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Food and Leisure

Child chefs face off with cooking idols in new TV showdown

Ching M. Alano - The Philippine Star

Little chef Estie Kung wants to inspire kids to be adventurous with food.

MANILA, Philippines - At three years old, she was just learning her alphabet when she dipped her little fingers into the ABCs of cooking, happily helping Mom in the kitchen. Today, at eight, she’s one of the world’s most talented youngest chefs. Meet Estie Kung, the little big star of Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown, which will premiere in Asia on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Lifetime network (available on SkyCable Channel 65, SkyCable HD Ch 199; Destiny Cable Ch 44 (Analogue), Ch 65 (Digital), and other select provincial channels.

Little Estie brings big surprises as she launches the series premiere with the episode aptly titled Don’t Under-ESTIE-mate Her. “It will be amazing,” says a beaming Estie of the opening salvo of the brand-new cooking competition series, where she cooks up a Korean fried chicken with kimchi mayonnaise and a gochujang (hot pepper paste) gastrique (sweet-and-sour sauce).

During her Asian tour, we get to meet the small-but-terrific Estie, accompanied by her devoted mom Laura Taylor-Kung. “I’m Estie Kung and I’m eight,” she simply introduces herself. From here on in, the adorable Estie’s got everyone eating out of the palm of her hand.

For this child vs. man showdown, Philippine version, Estie faces off with Paris-trained celebrity chef Sau del Rosario. They shake hands, bump fists, and strike playful fighting poses for the cameras. And then they take their places onstage, behind a counter with an array of bowls and pans, and proceed to work on their masterpieces — Estie’s salmon with clam chowder sauce and Sau’s sea bass with herbs and mushrooms. Since this is not a real showdown and there are no real judges (but more on that a wee bit later), everybody agrees that both entries are winners.

“She’s so vibrant, so full of life; she’s such a foodie,” a gushing Sau says of his worthy opponent. “When she talks about food, you can see the passion in her eyes that shine. Her food always has a story to tell — she talks about her mom, she talks about her travels.”

Sau adds, “I can see her surpassing Nigella Lawson by a thousand and one bites. I can see her hosting a TV show, maybe 10-15 years from now. I can see her cookbooks on the store shelves.”

Estie is the youngest — and cutest — chef that chef Sau has ever met. “It’s never too early or too late to learn how to cook, as long as there’s love and passion,” Sau points out. “I started cooking at five because being the youngest of six children, I was always left behind at home when my siblings would go to school. My mom cooked a lot and I would help her in the kitchen, stirring all the sauces, peeling the carrots, etc. And I learned how to make rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish) at a very young age because I was so amazed watching my mom do her relleno, turning it over and over, and sewing it up.”

Sau says Estie’s salmon is a hands-down winner. “It’s well cooked, she seared it properly. It’s so crispy on the outside and so moist in the middle. She’s also very creative with her sauce. She made a very tasty clam sauce with some potatoes and veggies.”

Estie was a smash hit when she went head-to-head (and pan-to-pan) against executive chef Chris Tzorin for the “mashups” competition combining different cuisines and different ethnic backgrounds. Her winning piece: deviled egg lobster roll with caviar and panko bread crumbs. Says private chef to the stars Alia Zaine, who’s one of the resident judges on the show: “Estie nails it — all the different flavors from the different dishes came through.”

Estie never ceases to amaze with her sophisticated and adventurous taste buds. Once, she came up with a falafel dish. Of course, a lot of people know falafel (a world-famous Middle Eastern food consisting of a deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas and spices). But have you heard of falafel soup? Even seasoned chefs with years and years of experience behind them have never heard of such a thing.

“I love hummus, so I made it into a soup,” declares Estie.

As expected, Estie’s soup-er falafel dish wins this round of the competition — or, as the judges would say, she gets the advantage.

“She’s tiny but mighty,” says one chef of Estie.

“I’m terrified! This little girl knows what she’s doing,” says haute cuisine chef Frank Otte.

According to these cooking idols these young cooks look up to, tomorrow’s chefs are being groomed at a young age. One chef says he wasn’t even allowed near the hot stove when he was a kid. These kids are doing technical stuff that professional chefs don’t even do.

Here are more tidbits about Estie:

• She was born and raised in Hollywood, California, of American-Chinese parentage. Her Chinese name is Kung Ling-Zhen. She was named Esther after her Chinese grandmother, who passed away two years before she was born.

• A natural charmer on and off the ramp, Estie was a model for Gymboree and Reebok.

• She loves to sing and dance, tell stories, laugh and make people laugh.

• When she was a girl scout, she sold the most number of cookies because she went around the production companies in Hollywood where she still lives.

• Her favorite foods are lobster, steak tartare, and caviar. And she loves her mom’s angel food cake, which she swears is the best.

• She loves watching chef Gordon Ramsay, the hot-tempered star of Hell’s Kitchen, who can really give mediocre chefs hell.

• Her no. 1 idol and inspiration is her mom, who taught her several cooking techniques and allowed her to cook on her own at age five.

• One of her proudest kitchen moments was when she made homemade pasta.

• She got her first chef coat on her fifth birthday.

• She likes making and sharing her great-great-grandmother’s chicken noodle soup recipe, which her mom says Estie does better than her. She teaches you how to make the dough for the noodles. For her, rolling the dough is just like a workout; she loves making everything from scratch. Of course, she’s extra-careful when using knives.

• Ever creative, she likes to try out different flavors and see what works together.

• She says it’s fun to be the youngest chef on television, but the not-so-fun part is she has to use a stool to reach the counter as she’s too short and not strong enough to carry heavy kitchen stuff.

• Her favorite part of the show is meeting all the chefs because now, she has a whole list of restos she can visit and say “Hi!” to the chef.

• Through her TV show, she wants to tell everyone that anyone can cook. She wants to show people, kid or adult, that they can do anything they dream of if they try really hard.

• She would like to write a cookbook (maybe soon, with a dozen or so of her original recipes) that inspires kids to be more adventurous with food. She gets shocked and disappointed to hear about the foods her friends don’t like.

And now, it’s show time! Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown pits the great chefs against the food stars of tomorrow. It’s got some of America’s most talented young chefs teaming up and going up against some of their own cooking idols, most of whom have been cooking longer than they have been alive. This power team of cooking prodigies consists of Estie, 8; Dylan Russett, 12; Emmalee Abrams, 12; Cloyce Martin, 13; and Holden Dahlerbruch, 14. Hosted by chef/TV personality Adam Gertler, each of the 13-episode series is made up of three rounds to test the competitors’ cooking mettle and mastery in the kitchen — from making sausage to turning in the perfect omelet.  The kids nominate who among them will face the opponent for that round. Resident judges for the first two pulse-racing rounds are chef/restaurateur Mike Isabella and chef-to-the-stars Alia Zaine. For the final, heart-stopping round, world-renowned master chefs like Hubert Keller and Ludo Lefebvre will do the blind taste-taste to determine the ultimate winner: Will the title/bragging rights go to the chefs of tomorrow or today’s hot chefs?

“It’s wholesome entertainment for the entire family in a region where people are passionate about their food,” said Michele Schofield, senior vice president, programming and production, A+E Networks Asia.

Now, this show is bound to be a delicious hot addition to our evening viewing fare.

 

 

 

 

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ALIA ZAINE

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CHEF SHOWDOWN

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