Q&A: Runner-up from MasterChef Junior

Name: Samuel Stromberg

Age: 13

City: Greenbrae

Position: Second place on Fox’s “MasterChef Junior”

J.: The $100,000 finale of Fox’s “MasterChef Junior” on Dec. 16 came down to you and one other competitor. Unfortunately you didn’t win, but what did you learn by being on the show?

Samuel Stromberg: I learned about sharing foods and what I can do to improve my time management and techniques. Moving faster in the kitchen gives chefs an advantage because you get to present your food faster and share it with other people faster.

J.: Did you learn about yourself, too?

SS: I learned how time management can affect me, and what I can do to change the order of how I cook things. Time management is really crucial, when you have to think on your feet and you have to come up with something new every time.

Samuel Stromberg (left) and chef Gordon Ramsay during the pop-up restaurant episode of “MasterChef Junior” photo/fox broadcasting co.-greg gayne

J.: Did learning about time management help in any other aspects of your life?

SS: Definitely with homework and other work that I’m doing right now.

J.: Why is sharing food so important to you?

SS: Getting to share food with people is really what cooking is about. It allows me to show people what I can do and what my cooking style is like.

J.: Can you describe your style?

SS: Modernist cuisine. In the third episode, I did a deconstructed Moroccan lamb pie. I like working with gastronomy; that’s a bunch of chemicals you can use to change the texture or properties of certain foods.
You’ve only recently turned 13. That’s pretty young to be thinking about cooking, isn’t it?

SS: I started cooking about four years ago. I started watching people cook and reading cookbooks. Every time you cook there’s something new you can discover or make. There are endless possibilities to try.

J.: Do you have any traditional Jewish foods you like to make?

SS: Things like latkes and brisket around the holiday season. Traditional foods.
What advice would you give to people making latkes or brisket?

SS: Make sure that your oil is hot for latkes, and for the brisket, you always want to sear it a lot to get some caramelization on the outside. It will add a different flavor.

J.: You were scheduled to have your bar mitzvah at Congregation Rodef Sholom in November. Did being in the competition and the taping schedule affect your preparation and studying?

SS: We just had to change the date. I’m still chugging along and I’m going to have my bar mitzvah in February.

J.: “MasterChef Junior” was no cakewalk. The not-always-so-nice Gordon Ramsay was one of the judges, you emerged from a nationwide search of some 20,000 kids just to make it as one of 24 contestants on the show, and then you survived six weeks of elimination rounds to make the final. Did being on such a popular, nationally televised show affect the way you see yourself?

SS: The show is really this great learning experience. I got to meet all these great young chefs, and that’s what I took away from the competition. I still am really great friends with about all of the cast.

J.: What was it like to watch yourself on TV?

SS: The first episode or two, we had a viewing party. It’s really weird watching yourself on TV. I’d definitely love to do something like this again.

I am really happy with the way I did during the competition. We’ve gotten to make so many great connections. It’s been such a roller coaster, but in the end it was such an awesome experience.

J.: The Marin Independent Journal did a big story on you, and KTVU Channel 2 did a feature on you, too. What have your friends thought of all this?

SS: They are very low-key about it, and they support me and are very proud of how I did on the show.

J.: And your family?

SS: They’ve cheered me on. I’m really thankful with the role my family helped play in this experience.

J.: What are your culinary plans for the future?

SS: I would definitely love to be a chef, or to do a pop-up restaurant or have a supper club. I definitely would love to go into cooking. I’m not sure where my culinary adventures will take me. I love working with food and I will incorporate it into my life.

We’re not sure where this is going to take me. Every step of the way I’m going to be showing people who I am as a chef and as a person.

“Talking with …”
focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to liz@jweekly.com

Shoshana Hebshi
Shoshana Hebshi

Shoshana Hebshi is a freelance writer and former J. copy editor living in the North Bay.