By Cheryl Conway
Imagine being given a mystery basket filled with ingredients and being challenged to create a recipe from scratch that wows the palate.
That is exactly what 11 year old Amanda DeFuria of Livingston did when she competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” Show recently aired on Tues., May 31. A sixth grader at the Unity Charter School in Morristown, DeFuria not only competed against three other young chefs from around the country, but she won $10,000 and a “Chopped Junior” chef jacket.
Selected out of 5,000 applicants, DeFuria was ecstatic that she was chosen, but that didn’t compare to when she was named champion during episode six titled Pasta Love.
“I won the show,” describes DeFuria during a telephone interview with New View Media Group. Although she competed for the episode in February, the young star was not allowed to divulge the outcome until the show was aired for the public on the last day of May. “I was shocked; I was so happy. I was ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I won Chopped Junior!’ It was amazing!”
As a regular fan of the show for two years, DeFuria had tuned in early Dec. 2015 to watch a “Chopped Junior” episode when she saw a casting call application for contestants under the age of 15. She told her mom “I have to do this.”
Selected out of thousands of other applicants from around the country, DeFuria says “I did an interview and they liked my personality and cooking demonstration.” She had a few interviews over Skype with a few casting agents. She found out right before Christmas time that they wanted her to be on the show.
For three days during the second week in February, DeFuria filmed the show on the set in NY, competing against three other contestants: Ally, 11 from Long Island, NY; Luke, 12, from Georgia and Hensley, 11, from Queens.
A three-round competition, each contestant had to create an appetizer, entrée and dessert. They were given a mystery box filled with four ingredients and were allotted 30 minutes per round to cook something using the ingredients.
“They give you random ingredients in a mysterious basket and you have to think of something really quick to cook,” she says.
Hosted by Ted Allen, a panel of judges was on the set to critique the young chefs’ performance and creations. The judges included Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, Comedy Actress Christine Taylor and Food Network Star Eddie Jackson.
For the appetizer, she had to create a dish with heart shaped pasta, peas and carrot candy, Italian tuna and oil and rainbow chard.
“I made a sauté out of tuna; I melted down candy and made a cream sauce, that went on top of the pasta; sautéed the chard and put it over the pasta and the tuna,” DeFuria describes.
The entrée consisted of scallops in the shell, sweet wine, papaya and broccoli, and for dessert, DeFuria created buttermilk ice-cream out of buttermilk cookie cups with cookie crumble on top.
The “Chopped Junior” champion decided on her own that she wants to donate some of her winnings to charity including St. Jude’s charity for cancer research, Feed America and No Child Hungry. The rest will go into her savings and her U-tube channel, she says.
Cooking since she was three years old, DeFuria says “I learned how to cook from watching my great-grandma and grandma cook.” She also learned a lot from watching cooking shows and Food Network for techniques.
“I like cooking because I feel you can express yourself and be creative,” says DeFuria. “It’s a way to feel happy. I really love cooking and I want to own a restaurant one day.”
She specializes in Italian cooking because, “I’m Italian,” she says, adding that she also likes to bake. “I cooked Easter dinner and Thanksgiving dinner and I cook for my family every night,” she says. During the holidays, DeFuria is cooking for up to 30 people, and nightly for her family which consists of her mom, dad and two younger brothers.
She has her radar on being a singer and actress too. DeFuria has been acting for three years and taking acting lessons with classes in NY and sings for her school, events and charity events.
A year ago, she started her own U-tube channel at Comedy & Cover kids where she sings, writes and performs skits and parodies. Two weeks ago she filmed a Yahoo Search Engine commercial in NY and has appeared in several other commercials and promos. In April, she was on the set of Sesame Street for an episode that comes out in Jan.
“I’m really grateful for all of these opportunities that I’ve had,” says DeFuria. “I’m really grateful for God for that.”
DeFuria’s mom, Cindy DeFuria, who was on the set the day of the Chopped Junior episode, is so proud of her daughter, especially after overcoming some adversity at her former school.
“She was a victim of bullying” this school year in 2015, and in 2013 when she was in fourth grade at a private school, Cindy says. “We had to switch schools. We totally put our trust in God and prayed something would change.”
Cindy says of her daughter, “She always stays positive. She puts herself into the acting and the drama and it helped with the bullying; it helped her come into who she is.”
In regards to her winning “Chopped Junior,” her mom says “I’m totally floored by her! I knew she cooked very well. I was so nervous. They had us in another room. I could not believe she did it so calmly. I was amazed; of course I cried when she won.”
Having her in the kitchen has been wonderful, Cindy admits during the telephone interview. That night her daughter had made tacos with homemade tortillas and chicken. “Sometimes it’s just vegetables. Her seasoning is spot on.
“My mom is an excellent cook,” says Cindy. “She [Amanda] was so interested; she would watch; she would help; she would buy cookbooks; then she’d watch the Food Network. She has that natural – when you see it- she’s got that natural ability.”
Besides commending her daughter’s cooking ability, Cindy applauds her daughter’s will to want to donate some of her winnings to charity.
“Whenever she gets money, her first thought is ‘I’m going to give to charity.’ When she gets, she wants to give all on her own. It’s amazing; it’s nice to see.”
Her daughter is also one not to brag or boast.
“She’s humble no matter what she does,” adds Cindy. “She says ‘thank you’ and goes back to being herself.”
To view DeFuria’s episode, go to foodnetwork.com, Chopped Junior, Pasta Love, episode six, season two.