“It’s widely known that North Park is considered one of San Diego’s food meccas, but the neighborhood is also home to a budding young chef.
Nathan Odom, a 13-year-old from Roosevelt Middle School, is currently starring on the third season of “MasterChef Junior,” a reality cooking competition on Fox.
On the show, he’s had to do everything from cook octopus to make complicated sauces good enough to impress judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot. Odom is among the top four chefs still competing and can be seen at 8 p.m. Tuesday vying for the top spot.
Odom, who was introduced to the TV show after watching the first season, tells us about his time in the spotlight.
Q: Why did you want to audition for “MasterChef Junior?”
A: Because it seemed like a lot of fun, and I wanted an excuse to cook every day.
Q: What was the audition process like?
A: It started out with us being tested on our basic skills, and the auditions got slightly harder every time. I found out I was on the show one morning while I was making breakfast.
Q: How long have you been cooking?
A: Since I was about 6 years old. I usually just helped out baking cookies and doing minor stuff. Occasionally I would help my Nonie (grandma) make pasta. But the main thing that taught me to cook was the Scratch Culinary Education Program at my school, a program started by Chef Ricardo Heredia that focuses on inner-city fourth- and fifth-grade kids who don’t have a lot of opportunities to cook with nice ingredients at home.
Q: Did you have to convince your parents to let you try things on your own?
A: My parents were always really supportive of the things I wanted to do, so it didn’t take much convincing for them to let me cook. I usually cook for my family about 30 to 40 percent of the time, but my mom and I both love using the kitchen, so we share the cooking!
Q: What are some of your favorite things to make?
A: I really enjoy making ramen and Japanese foods, but I also really like French pastries. I really like making macarons, mille-feuilles (puff pastry with vanilla and custard), Mont Blancs (puréed, sweetened chestnuts) and tarts.
Well done, Nathan!! Read more after the break, and don’t forget to tune in Tuesday night on Fox!
Q: Did you have to make something on the show that you didn’t know how to cook?
A: Before going on the show, I had never cooked octopus (like we did in the restaurant takeover) so that was an interesting experience, but luckily the head chef of the restaurant taught us how to cook it properly. I actually don’t really like octopus; the texture bothers me.
Q: How long were you in L.A. for the taping?
A: I lived in L.A. for about a month, and we all slept in the same hotel. Our filming days were only a few hours because we had to fit in schoolwork, which we had a teacher to help us with.
Q: What was it like to meet the celebrity chefs?
A: Meeting the judges was really fun. I remember at some point during the dangerous meats challenge Gordon started making hissing noises into his microphone which we all heard; some people got really scared!
Q: Would you consider a career as a chef after experiencing what it could be like?
A: Absolutely. I’d love to open up maybe a small cafe in San Diego or Japan when I grow up.
Q: Are there any foods you don’t eat?
A: I really don’t like mustard, but if it is in a dish, I’m somewhat OK with it.
Q: What is it like for you at school now that people are watching you on TV? Are you recognized by anyone when you’re out?
A: It’s kind of crazy having random people I’ve never met approach me, but it’s also really fun.
Q: What are your favorite San Diego restaurants?
A: City Tacos, The Safe House, Santouka Ramen and Luigi’s At the Beach.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received?
A: I’d say the best advice I’ve ever received on the show is that a little bit of acid can lighten up any heavy dish.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I’m a huge fan of cartoons and animation. I really like watching anime and Japanese cartoons, but I’ve always been kind of obsessed with Tim Burton movies.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Hanging out with a couple of friends, maybe going to the beach or an arcade, and eating some of the local food.
What I love about North Park …
I love the fact that there are still classic spots in the city, as well as a few modern places.