By Rita J. Egan
Back in April, Northport Middle School student William Connor participated in the show “Chopped Junior,” and when it came to the outcome, he had to keep it a secret until the Food Network broadcasted the episode on Oct. 25. Turns out the local junior chef made it all the way to the dessert round before being eliminated. In the episode, titled “Snapper Snafus,” William and three other contestants were judged by a panel that included Danica Patrick, Jamika Pessoa and Scott Conant. Ted Allen was the host.
On the night of Oct. 25, William said his parents held a big party. He said on hand were his parents, Amy and Gene, siblings, James and Sarah, as well as his grandparents, friends, teachers and the two chefs, Rob Thall and Michael Roberts, who helped him train for the show. His parents also recorded the show. “I’m glad we taped it, though, because sometimes people were cheering so loud that I missed part of what happened,” he said. The 13-year-old admitted he was nervous, because even though William knew what happened, he was curious to see how it was edited and what the result would look like. “It was interesting to see the way they edited it, which was really awesome. I was extremely proud of going on the show and making it that far and getting to show the skills I have in culinary,” he said.
After the network aired the show, William said he received many compliments from family and friends. “And everyone said they wanted to eat my curry ice cream,” he said. When he was at school the next day, in addition to receiving congratulations, someone gave him a note signed by 20 people, many he knew and a few he didn’t from different grades. He said it read, “Great job. We all watched you on ‘Chopped Junior,’ and you really inspired us.”
Now that the show has aired, William, who admitted he had hoped he would make it at least past the appetizers round, can talk about what went on during taping. “There was one time when Scott Conant said he didn’t know what a cheese ball was, so the next day I had to go back to film some more commentary stuff, and I brought him a cheese ball. I didn’t get to see his reaction because we were in two different studios that day, but they told me he liked it,” he said. William also said that during the entrée round he had trouble finding basil leaves due to another contestant using all of them. He spotted another type of leaf, smelled it, realized it was mint and decided to use it for his pesto. “The judges loved it. They thought it was very creative of me,” he said. The future professional chef also said he was proud that he received positive feedback about his ice cream. “Ted Allen wanted to taste it, which he never does,” he said.
While William is back to life as normal, with school and Boy Scouts, he has kept in touch with one of his competitors. “I’ve been in touch with Taylor, who got cut first — I think we got the closest. We’ve been trying to get together but she lives in the city so it can be kind of hard. She wants to be a chef too, so maybe we’ll be in culinary school together,” he said.
William’s appearance on the show has turned into a great learning experience for the Northport resident. “I think it really actually transformed me into the chef I am at this moment. I mean, it made me realize that I’m not perfect, nobody is perfect, and I still have a lot to learn.”