Recipe for Success: Memorial Teen Competes on 'Top Chef Junior'
Kate Daniel may look like your typical 13-year-old, but as they say in the chef world, “Don’t judge a recipe book by its cover.”
When Kate isn’t conquering her math homework or snacking on her favorite foods like brownies, lettuce wraps and hoisin sauce or scratching the long ears of her 9-year-old basset hound, Dixie, there’s a good chance she’s in her kitchen cooking. One of her “average” dinner menus might include Roasted Poblano Chicken Tomatillo Enchiladas and Cochinita Pibil. Kate must be used to getting a confused look when she names that dish because, without having to ask, she explains, “The ones that are like citrus annatto braised pork tacos and pickled onions.” (No, we probably don’t know since last we checked, it wasn’t a Hamburger Helper flavor.)
Now an eighth grader at Spring Forest Middle School in Memorial, Kate fell in love with the kitchen as a four-year-old helping her mom, Brooke Daniel, bake lemon pound cakes for family and friends at Christmas time – a tradition that continues today.
Kate occasionally helps her mom at their family business, Figlia Cooking School for Kids. Kate enjoys sharing her love of cooking and teaching future chefs, “I like the way it can make kids feel – when a kid learns knife skills or how to make a snack or lunch for themselves, it’s really cool how it makes you feel. Very confident and proud you did that by yourself.”
Like thousands of other kids, Kate is a fan of the cooking competition television show, Top Chef Junior, a spin-off of the popular adult Top Chef series. The show features 12 young chefs, ages 9-13, from across America, all competing for the " Top Chef Junior" title and a $50,000 cash prize. Kate attended the Houston auditions for Season Two and was thrilled to find out she was picked as one of the contestants.
The show shot on location in Los Angeles starting last February. The producers told Kate and her mom to pack for anywhere from one week to 12 weeks depending on how long Kate stayed in the competition.
Brooke told us a little bit about Kate’s experience of starring on a television show. “She’s always cool as a cucumber and (has) grace under fire. Kate really loves the whole TV production experience along with the cooking. They were on set usually six of seven days a week with early call times. They would go to ‘school’ with a teacher on set 3 to 4 hours a day. ... It was hard work! But she never once thought of it like that. The Top Chef kitchen was amazing and hosts, Vanessa (Lachey) and Curtis (Stone), were awesome to be around. She really did like hanging with her chef friends. She loved every second of it even though the competition is very tough.”
Kate said one of her favorite things about being on the show was meeting all of the other contestants. “I mean, it’s not often you get to talk about how you like to braise your pork with other kids! They were all really nice and we still stay in touch.” She’s already met up a few times with fellow contestant, Eric Martinez, who lives in Spring, Texas.
On one of their days off, Kate, her mom and fellow contestant, Ella Bass from Philadelphia, had fun exploring Rodeo Drive. Kate shared, “My mom and I tried to do some ‘celebrity hunting’ and saw fellow Houstonian, musician and rap star Travis Scott!”
Kate looks forward to having the show air. “I’m excited to see how the competitions look on camera, of course, but also interested if they show much of me and my chef friends hanging out and having fun. We spent a lot of time together and became good friends.”
Top Chef Junior will air Saturdays, 5-6 p.m. on the Universal Kids Channel. The season premiere is Sept. 8.
See Kate's recipe for her favorite Roasted Poblano Chicken Tomatillo Enchiladas here.
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