In the Kitchen With ‘Chopped Junior’ Contestant Ben Berinsky

chopped juniorBerinsky preps veggies in his Cambridge kitchen. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

The 11-year-old chef will make his Food Network debut on November 15.

Ben Berinsky first stepped into the kitchen when he was just four years old. As his dad prepared dinner for the family each night, he’d help out in whatever way he could—stirring sauces or cutting the occasional vegetable.

“By eight, I was making breakfast for the family, and by nine, I was making dinner once a week,” he says proudly.

So perhaps it’s not so surprising that the lifelong Cambridge resident’s culinary creations piqued the tastebuds of producers at the Food Network, who reached out to Berinsky after receiving his audition tape for Chopped Junior. After a series of phone and Facetime interviews, they invited him to come to New York and compete in the show earlier this year—a dream come true for the Rindge Avenue Upper School student, who’s happier in the kitchen than just about anywhere else.

“Cooking is a great experience. It’s something where you can really express your feelings and have fun,” he says. “You can put your mind on a plate, kind of, and share that with people.” Lemon chicken is one of his favorite things to cook, and he also loves to make tacos. Steak is another standard; he’s thrilled that the family’s kitchen is equipped with a grill he can use year-round.

“At first, it was kind of hard to let the whole family rely on a seven year old making dinner for everyone,” he explains, “because if I burned something, then we didn’t have anything to eat.”

And now?

“I feel like the less they cook, the happier they are,” he says, while his mom, Deirdre Logan, smiles and nods in agreement.

“I love the weekend breakfasts—he does waffles and things like that,” she says. “That’s really fun.” She’s also a fan of his grilled chicken and mango tacos.

Berinsky says one of the toughest things about competing on Chopped Junior wasn’t necessarily finding a way to use all of his basket ingredients—though that certainly wasn’t easy—but keeping it a secret from his classmates and friends, which he had to do for months. And keeping the news to himself only got more difficult when he had to miss three days of school—and, more importantly, a baseball game—to head to New York and shoot the episode. “I told my baseball coach that I had a very special opportunity, and he was like, ‘It better be pretty special!’” he laughs.

There’s not much this 11-year-old would miss baseball for. When he’s not cooking, he’s often playing sports—he plays basketball and football in addition to baseball. He likes to read and—believe it or not—tackle challenging math problems, and he belongs to a club called Destination Imagination that presents kids with open-ended academic challenges in STEM fields.

Berinsky isn’t sure what he wants to do career-wise—hey, he’s only 11!—but says he might want to become a chef, especially one who works for a professional sports team, which would give him the chance to meet and cook for the players.

“If someone hits a grand slam, I’m gonna be like, ‘The food I gave them—that’s why they hit that grand slam!’” he says, adding with a shy smile, “At least I can tell myself that.”

The young chef says the biggest surprise from his Chopped Junior experience was just how fast the time went. But while his time in the Chopped kitchen may have flown by, you can bet he plans to continue cooking those weekend breakfasts and signature dishes for the foreseeable future.

“If you have an opportunity to cook, you should definitely try to make the most of it, because cooking is something people have been doing for thousands of years,” he says. “It’s always brought family and friends together.”

You can catch Berinsky’s appearance on Chopped Junior on November 15 at 8 p.m.

This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available (for free!) at more than 250 locations throughout the city.