Ellie Shram, 12, grew up around food at her dad’s bakery, Bagel Nash. But she didn’t get serious about cooking until she was around 10-1/2 years old.
But now, the Grade 7 student at Carrville Mills Public School in Thornhill, Ont., can say she’s a competitive chef, after facing the heat on Food Network’s Chopped Canada Junior.
She applied to participate after seeing an audition notice, but never thought she’d actually make it into the fabled Chopped kitchen. “I was sort of in shock first, because I thought I was doing it for the fun of it and I didn’t think I would get in,” she says.
The Chopped premise is simple, yet daunting, even for adults and seasoned cooks. In the show, four chefs work to transform a mystery basket of ingredients into a tasty three-course meal. And after each course, a panel of judges votes to chop (or cut) one competitor.
Ellie, who was 11 at the time of filming, couldn’t share too many details before her episode, Going Crackers, aired on Oct. 16, but she did admit her mystery ingredients were wacky. “I don’t even know what half of the ingredients were!” she exclaims.
In the appetizer round, her basket included popcorn shoots and cheddar crackers, and for the main course, she had to get maple waffle cookies onto her plate.
“You have to be creative and you have to think really quickly,” she says, offering some sage advice about working with these unconventional foodstuffs. “And you have to know some good dishes that you can pair with anything.”
To prepare, Ellie worked closely with her cooking teacher to learn as many skills as possible. “I deboned fish, I deboned chicken, I just made a mess,” she says, admitting she hasn’t really mastered the art of cleanup quite yet.
Still, her parents are happy to support her culinary pursuits. Her mom, Suzi, notes the whole family benefits from her cooking skills and love of food. Ellie, for instance, insists on making some pantry staples from scratch, including jam.
Outside of the kitchen, Ellie plays basketball for her school, and since her time at Chopped, she’s also become interested in acting.
While Ellie didn’t make it to the final round on the show, she says it was an incredible learning experience, and one that has definitely had an impact on her cooking. Plus, getting feedback from the high-profile judges – Eden Grinshpan, Susur Lee and Anne Yarymowich – was a definite perk.
“These chefs are more experienced, they know what they’re doing,” she says. “And just to hear what they have to say about my cooking is just priceless.”
Since she appeared on Chopped, Ellie’s already gotten a behind-the-scenes tour, and a chance to cook, at Jamie’s Italian in Yorkdale Mall, and she keeps up her food Instagram account @foodbyellie. It features her delicious-looking dishes, like full steak dinners and a homemade six-layer rainbow cake.
“She finds recipes from different sources and different places and uses them. Or sometimes she just creates them by herself,” Suzi says.
It’s just further proof that this pint-sized chef has some seriously impressive skills.