Jenna, Kayla and Ayla Talk MasterChef Junior and preview “Restaurant Takeover” [Exclusive]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
I am constantly amazed by the talent and skill level of these young chefs. I came a little late to the party — I didn’t start watching until about halfway through season 2. But this show has quickly become one of my favorite reality competition shows and every week I find myself on the edge of my seat watching to see how these kids will do. Last season, the pop up restaurant episode was so good so my expectations for “Restaurant Takeover” are quite high. I’m not worried though. I know these kids will shine and I’m looking forward to watching Gordon expedite for them. I just hope he can keep it together.
I got a chance to speak exclusively with chefs Jenna, Kayla and Ayla. We talked about how they each became interested in being chefs, how their time on the show improved their cooking, what their “Restaurant Takeover” experience was like and more.
TV GOODNESS: How does it feel to have made it so far in the competition?
Jenna: “It feels really good to be in the top 6. Iâ€™m proud of myself. I didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d make it this far. I was really happy about it.”
TV GOODNESS: I love that youâ€™ve talked about how your parents are a bit of a disaster in the kitchen. How did you become such a great cook?
Jenna: “My parents arenâ€™t the most cooking-ly advanced. [Laughs.] So, I would just say I learned because I wanted to make myself and my family really awesome food and I wanted to experiment with it.”
TV GOODNESS: Did you ever think youâ€™d be in a cooking competition like this and what made you try out for the show?
Jenna: â€œI swear I said this when I was little. I watched cooking shows and I said to myself, â€˜I really wish I was on a cooking show. I just want to grow up so I can be on a cooking show.â€™ It sounds too coincidental to be true and then I found the show and was like, â€˜I have to try out.â€™ I found the audition site and I tried out.”
TV GOODNESS: Whatâ€™s been your favorite dish to cook so far and why?
Jenna: “My favorite dishes were the alligator and the sausage challenge. In the sausage one I got to work with Mia and sheâ€™s one of my best friends. In the alligator one, I just thought it was really fun and I was really proud of myself for making something Iâ€™d never made before.”
TV GOODNESS: It seems like the show really likes to challenge you guys and make you step out of your comfort zone. Howâ€™s that been?
Jenna: “Itâ€™s been really hard because most the stuff that we made on the show Iâ€™ve never really made before. I just have to go with the flow and try my hardest to work off what I know.”
TV GOODNESS: It seems like you have to rely on what youâ€™ve cooked before and your knowledge of the ingredients. Itâ€™s great to see you guys cooking food you havenâ€™t before and doing really well.
Jenna: “I made a curry for the alligator challenge. The only reason I thought about alligator curry is because thatâ€™s what I ate for dinner [the night before], but I had it with chicken. Thatâ€™s how I came up with that.”
TV GOODNESS: I want to ask you about the sushi boat. That was such a tough challenge. What did you learn from that experience?
Jenna: “I should probably work on my sushi skills. [Laughs.] Sometimes, even when it gets stressful, you should stay calm because getting really stressed out is only gonna make it worse.”
TV GOODNESS: It seems like the atmosphere in the MasterChef Junior kitchen is great. The judges are encouraging and the other chefs are really supportive. Do you have a favorite moment from being in that kitchen?
Jenna: “My favorite moment was when me and Joe were doing yoga together. First of all, I was really proud of my dish and second, just felt really comfortable with the judges. It was still towards the beginning of the competition and it helped me loosen up a little.”
TV GOODNESS: I love that Chef Ramsay said he thinks you have what it takes to go all the way. What went through your mind when he said that?
Jenna: “I canâ€™t remember what the quote was, but when Gordon Ramsay said that I was really shocked and surprised because all Iâ€™ve ever really done is cooked meals for my family. Iâ€™ve never done anything professional, Iâ€™ve never done any classes or anything like that. A lot of the other kids have parents in the industry and I donâ€™t really have that, so I was shocked I got a compliment like that.”
TV GOODNESS: It doesnâ€™t seem like he doles compliments like that out all the time, so itâ€™s a big deal.
Jenna: “Yeah. I was just really proud of myself because I never really thought I could make it this far.”
TV GOODNESS: Has there been advice any of the 3 judges gave you during the competition that youâ€™ve incorporated into your cooking since you left the show?
Jenna: “I talked about this [with] the banana mystery box. One of the things that really stuck with me is that in the first episode Graham said to me, â€˜If it grows together, it goes together.â€™ That really stuck with me and helped me with my flavor pairings.”
TV GOODNESS: How was it to work with Chef Ramsay during the â€œRestaurant Takeover?â€
Jenna: “He was reallyâ€¦interesting.”
TV GOODNESS: Was he a bit of a yeller?
Jenna: “Yeah. I think itâ€™s tough love, though. Some of the stuff was harsh, but it was only because he wanted the dishes to come out right and for us to improve as chefs so that one day we can actually work in a professional kitchen.”
TV GOODNESS: And, finally, what kind of restaurant do you want to open when youâ€™re older and do you also want to have your own cooking show?
Jenna: “Iâ€™d really like to have my own cooking show. I think that would be really cool, especially since this was such a good experience. It would be even cooler if it was with some of the MasterChef Junior kids. We got along so well. Iâ€™d like to open a restaurant. Iâ€™d probably open a French restaurant because when I was little and still now, I always go to a French restaurant on my birthday and Iâ€™d like to bring that experience to other people.”
TV GOODNESS: It must be exciting to be part of the top 6.
Kayla: “Itâ€™s amazing. I didnâ€™t even think I was gonna make it on the show. Now I made it to the top 6 and thatâ€™s an amazing accomplishment.”
TV GOODNESS: Youâ€™ve mentioned that you started cooking when you were 7 and watching cooking shows made you want to cook. Did you ever think youâ€™d be in a cooking competition like this?
Kayla: “No. Not at all. I didnâ€™t think I was gonna be on a cooking show. Iâ€™m just an ordinary person. I didnâ€™t think that kind of stuff could happen.”
TV GOODNESS: What made you want to try out for the show?
Kayla: “My momâ€™s friend told her to watch the first season. She said, â€˜Kayla can do this,â€™ and I told my mom, â€˜I can totally do this.â€™ My mom wasnâ€™t completely sold on the idea, but at the end of the season it said to go to this website if we wanted to be on the show. We went on the website and I guess they liked me. Now Iâ€™m on TV.”
TV GOODNESS: Whatâ€™s been your favorite dish to cook so far and why?
Kayla: “I have two, theyâ€™re a tie. The sausage dish I made with Ryan Kate and my mango turnover because I won with [that]recipe. And Ryan Kate and I just worked so well together that dish is a memory of how we got through the challenge and almost won.”
TV GOODNESS: Speaking of pairings, was Ryan Kate your favorite person to work with during the team challenges?
TV GOODNESS: She seemed like a great person and a great partner. Iâ€™m bummed she left the competition.
Kayla: “I was really upset too. Her and Riley were really good friends of mine.”
TV GOODNESS: It does seem like thereâ€™s a good rapport between all of the contestants and with all of the judges. Have there been any stand-out moments you want to talk about?
Kayla: “The pie that I stuck in Gordon Ramsayâ€™s face, that was good. The chefs were way less intimidating with a bunch of yellow glop on their faces. Also, when I cut myself. All of my friends still make fun of when I said, â€˜Medic.â€™ So now every time they get close they yell, â€˜Medic,â€™ and hold their hand out. And, also, when I won the challenge for the mango turnover.”
TV GOODNESS: Letâ€™s talk a little bit about the sushi boat challenge. That was a little bit rough. What did you learn about yourself from that experience?
Kayla: “Even though youâ€™re friends and you might get into fights, that [friendship] is more important than winning a competition.”
TV GOODNESS: It does look like your friendship with Jenna weathered the storm and that seemed like a particularly hard challenge. I applaud you.Â
Kayla: “Thank you. It was very hard. Weâ€™re both leaders in the kitchen. Our leadership styles clashed. I think thatâ€™s where it all went wrong.”
TV GOODNESS: Have you incorporated any of the judges critiques or advice into your cooking?
Kayla: “Iâ€™ve definitely incorporated all of their advice while Iâ€™m cooking. I want to make Salmon en Croute again to prove Gordon wrong and prove that I can actually make it. I mean, come on Gordon Ramsay. [Laughs.]Â Iâ€™ve definitely used all of their critiques to make me a better chef.”
TV GOODNESS: The preview for tonightâ€™s â€œRestaurant Takeoverâ€ looks intense. What was Gordonâ€™s role in the kitchen and how was it to work with him?
Kayla: “He was the expediter. He likes to yell. He was in his Hells Kitchen, but nice mode. Heâ€™s nice and then he screams. Then heâ€™s nice again and then he screams. It goes back and forth.”
TV GOODNESS: My final question is whenever you open up your own restaurant in the future, what kind of food do you want to serve?
Kayla: “I canâ€™t just pick one culture of food because Iâ€™m really bad at choosing things. I want a restaurant that showcases different culinary styles of food every month. So one month itâ€™ll focus on Italian, the next month itâ€™ll focus on BBQ. So everybody who comes to my restaurant at least once a month will get to try a different type of cuisine.”
TV GOODNESS: I love that idea. Iâ€™ll be there.
Kayla: “Thank you.”
TV GOODNESS: Congratulations on being part of the top 6. That must be so exciting.
Ayla: â€œOh my gosh, it is! Thanks so much.â€
TV GOODNESS: Youâ€™ve talked a little bit about starting to cook when you were 7 and that your mom is one of your inspirations, but Iâ€™m wondering if there was anything specific that made you think, â€œYes. I want to be a chef.â€
Ayla: â€œWell, definitely the kids in my momâ€™s cooking school. I remember cooking with them, they were really inspired by cooking. They were passionate about it. I remember wanting to be the exact same way as them. There was this girl who was 2 years older than me. She loved cooking. She was my idol, someone I looked up to other than my mom. She was really inspirational for me.â€
TV GOODNESS: Did you ever think youâ€™d be involved in a cooking competition like this?
Ayla: â€œWell, at first I didnâ€™t. Before the show, I knew I could cook but I didnâ€™t know Iâ€™d be able to go on a cooking competition.â€
TV GOODNESS: Iâ€™ve talked to a few of the other young chefs and it seems like theyâ€™re challenging you with stuff youâ€™ve never done before. But you guys are rising to the occasion. Howâ€™s that been?
Ayla: â€œMy hardest part was the sausage challenge because I really didnâ€™t know how to use the [grinder.] I have no idea what to do with that. Riley was like, â€˜I can do it, if you want. I can do it.â€™ I was like, â€˜No, no, no, no. I got it. I got it.â€™ Thatâ€™s one thing I did not know how to use on the show.â€
TV GOODNESS: For the sushi boat challenge, I love how you and Jimmy worked together. Talk to me about working with him.
Ayla: â€œWorking with him on that challenge was really fun. I didnâ€™t know it was going to be a tag team, actually. When I heard Jimmy was going to be my partner, relief went over me. I was so happy because he was really good at sushi. I remember going to our station. Iâ€™m like, â€˜Jimmy, I donâ€™t know how to make sushi yet. I donâ€™t really know what to do with this.â€™ Heâ€™s like, â€˜Donâ€™t worry. I got it. I got it. Iâ€™ll help you.â€™ He was just a really supportive partner.â€
TV GOODNESS: Has that been your favorite challenge so far?
Ayla: â€œThat was my favorite challenge out of all of them. Sushi, I never really worked with it before and it was fun getting to play with the rice and slicing the salmon and experimenting with it. Now itâ€™s my favorite challenge.â€
TV GOODNESS: It seems like the MasterChef Junior kitchen is really supportive. Whatâ€™s been your favorite moment so far from the kitchen?
Ayla: â€œMy favorite moment was when Chef Ramsay came up to me and Riley on the sausage challenge. Our water wasnâ€™t on. He said, â€˜Your waterâ€™s not on. You need to turn your water on and you donâ€™t have that much time left.â€™ Him warning us about that was really helpful. We couldâ€™ve gone home on that challenge.â€
TV GOODNESS: Have the judges influenced your cooking since the showâ€™s been over? Is any of their advice something you use in your cooking now?
Ayla: â€œChef Ramsay, when he said, â€˜You guys can make it far. Keep cooking. Keeping cooking, even with challenges. Keep cooking.â€™ He really inspired me. Heâ€™s a huge chef. He has all these shows, he knows about cooking.â€
TV GOODNESS: I know you canâ€™t say much about â€œRestaurant Takeover,â€ but Iâ€™m wondering how it was to working with Chef Ramsay.
Ayla: â€œI donâ€™t know what to say with that one. That one was a lot.”
TV GOODNESS: I’ve heard there was yelling.
Ayla: “He wasnâ€™t yelling, it was encouragement. It was encouragement, really.â€
TV GOODNESS: My last question is what kind of restaurant do you want to open when youâ€™re older?
Ayla: What kind of cooking store?
TV GOODNESS: A restaurant or a cooking school. Whatever you want to do related to cooking in the future. Tell me a little bit about that.
Ayla: Iâ€™m taking over my parents business. Hopefully I can change that into a restaurant where kids cook the meals.â€
Interviews edited for space and content.
MasterChef Junior airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on FOX.
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