Folks, if you have been following me (FCFoodie_CT) on Twitter, you would know that I am absolutely amazed and completely astounded by a new show on Food Network. The chefs on this show are cooking tough ingredients like Venison with unbelievable mastery, and preparing highly creative and imaginative dishes like crab meat stuffed english muffin topped with poached egg, or quiche pops and granola pizza!
The show is called Rachel vs. Guy Kids Cook-Off featuring eight amazing, super talented young chefs ranging between the ages of 10 and 13! The show airs on Food Network on Sundays at 8PM ET.
One of the young chefs on this show is Fairfield County’s very own Hunter Zampa. A Stamford resident, Hunter possesses MAD cooking skills as well as confidence in the kitchen, that may put many experienced chefs to shame. His deep understanding of ingredients, flavor profiles and cooking techniques compelled me to learn more about him.
Hunter is not at all intimidated when cooking and battling against people that are older than him. His life-long dream is to become a chef and nothing is going to get in the way of him doing that. At the age of six, Hunter begged his father to teach him how to cook recipes from his Italian-American grandmother’s cookbook. For Hunter, Italian-American cooking brings out a passion in him that no other cuisine evokes. In the future, he wants to open up his own restaurant; one centered on a fusion between Italian and Thai food. At age 13, Hunter has a busy schedule being a kid and going to school but on weekends he forces himself to create new recipes in the kitchen. Since the age of 9, Hunter’s has been hoping to show the world what his cooking skills are all about and to one day become an Iron Chef.
I recently got an opportunity to ask Hunter a few questions. Brace yourselves people! You are not going to believe these answers came from a 13 year old!
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Connecticut and why?
A: My favorite restaurant in Connecticut has to be Turks in West Haven. When I go crabbing with my dad and Uncle Bob, we always go to one place after crabbing to eat, Turks. A few years ago after crabbing I was talking to my Uncle and I said “Can we go to Monks today?” He replied “Monks? I’ve never heard of it”. Apparently, I had the Seinfeld diner Monks stuck in my head but I was actually talking about Turks, so I love it because it always makes us laugh when we go there. They serve great fried seafood and hotdogs but it really goes beyond the food, it’s about good times and memories!
Q: Which chef do you consider as your role model?
A: Hands down the chef that is my role model is Rachael Ray. Honestly, this is not only about the show! I truthfully look up to her, how she started as a small town home cook and became a world renowned chef and TV personality! Her cooking style is also similar, because she can meld many foods together like some of my favorites, Thai and Italian. She really is like me in many ways; we even have the same birthday.
Q: What attracts you to Thai cuisine?
A: The thing that attracts me to Thai food is that when you have a Thai dish, it combines all the elements of taste such as spicy, sweet, bitter, sour, and salty. When you have all of those flavors combined into one, it is really something you cannot replicate. Lime provides sourness, peppers provide spiciness, tamarind provides bitterness, and beyond. I believe that Thai food is a type of cuisine that really just shows me how versatile food can be.
Q: Being an incredible chef at age 13 and already featuring in a Food Network show, what message do you want to convey to other aspiring young-adults?
A: Being on TV and being a chef at 13, I really want to show other young, aspiring kids that anything is possible. I mean, really, I was cooking at home with my friends and family only six months ago and now I am a chef on television with Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri! I dreamed and dreamed and tried as hard as I could to become the best chef I could be, and then I tried even more. Just because you may feel as if you’re a kid who cannot go far, if you have passion, work hard and dream, anything is possible.
Q: What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
A: My favorite ingredient has to be venison. It needs to be processed and prepared correctly but it is full of flavor and an organic and lean protein. I like to cook the tenderloins and small steaks medium rare, because if you overcook the lean cuts it will become very chewy. Fortunately my dad is a hunter and we always have a supply and this gives me a lot of experience cooking with it. I also like it because it’s versatile and can be prepared with spices like juniper and cumin which really brings out the flavor of the meat.
Q: What ingredient do you feel intimidated by, if any?
A: I am not intimidated but respectful of some ingredients because they are very overpowering and they can ruin a dish easily. I think that truffles are one of those ingredients because they are very strong in flavor and very earthy. Also, cilantro, although I love using it can be overpowering and some say it tastes like soap so I am very cautious with it.
Chef Hunter Zampa | www.chefhunterz.com | @HunterZampa