By Will Johnson
LATEXO – It’s a given that young girls and boys will, at some point in their childhood, venture into the kitchen and ask to help mom or dad make dinner. Most will give it a try, realize it takes a little more effort than anticipated, wander back to their Play Station™ or X-Box™ and call it a day.
Some will find they’re pretty good at making dinner and will continue to help mom and dad every now and then. A select few, however, will find they have a real passion for food and its preparation.
One young lady who appears to have discovered a love for the culinary arts is 11-year-old (soon to be 12) Hannah Hickson from Latexo. Earlier this year, Hannah took a chance, made an audition tape and sent it into the Food Network’s television series “Chopped Junior.”
Inspired by the network’s popular cooking competition show “Chopped,” “Chopped Junior” follows the original’s premise, but seeks to harness and inspire the youthful, unbridled enthusiasm for cooking and food preparation shown by those barely tall enough to reach the oven controls.
Once the show’s producers saw her audition tape, a phone call was placed from the “Chopped Junior” studios in New York to the Hickson residence in Latexo. And (drumroll please) … an offer to appear as a contestant was extended to Hannah.
As to how she became interested in the show, Hannah said she always watched it while she was at her “Nana’s house,” and began to wonder how people managed to become contestants in the cooking competition.
“I looked it up and once I found out, I decided to send in an application. I begged my mom to let me make an audition tape and she was like ‘no, no, no,’ until finally, I guess it was like the 69th time, she said, ‘Okay. Let’s do it right now!’” Hannah said.
Hannah and her mom, Laura Hickson, made the tape “… and we were doing the most casual things, wearing normal everyday clothes. The kitchen was a mess and then it seemed like it was the very next day they called us.”
When the Food Network called she wasn’t home.
“No one answered the phone because it said it was from New York. Then, the next morning, my mom and dad told me and my sister Taylor, we were going to learn how to be secretaries,” Hannah said.
As the secretary training got underway, nine-year-old Taylor was instructed to write down what a caller said while Hannah was told to listen and make sure the message was correct. The first message the sisters listened to was more than likely forgotten once the second message on the answering machine began to play.
According to the aspiring chef, the second message on the machine said, “This is Chopped Junior and we would like to talk with you.”
“I literally screamed!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t even know what I was thinking.”
She said she was a little nervous as she and her family began preparing to travel to New York but she said once she walked on the set, her nerves seemed to disappear.
“The ingredients in the appetizer round were ground beef, scallions, truffle salsa and curly fries. I made a burger and fries burrito. I used a white flour tortilla to wrap it up like a burrito. When I looked at the box they gave me, I wasn’t too overwhelmed,” Hannah said. “I saw that it had ground beef in it and I was like, ‘I got this. I’m from the country, I know how to cook with ground beef.’”
The judges had almost no complaints.
“They said it tasted really good and that I had a beautiful presentation and creativity,” Hannah said proudly.
While the set where the show is filmed seemed smaller than she expected, Hannah expressed the kitchen “… was unbelievable. It had everything you can imagine.”
She added with a laugh, “I was like, ‘I can do anything and they’re going to clean it up for me.’”
Before she began to pack for a promotional appearance to the Bryan area on Tuesday, Hannah said the experience was amazing.
“It was one of the most fun things I’ve done in my entire life and I learned from it, too. Even if you don’t win, the experience only helps you to get better,” Hannah said.
Her mom also recalled what her first thoughts were when they received that fateful call.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! The video we submitted was very off the cuff and candid. It was kind of goofy and funny, so yeah – we were very excited but we were also shocked,” Laura Hickson said.
When the Hickson family prepared to venture to New York, the excitement level was evenly matched by the nervousness felt by everyone.
“Now, during the filming of the show, Hannah was cool as a cucumber while the rest of us were bouncing off the walls. She told me between takes she was nervous but to watch her on the set, she appeared to be completely composed and there to do business,” her mother said.
The episode was filmed in May and the Food Network aired it for the first time on Tuesday, Nov. 29. It is also available on Net Flix and Amazon Prime.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.