Future of Food: 10-year-old Kaj Friis-Hecht wins Chopped Junior
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“Please don’t say my name, please don’t say my name, please don’t say my name,” was all that was running through his mind as host Ted Allen prepared to announce which contestant would be leaving the competition.
Ten-year-old Kaj Friis-Hecht’s dream became a reality when he packed his knives from Hillel’s Kitchen to compete on “Chopped Junior.”
“[Being on the show] was exhilarating,” Friis-Hecht said. “There was always something to do, and I got some great new friends. Seeing Ted Allen and being in front of the judges was cool.”
Waking up to your seven-year-old son with a knife would be alarming to most, but for Friis-Hecht’s parents, it was nothing out of the ordinary. They noticed his passion early on when they would go into the kitchen and see piles of finely chopped onions sitting on the cutting board.
Once he perfected the onions, Friis-Hecht moved onto scrambled eggs. Now he can outcook most adults with his restaurant quality beef Wellington or his personal favorite—grilled pork chops with a roasted tomatillo and poblano puree.
The combinations of food he puts together show his parents how creative he is in the kitchen, as well as teach them a thing or two.
“[Before Kaj], I didn’t know what a tomatillo was,” his father Michael Hecht said.
Hillel’s Kitchen’s Chef Harveen and Wayne Greiner have taken Friis-Hecht under their wing and inspired many of his culinary endeavors.
He has improved and grown while making the student-favorite Carly’s Breakfast, as well as learning everything on the HK Nola menu. When he grows up, Friis-Hecht hopes to become an “Iron Chef” and own several restaurants.
“It’s really an indescribable experience [working with Harveen and Wayne], and I feel so lucky because I know most kids don’t get to work with people like [them],” Friis-Hecht said. “They treat me like an adult, and that’s what I like most. They listen to me and give me real responsibilities in the kitchen. Harveen and Wayne don’t like cute fake stuff, but I just want to say I would have never have been on ‘Chopped’ if it wasn’t for them.”
Friis-Hecht isn’t the only one who has benefitted from his apprenticeship at Hillel.
“To have Kaj train under Harveen and Wayne … is one of the greatest blessings ever,” his mother Marlene Friis said. “They are incredibly talented people, and you won’t find a more wholesome productive wife and husband team than them. Kaj is just blossoming under their tutelage.”
This summer, Friis-Hecht is beginning a new culinary enterprise while continuing to put his personality on a plate for others to enjoy. He and Harveen are starting a summer program, Kaj’s Cooking Camp, where the duo will teach kids the ins and outs of the culinary world.
“In one of those typical humbling parental experiences, Kaj has taught us more about ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ than we could ever teach him,” Friis said.
Friis-Hect is busier than most despite being so young. From elementary school to friends and his job in the kitchen, he shows no signs of slowing down. He was crowned the “Chopped Junior” champion on the episode “Chicken and Do-Nots,” which aired Wednesday.
He wowed the judges with his artistic plating and—more importantly—the food he served. The meal began with a deep fried chorizo appetizer, grilled pork and sauteed red long beans with a red wine pineapple sauce for the main course and a molten cake with strawberry candy ice cream and fruit salad for dessert.
“Kaj is very attuned to the whole experience,” Friis said. “It’s not just about the food. It’s about the chef, the ingredients, the cooking, the eating. We are still working on the cleaning up part.”