MasterChef Junior mixes it up at Kids Eat Chicago

Seven Chicago-area MasterChef Junior contestants will be showing kids and their families just how much fun cooking together can be when they take the stage at Kids Eat Chicago on July 8-9.

Families will meet star chefs Evan Robinson, Avani Shah, Charlie Hans, Logan Hagene, Na’Imah Johnson, Season 4 winner Addison Osta Smith and Kamryn Chasnis.

So we asked a few of them what advice they plan to give on stage:

Evan: “Taste new food, don’t stick with what’s comfortable. Go out of your way to try new things.”

Avani: “Don’t be afraid to try new things because you might like it and it’s OK if you don’t like it.”

Na’Imah: “Everybody needs to find what they love and makes them happy.” 

The contestants might even give families a sneak peek at MasterChef Junior’s new cookbook coming out this fall, filled with recipes, tips and techniques inspired by contestants in the first five seasons. MasterChef Junior Cookbook: Bold Recipes and Essential Techniques to Inspire Young Cooks is available for pre-sale now.

Love in the mix

Na’Imah Johnson has a secret ingredient when it comes to the cakes and cupcakes she and her sisters create in their home bakery, NaNiNu Batter Cakes, on the city’s southside.

Love, the soon-to-be 12-year-old says.

She and her sisters, Na’ilah, 13, and Nuriyah, 8, began baking a few years ago when their mom didn’t have time to make a cake for a party. The result got rave reviews, and since then, the yummy cakes have become a sensation and often have the girls cooking four nights a week filling orders. 

It also helped launch Na’Imah into the national spotlight as part of MasterChef Jr. She finished in the top 40. 

“I’d like to go on more cooking shows to see if I can push myself a little harder,” she says.

One day, she’d like to have her own cooking show.

“Everybody needs to find what they love and makes them happy,” she says. “We love doing this. The bakery is something we all can do together.”

Her favor cake flavor is red velvet, and her favorite cupcake flavor is vanilla. The sisters are taking orders for their love-filled cakes at naninubattercakes.com (they make chocolate chip cookies, too!).

Fun in the kitchen

Rajan Shah has a tough job. The 6-year-old is his sister’s favorite food guinea pig when she’s experimenting in the kitchen.

Avani, who made it to the Top 10 on MasterChef Jr. Season 8 and was the youngest contestant when filming started, began cooking when she was just 6 herself, making simple pancakes for her family. Before long, though, she started adding fruit, chocolate chips, food coloring and other ingredients to create something new and different.

Watching the TV reality show, Cupcake Wars, threw her passion into overdrive; now she hopes to open her own pastry shop one day. She also still hopes to meet her idol, Sprinkles Cupcakes founder Candace Nelson.

Not only is she usually juggling school at the British International School where she says the kids are all supportive, and dance, but Avani, 10, is also busy in the kitchen experimenting as much as she can, up to two or three days a week. 

Sometimes, even if an experiment doesn’t work out, like a recent coconut cake, it ultimately works out. Hello cake pops. “So tasty,” she says.

Her message to kids: “Don’t be afraid to try new things because you might like it and it’s OK if you don’t like it.”

About the show, “It pushed me to do my best,” Avani says. The judges, Gordon Ramsey and Christina Tosi, “inspired me.”

Creativity rules 

Doors are opening for 12-year-old chef Evan Robinson and not just because he finished in the Top 6 on MasterChef Jr. 

MasterChef Jr., he says, allowed him to experiment more with his cooking and made him more confident in his abilities, yet taught him to be open to other people’s ideas about food.

Evan says he figured out how to cook by watching YouTube and reading cookbooks. His friends have all been very supportive and kind as he experimented with his cooking.

These days he cooks three to four days a week while still juggling school, tennis and soccer. He knows he wants to do something in the culinary industry, whether it is as a chef, food critic or food scientist.

His advice to other kids: “Experiment and try new things out. Taste new food, don’t stick with comfortable, go out of your way to try new things.”

Sharing the passion

Logan Hagene has been fascinated by cooking since he climbed up on a short stepping stool at age 2 to help his mom, Allie, make scrambled eggs. Logan, a contestant on Season 5 of MasterChef Junior, now mixes his passion for science and experimenting with a passion for food he hopes to share with everyone he encounters.

It’s that passion he shares with other kids through his YouTube channel, Chef Logan of Chicago, because he wants to inspire other kids in the kitchen. It’s also something he will do onstage Sunday at Kids Eat Chicago.

“My friends think it is really cool that I know how to cook,” says Logan, 11, of Chicago. While his specialty is fish tacos, he especially likes creating spice mixes and experimenting with new foods and tastes.

He says he loved learning to cook with his mom. Asked if he’s a better cook now than mom, he admits he thinks he’s almost even with her “but she definitely has a few more tricks up her sleeve.”

Logan says one of his fondest memories from MasterChef Junior was cooking in the MasterChef kitchen: “They had everything!” When he grows up, he wants to be a chef with his own restaurant.

He has a great piece of advice for other kids: Keep Trying. “If you fall down, you always need to get back up.”

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