The competitive cooking world is no longer just for adults. Kids are now taking up knives and forks against each other in such television shows as Top Chef Junior, which is where teenagers Carson Peterson of Ventura and Rogers Mathews Jr. of Corona battled on season two in 2018.
This Sunday, they come to the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum for a Sustainable Seafood Teen Cook-Off that will showcase their skills while emphasizing smart fish selections for both ourselves and the planet. Here’s a bit more about these young yet sizzling stars.
A 14-year-old freshman at Ventura High School, Peterson started cooking with Nonna, his Italian grandmother, when he was about 5 years old. “I remember making pasta dough with her and making our family’s pasta sauce that takes all day,” he recalled of what inspired his love for cooking, which got more serious when he was 11. “I started spending most of my free time in the kitchen, and I’ve just been getting better and more knowledgeable every day.”
Upon studying the careers of chefs such as Curtis Stone, Julia Child, Alton Brown, and Thomas Keller, Peterson gravitated toward French cuisine. “French techniques and flavors can be found all over Europe and northern Africa,” explained Peterson, who enjoys making poisson en papillote, coq au vin, and croque madame. “French food has implemented itself into many cuisines, and I really find that interesting.”
He enjoys cooking seafood because of its endless diversity. “There are thousands of aquatic species that one can cook,” he said. “It is able to stand up to the boldest of flavors. You can cook seafood really delicately or you can take a more aggressive approach.”
He’ll be relying a bit on what he learned on Top Chef Junior when he competes on Sunday. “There was always an unknown,” said Peterson, who hopes to attend Stanford for college. “Whether it was the unfamiliar pantry, an unfamiliar kitchen appliance, or a wacky challenge, Top Chef Junior was definitely no walk in the park. While being hard, it brought out the best in me as a chef and as a person. Not only was I able to improve my culinary skills, but I was also able to create relationships I will keep forever.”
Rogers Mathews Jr.
A 14-year-old who just started his freshman year at Santiago High in Corona, Mathews was introduced to cooking when his family decided to make homemade pizza and let him pick the toppings. “After that I was hooked,” he explained. “Cooking was so much fun!” By age 10, he was learning techniques and flavor profiles and looking up to chefs like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Curtis Stone.
Though challenging, his experience on Top Chef Junior taught valuable lessons. “In the beginning, it was very stressful to have to cook with a time constraint,” said Mathews. “As a result, I learned to be very efficient in managing my time in the kitchen.”
He’s very comfortable with seafood and explained that one of his favorite dishes to cook is dover sole à la meunière. “It is such a simple, classic French recipe that is so fun to reinvent, and it comes out delicious every time,” said Mathews.
He dreams of writing his own cookbook one day and opening a small restaurant. “My restaurant would focus on the artistic side of cooking and showcase food seasonality,” said Mathews, “or maybe utilizing forgotten parts of vegetables like stems and leaves in a creative way.” Sounds like he’s got sustainability on his side already.
4·1·1 | The Sustainable Seafood Teen Cook-Off is on Sunday, September 8, 12:30-3:30 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum (113 Harbor Wy.). Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students; children 12 and under are free. Register at sbmm.org or call (805) 456-8747.