Nikki Bidun is back on the Chopped Junior set, but this time, as a judge. A kid judge, that is. And, the first of three. Kenzie Mills and Joshy Altamura also won their episodes and joined her at the judges table. In the picture from left to right, the order is Nikki, Joshy, Kenzie.
“It was absolutely incredible!,” said Nikki. “It was something that is worth more than the $10,000. The best part was that there was no ‘bad part’ about the dishes. It’s hard to judge the best food you have ever had.”
“My favorite part was watching the chefs cook! It was mind blowing. The smells were incredible – there are techniques that I didn’t know of and new food I’ve never tasted. But, also, it was really loud. It was because the judges used gizmos and gadgets, and they had all 6 stove burners running. They brought out new pans and pots. Frankly, it was hard to talk because no one would hear you – and because I was so mesmerized by their cooking.”
“First thing that happened was getting your wardrobe ready. The wardrobe department picked out your clothing. You then got your makeup done and your hair. Then off to the set. It was different from walking in the first time as a competitor. Then, you are nervous and all you think about is ‘Am I going to win?’, ‘What are the basket ingredients?’, and ‘Am I not going to know how to use anything?’ But now, you walk in more relaxed. All the hard work is over! We sat down and fixed our dresses and hair, checked the lights and cameras. Then, they introduced the competitors: Marcus Samuelsson, Amanda Freitag, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Chris Santos. We didn’t know who was competing beforehand. When the first round started, we were all interested to see what they would make. We couldn’t wait to start talking. We had so many things to say. I thought that no one would talk, and everyone would be afraid to say anything. But, boy was I wrong! Then, it came to judging their dishes. It was so hard! There was hardly anything wrong about them! How can you argue with food from pro chefs that is free? Come on! How are we supposed to decide who to chop?! It was really hard to break the news. Then came the entree round. Yet again, the kitchen was filled with glorious smells. We couldn’t keep our eyes off our judges. They were cooking up a storm. When it came to the judging, we started asking questions about the judges. That’s when they introduced what charity they were playing for. (The winner gets $25,000 donated to the charity of their choice.) It was really nice to know that even though these judges had a whole career and everything, they decided to give back to the community and show their love for others in need. When it came to the dessert, it was on! I knew that I couldn’t regret what either of the chefs would make at this point. I mean it is something that is really hard to go wrong with. Dessert! Both dishes were outstanding and made it really hard to decide. But, after going through all the dishes they presented, we decided who to chop, and who to name winner.”
In the competition, there are three rounds: appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Each round has its own basket of mystery ingredients. Every ingredient must be used in each competitor’s dish in some way. Each round is timed. Dishes are judged on taste, presentation, and creativity. If someone’s dish isn’t good enough to have them move on to the next round, they’ll be “chopped”, or eliminated.
In the appetizer baskets, the professional chefs had to work with ground venison, pickle juice popsicles, pretzel slider buns, and bottarga (cured fish roe).
“The trouble with this basket was that there was a very high content of salt, so you needed to balance out that with something that could counteract that.”
In the entrée round, there was wild boar steak, Texas barbeque sauce, lime gelatin salad, and black eyed peas.
“I found that this was a basket that you could definitely embrace the BBQ theme.”
In the dessert baskets, there was goat’s milk caramel, confetti cookie dough, pig ears, and baked apples.
“It was going to be a challenge to incorporate pig ears into a dessert, but I knew these chefs could make it happen.”
“I thought that the ingredients in the dessert basket were a bit easier because it allowed for a lot of creativity, and they really lent themselves to the ‘dessert’ theme,” she replied, reminiscing back to when the episode was shot. “Something I thought was difficult was in the entrée round, when you got boar and lime gelatin. I thought they could be hard to mix into one cohesive dish.”
“I felt that I really connected with Kenzie,” Nikki told me when I asked her which of her kid judging companions she became closest to. “She had a really cool style. We also bonded with girl power. It was also nice for me to show a Texas girl NYC.”
“It definitely changed for the better,” she told me about how her life changed after this experience. “Now, I look at food with a different perspective, and instead of thinking ‘I don’t like this’, I’m going to be thinking ‘How can this be better?’”
“I felt that the judges who were competing were pretty inspirational because they were playing for a good cause, and they had the bravery to take on the challenge of actually competing on Chopped.”
“I’ve got to say that (I know this may be obvious) their ability to be able to do both sides of the job. Competing and judging,” Nikki told me about the what was most impressive about judging the professional chefs. “It’s almost like these judges can do anything.”
Nikki, wow!!!!! You have really done an amazing job in these two episodes. You’re an exceptional girl, and I hope to see that you’ve accomplished great things when you grow up. I really enjoyed doing this with you, and I hope to meet you one day. Just keep cooking, and never stop!!!!!