The Food World "Wasn't Built For Women" But This 13-Year-Old Doesn't Care

Photo: NBCUniversal/Dale Berman.
Last Friday, the finale of Top Chef Junior's first season aired on Universal Kids. The competition, which is based off Bravo's Top Chef, started with 12 chefs ages 11 to 14. After weeks of Quickfire challenges and the dreaded Restaurant Wars episode (a challenge that often leaves the adults on Top Chef in tears), Chef Rahanna Bisseret Martinez, 13, and Chef Owen Pereira, 14, were named the show's two finalists. In the end, Owen was awarded the title of the very first Top Chef Junior.
Throughout the competition, Rahannah established herself as a fierce competitor. She won multiple challenges, including the very first elimination challenge where she created a dish inspired by her culinary dreams. Now, the 13-year-old is taking everything she learned during her time on the show and continuing to experiment in her own kitchen at home in Oakland, CA.
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After the finale aired, we spoke with Chef Rahanna about her experience as a contestant on Top Chef Junior, her culinary heroes, and why she wants to see more women in the culinary industry.
What is your favorite things to cook?
I really love the hospitality part of cooking, so I like to make whatever the person I’m feeding likes to eat. Also, I just like to be well-rounded and learn about most things in the culinary industry.
What is it that you love so much about cooking?
I really like the part of spending a lot of time and detail on something and then having people see the finished product and say "Oh, it’s really good!" and things like that. Also, hospitality is one of the things I really love and enjoy about cooking and how you can just brighten someone’s day with your food.
What was the hardest part about filming the show?
I don’t know, I really loved every part about filming. Even though it was a lot of work, I don’t think that there was anything particularly too hard. I remember when we were walking into judges table, they would say "Oh, okay guys. One more time for camera." Especially with the finale, it was just like "Oh my gosh! Are you serious?" So, that was probably one of the hardest parts, having to re-walk into judging.
What was the most valuable thing you learned?
I learned from Chef Curtis that you have to slow down to speed up, and that's for cooking and things in general. And, the guests chefs that came on the show really taught me a lot about cooking.
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Who are some of your chef heroes?
I really like Alice Waters. She’s a chef hero to me because she started the Edible Schoolyard Program, and I think that it's really important to teach children about fruits and vegetables. Also, Brooke Williamson. Chef Brooke and Chef Shirley Chung are both super amazing people. Chef Leah Chase is amazing; and Julia Child, of course.
What are your goals for the future? Do you see yourself pursuing a career as a chef?
Yes! I definitely want to be an author, go to culinary school, and also own my own restaurant. I think Julia Child really wanted to show people that they could cook great food, and I really want to show children that they can interpret food the same way that an aspiring chef or a chef would, and show them that there’s more to cooking than meets the eye.
What kind of restaurant would you like to start?
Well, I feel like I’m still learning and my opinions on food will definitely change from when I’m old enough to open a restaurant, so I’m still thinking that out. But, I definitely want to have a great bakery in my restaurant. When we went to Gwen, Curtis Stone’s restaurant, he had a butcher counter inside, and I thought that it was really cool that he got to combine two things that he really loves. I want to do that, but with a bakery.
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Photo: NBCUniversal/Dale Berman.
How does it feel to know that you’re a role model for other girls who are interested in cooking? What would you tell those girls who want to start cooking but maybe don’t know where to start?
I think it’s really, really cool. I think it’s important to have more girls in the food industry. I would just tell them not to be too afraid to join cooking because a lot of things outside of cooking connect to cooking, like art or science. I really like art and science, so I just put together the puzzle pieces and realized, "Oh, I love to cook as well!" So, I think that’s really important to remember.
The culinary industry isn’t always built for a woman or a girl, but I think even though the culinary industry wasn’t technically made for me, I still wanted to be there. So, I think that’s something else that’s really important: as long as you want it, don’t let other people get in the way of what you want to do.
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