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To be young, gifted and Thai

Junior chef has big ideas

By the time we’re 11 years old, most of us know how to prepare something simple like a fried egg or a sandwich. But if we’re asked for more sophisticated fare, like lobster, for example, or, say, southern-style soup mousse with sablefish, then that would probably leave most of us scratching our heads.

Chananchida “Pattie” Pongpetch isn’t like most 11-year-olds. Despite her tender age, she was recently crowned winner of the first season of MasterChef Junior Thailand. She wowed audiences and judges alike with her culinary expertise, creativity, ability to cope with pressure, problem solving skills and teamwork. That’s an impressive list. The young lady was definitely a deserving winner.

“Being champion is an achievement. It’s reward for my hard work. I beat 39 other people.

“I’m very proud of myself,” said Chananchida, a fifth grader at RAIS International School Bangkok.

Her interest in cooking started at the age of five, when she saw her grandma spending a lot of time in the kitchen cooking for the family. Because the food was so good, Chananchida became drawn to the kitchen, wanting to be taught everything her granny could show her.

Like many other chefs, her first attempt at cooking didn’t turn out too well.     

“My first dish was scrambled eggs,” she recalled. “It was black and burnt. We couldn’t eat it. I tried again and again — the next day and then each day after that. It slowly got better, but I didn’t perfect it until I was about seven.”     

The junior champion believes that practice makes perfect. She will always persist and keep trying until she can make a dish successfully.     

“I never give up. If I ruin a dish, I will do it again. I will push myself to the limit,” she explained.

Her mother, Napasakorn Pongpetch, who accompanied the young chef to the interview, told us that the family had to get used to eating the same dish over and over so that Chananchida could improve her culinary skills. With her family’s unwavering support, the young chef keeps practising and experimenting, exploring new ingredients and techniques that she comes across on the internet.

Chananchida ‘Pattie’ Pongpetch.

“When I was eight years old, I started to find out more about food from Thailand and around the world. When I was nine, I saw the US version of MasterChef Junior and wished that it were in Thailand. I waited for the programme to come for a year. When it finally arrived, I told my mum that I wanted to take part. Thankfully, she said yes,” Chananchida said.     

MasterChef Junior Thailand gathered together 40 of the finest chefs aged eight to 13 from across the country. Each challenge required them to use their culinary expertise and creativity within a strict time limit. The atmosphere was intimidating and intense. When things didn’t go according to plan, many of the participants became anxious and even cried. But Chananchida was different. She handled the pressure well. Whenever she made a mistake, she was able to stay calm and solve the problem quickly.     

“I told myself to keep going and stay focused. If I couldn’t concentrate, I would ruin my dishes. At first, I was intimidated by some of the other participants because they came from a family of chefs. But I later told myself that I wasn’t competing with others; I was competing with myself. So I stopped caring about the others. I could just focus on myself and do my best.”     

Chananchida impressed the viewers and celebrity chefs on the show by demonstrating many culinary techniques that are advanced for her age. One of these — one that she tried and failed to pull off a couple of times before finally succeeding — was sous vide.     

“It is a modern technique that I like because the food cooks slowly but thoroughly,” she explained. “If we make a steak with this method, the meat won’t be overcooked on the outside and raw on the inside. The whole meat will be cooked evenly. Having done the show, I’m now confident that I’m able to handle this technique.”     

The experiences on the competition reinforced her love and passion for cooking; so much so that the young chef has decided her goal is to become a professional chef.     

“Cooking is my life. I love it,” she said. “When I cook, I’m happy. Whenever I feel sad or angry, I feel more relaxed after cooking or spending time in a kitchen. I also pass my happiness into my food. People who try it will feel happy as well.”

The champion chef is aiming high. She doesn’t just want to be any chef — she wants a Michelin star.

“Michelin-starred chefs are celebrities,” she explained. “Everyone knows who they are. Being Michelin-starred tells people how good you are.”     

Chananchida also impressed viewers with her interaction with other participants. During the final round, she even helped out fellow competitor Pawarit “Mark” Parnichprapai, who was struggling with his dessert.   

“Mark is a nice person. He always helped me out, so I didn’t want him to mess up his dish. I wanted to see him succeed and feel happy. I couldn’t be happy if he was sad,” the junior champion said.     

Three finalist in MasterChef Junior Thailand Season 1. (Photos by Heliconia H Group)

In her free time, Chananchida likes to watch cooking programmes on YouTube. Comparing American and Thai chefs on     

MasterChef Junior, she believes that the Thai participants demonstrated better presentation and a wider range of techniques than their American counterparts.

As Chananchida is still a little girl, we asked about her plans for Children’s Day. She told us that it’s a day when her family members hang out and have a meal together. She doesn’t remember the Children’s Day slogans announced by the government each year, but she thinks they can provide great encouragement for young people.

As for her future plans, the young chef said she wants to develop her own Chef’s Table.

“I’d like to open up my house and serve my dishes. But it’s just a thought.”

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