Catalina came home from a kids baking class, waving a flyer for how to apply to “Chopped Junior.”
“Mom, mom, can you sign me up for ‘Chopped?’” the 10-year-old pleaded. How many hours had she spent binging the show on Netflix — and how could Mom now say no?
She and her mother, Christine Martinez de Castro, went online and started filling out the application when Catalina’s older sister, Amelia, 12, walked by, heard what was happening and wanted in, too.
Fortunately, “Chopped Junior” was looking for someone just like them.
The Miami sisters will be featured in a special siblings episode of “Chopped Junior” on Oct. 3, cooking for a $10,000 prize. They will be competing against one another but also against another pair of siblings from New York.
They’re not allowed to say how they did, and, full disclosure, neither can I — because Catalina and Amelia Frías are also my two youngest daughters.
It feels like just the other day I was writing about teaching them to ride a bike or running out in the middle of the night to buy one of them her first bra. How did they go from playing with Legos to playing with knives?
They may be the food editor’s kids, but they have had their own love of cooking for far longer.
They grew up helping their mother work the KitchenAid mixer and chopping and stir frying vegetables when they still needed a stepstool to see over the kitchen counter. Catalina lives for taco night and Asian-inspired meals, given their mother’s Chinese-Cuban background. (Her signature dish to get onto “Chopped Junior” was a breakfast burrito.)
Amelia embraced her Cuban side. She’s the only one of my daughters who loves tropical fruit (she’ll eat guava and mamey all day long), and she learned my picadillo recipe well enough that she took it with her to the show.
You may have read about them last year when chef Gaetano Ascione taught them an easy gnocchi kids could make for their mom on Mother’s Day. Together, the three of them, including my oldest, Elise, 14, have a food blog — ThreeLittleForks.com — where they chronicle their cooking and dining out with their families.
So Chopped easily became their favorite Food Network show: Four chefs are each given a basket with four secret ingredients they must work into a dish. It helped launch the careers of many chefs, including Westchester-born Giorgio Rapicavoli, who won in 2012 (and again in 2014), and used the money to open his beloved north Coral Gables restaurant, Eating House. Other Miami chefs who have been on the show include Adrienne Grenier of 3030 Ocean (who also won in 2012), Sean Brasel (Meat Market) and Dewey Losasso.
When the girls were selected last August, they spent the next three months playing “Chopped” at home — and it was fun.
Every week, we gave them four unfamiliar ingredients — say, hogfish or matcha tea — and they came up with delicious dishes, like Catalina’s pan-seared hogfish with a citrus-soy reduction and Amelia’s matcha green cake with cream cheese and marshmallow frosting. Heady stuff for the Somerset Academy South Miami students.
One night, I gave them the wackiest ingredients I could think of (which “Chopped” often does): whole pineapple, pre-cooked beef tips, blue cheese crumbles and beer. Amelia cooked down the pineapple with the beef, deglazed it with wheat beer and whipped up her own guacamole to make tacos. Catalina found pasta shells, and made a blue-cheese cream sauce with diced bits of the beef tips.
I worried that it may have started feeling like homework to them. Instead, it felt like a game. The girls carried that kids spirit onto the show, where they would have to pair pancetta and pasta in the first round, make food animals in the second round and a dessert tower in the final round, should they get that far.
Judging were three big-name chefs: Marcus Samuelsson, who has an Overtown restaurant in the works, and chef brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, the Bravo TV “Top Chef” Season 6 finalist and winner, who are opening their first restaurant together at the downtown Miami train station next year.
They flew to New York with their mother for the taping last November. And there they learned that sibling rivalry can come second to cheering each other on.
What: “Chopped Junior” Season 6 continues with a sibling rivalry episode, including two of Miami Herald Food and Dining Editor Carlos Frías’ daughters.
When: Oct. 3, 8 p.m. on Food Network
More info: Online at FoodNetwork.com/ChoppedJunior