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Interview Tue Dec 02 2014

Interview with "MasterChef Junior" Contestant Levi

rsz_dsc_0097.jpgMost teens barely know how to microwave ramen, but Levi Eirinberg's favorite meal to cook is crispy Icelandic salmon with roasted cauliflower and truffle frisee salad. A Highland Park native and only 13 years old, Levi presented similarly complex dishes before being eliminated on episode four of "MasterChef Junior" Season 2. I had a conversation with Levi about his experiences on the show.

How did you get interested in Masterchef Junior, and how did you decide to apply?

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I started watching cooking shows. On YouTube, I watched every Gordon Ramsay video. And then I wanted to be on the cooking shows, and I saw that there was "Master Chef Junior" season 1 and it was like the hardest thing for me to watch because watching all these other young contestants being on the show and meeting Gordon Ramsay and Joe and Graham. And after the finale I kept looking for auditions and saw there were Chicago auditions on a specific date, and I was there 90 minutes before everyone else was. I was so excited. Yeah, and I happened to get on after many many tryouts.

How were the tryouts?

They definitely asked me a lot of questions about cooking. And so I had to show off my knife skills and my cooking skills. And from there, it got more advanced.

Do you remember when you got the call?

Yeah, it was a long process. But I got the call, and it was the most exciting thing. I was actually at an Indian restaurant. We had to leave the restaurant because we knew it was their call.

How was it like meeting the judges for the first time?

Seeing them, you are in, like, a dream. You don't even think it was real. You watch them so many times, and then you're standing right in front of them.

There were some really fun challenges on this season, including the one where they tied your leg up to your partner. What was your favorite challenge?

Definitely, that one was up there with the challenges. It was very difficult, but being paired up with Samuel was great because he's really one of my best friends.

Who was your favorite judge?

I would say all of them were great, but I'd say Gordon Ramsay was the most inspirational and best to see, because that's really who I've been watching everywhere. Graham doesn't appear on too many others, but Joe has actually started a new show. But Gordon was the most amazing to see.

When all the competitors finish a cooking challenge and everyone individually presents their dish to be judged, is there a order? What if the food gets cold?

For the most part, the judging is what you see. [The food] is mostly warm -- they're not basing it on the temperature, but the taste and how it looks.

What was it like watching yourself on television?

It's actually really exciting to see myself on television. At the same time, it could get a little weird seeing everything I say, but it was really a blast.

What is one behind the scenes thing you wish people knew about the show?

I think the fact that you have to go to three hours of school a day is probably surprising. And you actually have to be in a classroom setting. To me that surprised me more than the makeup.

Where do you get your recipe ideas from?

With all of the meat recipes, almost all of the are made up because I have worked with many recipes and seen what people like. But if I'm doing a ravioli or something, I look at a few recipes and I kind of combine some things together.

Were you exposed to any new techniques or ingredients while on the show?

Samuel -- on the first episode -- did a Sriracha foam with this gourmet whip.

What about a sous vide machine?

I actually have a sous vide machine.

Are you still in contact with any of the contestants?

There's a mass group text, and we talk about the show and what we've been cooking lately.

For a contestant who wants to try out for the next season, what is one piece of advice?

Definitely don't be shy with your personality; you just have to be who you are. Also, practice your knife skills, learn recipes.

Do you have to memorize the recipes before the show?

Before the filming started, I studied many recipes, and obviously I've been cooking since I was 8 years old. For my [key-lime] pie I made, I knew the proportions of the flour, butter and sugar, so yeah you have to know that.

What's one chef or restaurant in Chicago that's your favorite?

[In Highland Park], Abigail's is definitely one of my favorite restaurants. The chef let me intern there over the summer where I got to prep and do dinner service. I think it's phenomenal.


Open casting calls for Season 3 of "MasterChef Junior" will take place Saturday, Dec. 6 from 9am to 5pm at the Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile, 633 N Saint Clair Ave.
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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