”

Despite Ramsay’s reputation as a profanity-laden hothead, Abby said the star chef helped develop her knife skills.

“They [the judges] were all super nice and super helpful and super funny,” she said.

Four kids were booted off the show at the end of the episode, including one who undercooked her chicken.

The season continues at 8 p.m. Tuesday on Fox. A preview for the episode hints at a pancake flipping contest as well as a challenge to create the best citrus cream pie.

The champion crowned at the end of the season wins $100,000 and the coveted MasterChef Junior trophy.

Last season, 13-year-old Alexander Weiss won the competition. According to the show, he has cooked for foreign governments, appeared on the covers of magazines and flown all across the world since winning the first season. He will appear as a judge on “Junior MasterChef Indonesia.”

Last week, Abby invited her classmates and teachers to a watch party for the premiere.

“It’s kind of been so long that I can hardly remember [being on set],” she said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh I remember that part,’ ‘I remember that part.'”

She said she would be glued to the TV regardless of being one of the contestants.

“It was super fun and we were really excited I was on the show,” she said, “but I would still want to watch it like a trillion times even if I wasn’t on it.”

Abby, whose favorite restaurant is Roma’s in Winchester, said her signature dish is Southwest chicken lettuce wraps and her favorite food is steamed clams with butter.

She said she wants to become a chef when she grows up.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com