Nobody likes the chopping block, Emily Roche included.
“I was kind of nervous,” the 12-year-old Mandeville cook said of that part of competing on Season 2 of Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.”
But if the 9- to 15-year-old cooks want to advance to the finals, and possibly win $10,000, they must survive two elimination rounds on the reality series, the pint-sized version of “Chopped,” which features adult contestants.
The sixth-grader at Mandeville Middle School, who’s been cooking beside her mother and grandmother since she was 5 or 6, will be on the show next week.
“I just love (cooking) because I can show my creativity through it, and I love it because it’s just a great life skill to have,” Emily said.
Another practical reason for her culinary interest is that Emily is allergic to tree nuts and peanuts, she said.
“I cook to know what’s in my food, know if it’s safe for me to eat and to make healthy decisions,” she said.
Emily has honed her kitchen skills at Culinary Kids in Mandeville for four years and is enrolled in advanced classes.
“One of my favorite things that I make, well, my signature dish, is my own recipe. It is a satsuma-pepper jelly-glazed salmon with Brussels sprouts,” she said.
In next week’s episode, titled “Quail Quest,” Emily and the other three hopefuls will vie first in the appetizer round, where they must use rock shrimp or beef tongue in their dishes. In the second round, they’ll cook with quail and a variety of tiny foods, and on the menu for the dessert round is “a very groovy cake.”
“Being in the South, we cook a lot of shrimp,” Emily said. “I personally don’t like seafood. I mean, I only kind of like salmon and crab and a few other fishes. But I think that the shrimp (as a challenge ingredient) was an advantage.”
The Colorado native and her mom, Jamie Roche, traveled to the Food Network’s New York studios for the “Chopped Junior” shoot.
“It felt awesome just to be in the ‘Chopped’ kitchen because it was kind of unbelievable, and it was like ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity,’ ” Emily said.
She described everyone involved with the show as “awesome,” including fellow competitors Zoe Gelsi, of Montclair, New Jersey; Owen Halligan, of West Chester, Pennsylvania; and Isaiah Hooks, of Sciota, Pennsylvania, host Ted Allen and judges Maneet Chauhan, Rico Rodriguez and Fabio Viviani.
“I think they were completely honest and completely fair,” she said of the latter trio.
Back at home, Emily’s on her school’s broadcast team, is Student Council president, is in the choir, plays volleyball and played competitive soccer for seven years.
Friends and family, which include dad Chris and siblings Carter, 10, and Molly, 7, will attend a viewing party for their aspiring chef on Tuesday night.
Follow Judy Bergeron on Twitter, @judybergeronbr.