Westchester is no stranger to competitive culinary talent, but most accomplished chefs have at least a few decades of experience. Dobbs Ferry is home to Elizabeth Oakes, the 13-year-old champion of Food Network’s show Chopped Junior. The eighth grader became interested in food at the age of five when she saw her first episode of Chopped and she vowed she would be on the show one day.
While some moms hide the sharp knives from their young children, Jennifer Oakes has encouraged her daughter Elizabeth’s creativity in the kitchen. Jennifer says, “I love that Elizabeth has an interest in cooking and has such a passion at a young age. Her interest actually forced me to become a better cook and learn knife skills. I’m never worried about Elizabeth using knives or working with flames because she has been well-trained by her amazing cooking instructor/chef Michael Proietti, and she always maintains confidence and focus in the kitchen.”
We talked to Oakes about her Food Network experience and what’s been on her plate lately.
WM: Who taught you how to cook?
Elizabeth Oakes: I have always been interested in food and cooking since a very young age. I started taking cooking classes at Sur La Table when I was 8. When I was cast on Chopped Junior at age 11, I began working with a professional chef who also competed on Chopped.
WM: What is the first dish you ever made?
EO: Grilled shrimp over forbidden rice with spicy mango salsa. It tasted delicious and was very impressive for a first dish!
WM: Your specialty is seafood; what is your favorite dish to cook?
EO: My favorite, and one of my signature dishes, is pan-seared scallops over lardons and cucumber with balsamic vinaigrette.
Photo by of Jennifer Oakes.
WM: What was the most exciting part of being on Chopped Junior?
EO: Winning, for one, was an awesome experience. It was also a dream of mine to have the opportunity to compete on Chopped when I was older, but when I was called to compete on Chopped Junior, I couldn’t believe it and it was a dream come true. I also enjoyed cooking for the judges, Scott Conant, Madison Cowan, and actress Mila Kunis. I also loved meeting Ted Allen and getting to see him again when I judged Beat Bobby Flay.
WM: What is your favorite Westchester restaurant?
EO: Sushi Mike’s, which also happens to be in my hometown of Dobbs Ferry. I love Sushi Mike and the food there is amazing. It is my friends’ and my favorite dinner spot. My favorite special roll is the Out of this World roll.
WM: Do you have a favorite chef that you look up to?
EO: Yes! Thomas Keller of Per Se in New York City. Each dish presented is a work of art. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into creating such beautiful plates and elegant flavors.
WM: Any advice for other young aspiring chefs?
EO: Work on expanding their palates through cooking. Watch a lot of cooking shows to learn different techniques, foods and flavors. Try to take some cooking classes for young chefs, and have fun!
WM: As only an eighth grader, you have won Chopped Junior and have appeared as a guest judge on the Beat Bobby Flay show. What’s next?
EO: I’m continually auditioning/applying to appear on cooking shows. I hope to have my own cooking show as a teen one day and own a restaurant when I’m older. This summer I plan to attend a teen cooking camp at the International Culinary Center in New York City, which I’m really looking forward to.
WM: You will be attending the Westchester Magazine Wine & Food Festival in June. What are you expecting from the event? What are you looking forward to?
EO: I am looking forward to meeting the other chefs from Westchester who are attending the festival. They might have advice for me as a young chef. I’m also looking forward to meeting the young kids coming to the Jr. Chef Experience and answering any questions they might have about cooking or competing on cooking shows. I’m also excited that this event will propel me further into the culinary world at such a young age.
Join Elizabeth and other chefs at Westchester Magazine’s Wine & Food Festival June 6-June 11th. Get your tickets here.
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