“This is the biggest moment of my entire life. Who would ever think a little girl from Milton, Georgia, would ever win MasterChef Junior. Who knew I was going to even make it onto the show, let alone the top 4.” – Jasmine Stewart.
There is such a thing as channeling your Jamaican roots and that’s just what twelve year old Jamaican-American Jasmine Stewart did when she was crowned Season Five’s MasterChef Junior Champion and won the grand prize of US$100,000.00 on May 18th, 2017.
MasterChef Junior is a television series on the Fox Network hosted by Gordon Ramsay, a renowned international chef, who hails from Britain and has already made a name for himself and his career with the hit series Hell’s Kitchen. Ramsay hosts the show alongside Christina Tosi who is a pastry chef. The show caters to child prodigies who are well versed and have raw talent for the culinary arts. This programme thus allows them to exhibit their cooking skills to the world in a series of competitions and challenges ultimately to win the MasterChef Junior trophy, a grand cash prize and of course bragging rights.
“Some of the highlights on the show for me was actually winning – that was really amazing. But I did love it when I got an apron. I never thought that I would even make it onto the show let alone get an apron and be able to wear that. I love it when I actually came back on the show after being eliminated. It was really just a life lesson and something that has taught me a whole bunch of things. Those are my three highlights.” – Jasmine Stewart.
Stewart, who has been cooking since she was three years old, and has progressed from the Top 40 to become the champion said,
“If I had to prepare a meal for 100 homeless children, I would just make sure it was balanced between something healthy for them, but also very tasty and filling. I would want it to be special for them and easy to make again and again. I would love for them to have their pick of protein and sides and the best dessert I could make.” – Jasmine Stewart.
In the semi- finale, only four junior chefs remained – Adam, Justise, Shayne and Jasmine. They are tasked with making the perfectly decadent dark chocolate lava cake within thirty-five minutes, which will earn them a spot in the finale. The elimination challenge thereafter sought Jasmine choosing the proteins for the other junior chefs. She chose for herself lamb and chose beef, goat and pork for Adam, Justise and Shayne, respectively. With 60 minutes on the clock, they went to work making a high-end dish which will earn them one of two spots in the finale. Jasmine constructs a Mediterranean Lamb with herb couscous, olive puree and pickled bell peppers. Gordon Ramsay could not help himself as he complimented that the meal was breathtaking, being the “best-cooked protein ever in the competition”.
“My mom Deborah, an attorney-at-law, cooks daily and lets me cook with her in the kitchen. I thought it was a lot of fun and allowed me to be very creative. I have been cooking since I was around the age of three and my mom has always encouraged me to try new things. It was always fun to make something and then have my family eat it and provide their feedback. I enjoy studying recipes and creating my own, and my mom allows me to collect cookbooks.” – Jasmine Stewart in an interview.
Christina Tosi thought that throughout the series Stewart was poised, confident, and not afraid to speak up, and that’s what makes her a great team leader and complemented her attitude and determination, which evidently got her this far. Jasmine and Justise were cleared to compete in the final of MasterChef Junior.
“The team challenges stand out because working in teams causes you to work together and focus as a unit on a win, even though we each individually were trying to win the title. I enjoyed it because it makes you use your leadership skills and your voice. It also makes you patient and you have to be a good teammate. My most nerve-wracking moment was when we had to make the molten lava cakes. That was challenging because I knew the cake had to be near perfect and it looks easier to make than it actually is. Overall, I had such a good time throughout the entire programme.” – Jasmine Stewart.
The finale commenced with eleven year old Jasmine from Milton, Georgia, who had been sent home earlier in the season, but at one point came back in the competition stronger than ever having been given a second chance to prove herself. She competed against Justise from Sugar Hill, Georgia, a talented young girl, who was also Jasmine’s age, with amazing skills in the culinary arts beyond her years.
“I went home but I fought myself back into this competition and there is really nothing that can stop me but myself. I’m a force to be reckoned with and I’m definitely channeling my Jamaican roots to win that trophy.” – Jasmine Stewart.
The chefs were given ten minutes to gather their ingredients to make their three-course meal. Justise opted for an upscale Southern comfort, while Jasmine went with a Jamaican feel in hopes of dazzling the judges. For appetizers, Jasmine prepared the effortless white fish and scallop fritter accompanied by green papaya and red pepper peanut sauce, and served with grilled spot prawns with basil pesto and chili watermelon. The entrée appeared like a dream as she prepared a jerk-seasoned lobster tail, coconut curry broth and vegetables. Initially, Ramsay was hesitant at her use of such a strong flavor on such a delicate protein, but after tasting the entrée recanted his stance and said, “…For the first time in fifteen years, I will eat my words.”
The ‘finale worthy three-course meal’ was not only judged by Tosi and Ramsay, but guest judges Martha Stewart and Wolfgang Puck were present to taste a piece of heaven from this confident twelve year old princess. One of the judges reassured Stewart’s efforts, saying she put “her heart and soul in these Jamaican dishes”.
“Cooking now, I’m a lot pickier with the things that I make and the food that I taste and make sure that my plating is on point and make sure my plates are wiped down very nicely.” – Jasmine Stewart.
For dessert Jasmine served a coconut whipped cream topped, pineapple sticky rum cake with caramel sauce, which was accompanied by a pineapple chip and guava puree. Martha Stewart asked for her recipe for the dessert, while Puck ate the whole dessert remarking to Ramsay that he should have this in his restaurants.
“Being on MasterChef Junior was really amazing it was an experience I will never forget. I met so many great people, so many people who loved to do what I loved to do. I got to meet Gordon Ramsay and Christina Tosi and that was really amazing.” – Jasmine Stewart.
The trophy was presented by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Stewart’s parents report that they will transfer her winnings to a college fund so that she can continue on her dream’s path. Her parents and her family and friends have been extremely supportive and very proud of Jasmine; they always encourage her to do her best.
“It was pretty amazing to watch my child compete in MasterChef Junior. As a mom, you want so many things for your child, but no one could ever imagine that your child would have the opportunity to be on a show such as this. So for me, just watching her and seeing what she had in her and watching her talents and her poise and her grace was pretty amazing for me as a mom.”- Deborah Stewart
Her skill and her sophisticated palette make her talented well beyond her years, but what’s next on Jasmine’s plate?
“Right now, I’m just trying to finish the sixth grade and start my summer break. I hope to kick off my business and put out a cookbook and a food blog this summer, as well as keep perfecting my cooking skills. I would love to visit Jamaica and see my dad’s home and experience the food and culture. I hope to also meet up one day with Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé or Michelle Obama. How cool would that be?” – Jasmine Stewart.
Jasmine does not have a preferred or signature ingredient that she uses in most or all of her dishes, but she has admitted to loving the flavor of fresh herbs in most dishes that she prepares. She uses parsley, rosemary, garlic, cilantro and thyme a lot. Jasmime and her dad are even planting and reaping fresh herbs in their backyard. The sixth grader of Ron Clark Academy is inspired by her Jamaican parents who have, over the years helped her hone her talents in the kitchen.
“Winning means that I have a big future ahead of me when it comes to the culinary world. I hope that I can inspire other children to know that they can do whatever they want to do… I [would] definitely would love to be a chef [but] if the cooking career does not work out, I’d love to be a plastic surgeon to help children to also get educated” – Jasmine Stewart.
By Alexandra Daley