After Audrey MacKinnon spent weeks creating gourmet dishes under bright lights on TV and won the entire Canada’s Junior Chef Showdown competition, the first meal she had after the show was a big bowl of Kraft Dinner.
“It’s funny because I went from cooking Wagyu steak to that,” she said.
The 12-year-old champion from Brantford won the top prize on the Food Network cooking competition for chefs ages nine to 13.
Her spoils included $25,000, a vacation for her family and bragging rights. Her final dish, which was up against two others, was a drool-worthy pan-seared Wagyu steak with a grilled peach and vegetable salad with a garlic pesto.
“It was probably the thing I was most proud of making because all throughout the competition, I progressed in my skills — seasoning, textures, the balance of things — and I wanted to incorporate all of it into that dish and it paid off,” she said.
Moments later, confetti fell from above and MacKinnon became a champion.
“Every kid’s dream is to end up on a show they watched growing up … getting the opportunity to be on the show and cooking for world-renowned chefs even though I was just a little girl cooking in her kitchen at home … it was astonishing.”
The competition was fun, but stressful at times. Each week, the junior chefs faced skill tests and cooking challenges. MacKinnon’s mother, Kathleen, said they coached her on skills like time-management and staying calm under pressure.
“I was there to wipe away those tears every once in a while that happened after a stressful day. It was stressful as a parent to watch and know you can’t help them,” Kathleen told CBC News. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s not like a hockey game where you can cheer them on because we were separated from the actual set.”
But off the set, cooking has always been a passion for the young chef, spending much of her childhood in a kitchen with her father and grandmother. She also spent time in the kitchen with Chef Ryan Devlin at Devlin’s Country Bistro in Mount Pleasant, Ont.
MacKinnon actually won 10 months ago, but the final episodes only aired recently. Keeping a secret that big for that long wasn’t easy, but she said it was worth it.
“It was a big deal and something that was really important to me and I really wanted it to be a surprise for my friends,” MacKinnon said.
The prize money will pay for her future education, which MacKinnon hopes will lead her to become a biochemist, a chef or an engineer.
Another cooking competition may also be in her future.
“It was the best moment of my life,” she said.