Chevy Chase Boy Competes on Food Network's Chopped Junior
Takes second place in episode aired Tuesday night
Chevy Chase resident Eli Hoffenberg works in his home kitchen. Eli, 11, was a contestant in a Food Network program that aired Tuesday night.
Via Jackie Hoffenberg
Updated 8:40 a.m. Wednesday: In the end, it came down to the dessert.
Chevy Chase's Eli Hoffenberg had made it through two rounds and was one of two competitors left on Tuesday night's episode of the Food Network's Chopped Junior cooking competition when it came time for the final round. Faced with a list of must-use ingredients including a vanilla protein shake, clementines and beet chips, the 10-year-old whipped up a serving of vanilla protein shake ice cream with a clementine coulis and beet-chip shortbread.
Though deemed tasty by the judges, it wasn't enough to beat his competitor, who walked away with the $10,000 prize. The loss only seemed to inspire the elementary school student. "If I come to do this all over again, I'd probably win," he said at the end of the episode that was taped in May. "I want a little redemption."
Eli's family hosted a watch party at home Tuesday and invited about 40 people over to see Eli compete, including all the boys in his grade at the Jewish Primary Day School in Washington, D.C. Eli, now 11, spent the day leading up to the big event whipping up brown butter rum cannoli, mini Oreo cheesecakes with chocolate mousse and mini fruit tarts with pastry cream for his guests.
Though Eli has been cooking for about three or four years, few outside of his friends and family have witnessed his skill in the kitchen until the Chopped Junior episode aired.
Earlier Tuesday, Eli couldn't spill details about the outcome of the Food Network show, but said he was calmer than expected during the May taping.
“I thought I’d be really nervous, but I actually wasn’t. I was just nervous when they were calling people’s names to be chopped,” he said.
During the competition, the contestants must make a dish using a basket of ingredients; one contestant is eliminated after each round until two remain for the final round. The first round called on the four contestants to compose an appetizer using wildfire lettuce and fluke fish. Eli made a fluke ceviche with a cauliflower crumble. During the second round, the basket of ingredients contained chicken drumsticks, avocados, corn and a lemon meringue pie that the three remaining contestants had to incorporate into an entrée, and Eli produced a Thai red curry drumstick with a lemon pan sauce and avocado corn salad.
His mother, Jackie Hoffenberg, said Eli has been cooking since he was 7 or 8 and became obsessed with learning how to make the perfect poached egg. His interest quickly moved to other egg-cooking techniques and developed into a full-blown passion for preparing food.
Now, Eli estimates that he makes about three meals each week. He even prepared this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
“He’s far more creative in the kitchen than I am. I tend to stick with recipes. He doesn’t feel any of those constraints. He just takes ingredients and flavors and combines them,” Hoffenberg said.
Eli said his signature dishes include carne asada marinated in green sauce and red Thai chicken curry with coconut milk.
After a successful audition for Chopped Junior, Eli and his mother in May traveled to the Food Network’s New York studio to film the competition. Eli was in heaven on set, in a kitchen stocked with all of the highest-quality tools, his mother said.
During the 14-hour taping, Hoffenberg said she and other parents had to wait in another room and watch the contest on live-screen monitors.
“We were all sick to our stomachs with stress and nerves. It was a bonding experience, both for the kids who are on the show together and for the parents, as well,” she said.
Hoffenberg said Eli hit it off so well with another competitor that the two families have vacationed together since the show was filmed.
While it’s a bit early to map out his future, Eli said he’s thought of pursuing a culinary career, perhaps by opening an Asian-inspired restaurant in France.
“I like cooking because it gives you a chance to express yourself in a cool way,” he said.