Baton Rouge’s pig-tailed chef Avery Kyle tapped into her Louisiana roots for the “MasterChef Junior” finale Friday night, finishing second in the Fox cooking competition.
The winning trophy and $100,000 went to Addison Smith, of River Forest, Illinois. This is the first time in the show’s four seasons a girl has won the “MasterChef Junior” title.
Family and friends of the Episcopal School fourth-grader gathered Friday night at the Mellow Mushroom in Baton Rouge for a watch party. Family members — including mom and dad Sharon and Ronnie Kyle, grandparents Ann Baskin, Dan and Connie Kyle, aunt Rhonda Shea and friend Connor Allgood — also were seen in the TV finale, shot in November in Los Angeles.
Challenged to making a three-course meal in 90 minutes, the 9-year-old Avery whipped up an appetizer of cream of asparagus soup with smoked oysters, lobster and crawfish étouffée with crispy okra, and a strawberry and rhubarb shortcake with creme fraiche for dessert. Her challenger, also 9, opted for Asian cuisine, preparing seaweed salad with prawns, black cod with bok choy and green tea panna cotta.
“I just hope they taste as good as they look,” Avery said of her bayou-inspired dishes.
The show’s judges, chef Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi, praised all the dishes, agreeing that choosing a winner would be difficult.
Despite cutting a finger 15 minutes into the challenge, Addison wowed them with her modern, trendy cuisine over Avery’s more classic fare.
“I’m a little sad that I didn’t win, but I’m really happy for Addison, and I think I’ve made Louisiana proud,” Avery said at the episode’s end, as confetti rained down on the pair.
“I was always a fan of the show ever since the first episode that they ever aired,” Avery said recently. “Every year, I would wait and wait just to see that season, and I was like, ‘OK, I have to be on this show,’ and when I was 8, I auditioned.”
The series pitted 24 home cooks ages 8 to 13, who were pared to 12 after the audition round. The dozen then competed in weekly timed culinary challenges, with two young contestants going home each episode.
Ramsay, best known for his brash, in-your-face rants on other shows, including “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hotel Hell,” was Avery’s favorite “Junior” judge, she said.
“I think that he likes the kids better, because when we were on there, he was really nice to us.”
Avery, who’ll turn 10 on Feb. 6, said her culinary interest surfaced when she was just 4 or 5. At that point, her mother allowed her to stir the pots, but the preparatory knife work was off limits.
“So I did that, and later, I started learning knife techniques,” she said.
She credits her whole family as being her cooking influences. Outside the kitchen, she enjoys gymnastics, swimming, karate, guitar, riding her motorcycle and hunting with her dad and some of his friends.
“And I’m also an A-plus student,” she added.