Cardiff girl shows off culinary skills on MasterChef Junior


Grace Howard skips into her family’s Cardiff kitchen, smiling at her possessions: a knife set, ingredients for sophisticated dishes like sushi and pasta, a food processor, Vitamix Blender and KitchenAid Stand Mixer.

“This is a pairing knife,” she says on a recent Friday afternoon while sharpening the utensil. “It’s good for cutting fruits and vegetables. ... This is my Vitamix. I use it to make smoothies and hot soups.”

The tools are all very real, and Grace knows how to work every one of them with ease.

That might not be surprising if she were an adult, but it wasn’t that long ago Grace was playing in a plastic toy kitchen.

She’s 9.

The fourth grader at The Rhoades School was selected last year into the top 40 of the reality TV show MasterChef Junior to show off her adult cooking skills to Gordon Ramsay.

The celebrity chef has become commonly known for his hot temper.

“If he was a stove, I would tell him to turn down the high heat just a little,” said Grace, giggling. “He’s not the sweetest muffin in the pack.”

Grace’s mother, Melissa Howard, contested her daughter is actually a big fan of Ramsay.

“He’s her cooking idol,” she said. “She literally ran down toward him, and I thought she was going to run up and hug him. Her thing was she was going to be best friends with Gordon Ramsay. She was ready to jump out of herself but she kept her cool.”

Grace was 8 and the youngest competitor on the show when her episode filmed last March.

In the episode, which aired Feb. 16, Grace and three other contestants were challenged with creating a chicken dish in under 40 minutes.

For Grace — who started cooking as a toddler — her idea came easily.

“I had to think about the four different parts of a chicken: breasts, legs, wings and thighs,” she said. “I wanted to go with something that would cook easily but I could get it done in time. So, definitely, I chose the breast. I wanted to show them my special adult skills.”

The girl made a stuffed chicken breast with ricotta cheese, lemon, mashed potatoes and spinach-garlic salad.

The dish was judged by Ramsay’s counterpart on the show, Christina Tosi.

“It was heart-racing when she was walking over,” Grace said. “I was definitely really scared.”

Tosi ended up eliminating Grace, saying her chicken was a bit undercooked, but praised the girl for her creamy mashed potatoes.

Grace said she was initially sad but not completely defeated.

“I’m a winner for just being selected to compete,” she said, adding she plans to audition for the show again.

She hopes to open her own bakery someday, with an emphasis toward donating to charity.

Melissa Howard said her daughter has a giving heart.

“She’s always wanted to make something for somebody,” she said. “She makes things for the neighbors. She made sushi and delivered it around the neighborhood. She’s got a really good heart and some really good ideas about her bakery to give back.”