Meet Chef Janie from Peabody Before She Competes on Chopped Junior
Even though she’s just 12 years old, Janie Wilson has already proven she can handle the heat.
Last year, she made turkey rice chili that won her school, McCarthy Elementary in Peabody, a $30,000 grand prize through Uncle Ben’s Beginners. Janie has cooked alongside James Beard Award winning-chefs Barbara Lynch and Marcus Samuelsson—teaching the latter, a New York City-based restauranteur and cookbook author, her chili recipe in front of a crowd at her school last year.
Now in sixth grade, Janie is a bubbly 12-year-old who cooks dinner for her parents and younger sister most nights of the week. She already hosts her own cooking show—the Three Js’ and That Guy’s Kitchen, on Peabody’s local access channel—but tonight, she makes her network television debut on Food Network’s Chopped Junior.
The show is similar to the long-running Chopped series, but each chef is between 9 and 15 years old. Each contestant is presented with a basket of mandatory mystery ingredients for three different courses—swordfish, figs, oyster sauce, and cotton candy-flavored sandwich cookies comprised one recent episode’s appetizer basket. In an unfamiliar kitchen, the pint-sized chefs have 30 minutes to create something delicious.
Ahead of tonight’s Chopped Junior screening, Boston chatted with Janie about her favorite recipes, her future plans, and getting a hug from host Ted Allen.
How long have you been interested in cooking?
Recently, I just found a picture of me over someone’s house and I was, like, 4, and I’m making mashed potatoes. I’ve been cooking forever, and every year, I love it every year even more. I’ve never really taken cooking lessons. I just cook every night for dinner. One night, I’ll cook tacos, then, like, a lasagna. Yesterday, for the first time, I just made a beef stew. I like to try all different things, and I’m really independent. I’ll kick all my family out of the kitchen. My mom and dad don’t cook anymore. It’s just me, because I like to do it!
Tell me about the beef stew you made last night.
Last night, I made a three-packet beef stew in a crockpot. We got this big chunk of meat. Together in a bowl, I mixed together two cups of water, plus a packet of brown gravy, a packet of Italian dressing, and a packet of ranch dressing. I mixed it all together, then poured it over the meat. Then, I cooked the meat for, like, 4 hours. Then, I cut up my potatoes and carrots small and put it in the crockpot and cooked it for another two hours. Then I took out the meat and cut it into cubes. It was really good.
You won Uncle Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest last year. What did you have to do for that contest, and what did you make?
I made turkey rice chili, which my mom’s friend gave me recipe, and then I tweaked it. I did a couple tries to make sure all my words were good, because sometimes … [laughter] We did an awesome video. My mom got better with editing the video and adding special effects, so that made the video look cool. When I said “turkey rice chili,” it came up on the bottom. The school was talking about it every day of the week, the mayor put it on billboards to tell people to vote for me all over Peabody. I got so much support!
Was that experience of the contest anything like being on Chopped Junior?
Submitting a video was, I would say, easier, because you’re not under the pressure as you are with Chopped Junior, but I enjoyed both. [On Chopped Junior], you’re under the time, just trying to beat the clock so you plan everything out in your head. You’re not really thinking, you’re just cooking. ‘Cause you’d be thinking about the clock, all the cameras, the judges. I think my ingredients were fair.
What was it like hanging out with Ted Allen?
He was a real big help in the kitchen. He gave me a big hug. He’s just the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. He’s not cocky about being a celebrity or anything. He’s just, like, a normal person who gets the honor of being on Chopped every day and be the host.
How did he help you?
There are some crazy ingredients, and before we started, he gives us a little hint about what the ingredients are. Some of the ingredients, to us, are like, foreign, like we’ve never seen him before. He tells us a little bit about how they taste, or how they’re normally cooked.
So, you like to watch Chopped. What are some of your favorite cooking shows or celebrity chefs?
Some of my favorite shows are Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Guy’s Grocery Games. I’m just a huge fan of Guy Fieri and I want to meet him soooo bad. My mom and dad said we’ll go soon to his restaurant.
What other chefs, or restaurants around Peabody, do you like?
One restaurant I really like in Peabody I really like is Lupos [Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria]. Every time I go there, they give me chocolate cake. During the Uncle Ben’s thing when all the news articles were coming out, they had some news articles in their restaurant. They’re just a big supporter, and their food’s good! They said when I’m old enough to work there, they already gave me a job.
So, you definitely want to work in a restaurant?
Yeah, and once I’m old enough, I want to open my own restaurant, and be on TV. I want to go to the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
What are some of your favorite things to cook?
Some of my favorite things to cook [are] macaroni and cheese, lasagna; I like to cook a lot of pasta dishes with vegetables and proteins. Sometimes I cook garlic pasta with zucchini and chicken; sometimes I cook with asparagus; peppers and onions, kielbasa pasta; I put anything together. Sun-dried tomato pasta, turkey chili, tortellini soup, I have a bunch of different things to cook.
Chopped Junior, “Cereal Miracles,” premieres Tuesday, December 15 at 8 p.m. on Food Network.