Abby Major was sitting in a Union Station cafe sipping orange juice with her breakfast, a “Harry Potter” book at her side. But her quiet moment didn’t last long: Almost immediately, a stranger came up and wanted to talk to her. It’s hard for this girl from Winchester, Virginia, to go anywhere without being recognized.
Abby wowed viewers and judges by making it to the top four of Fox’s cooking show for kids, “MasterChef Junior.” Now 9 years old, Abby was competing against kids as old as 12. “I may be the youngest in ‘MasterChef Junior’ history, but I still have my skills,” she said during a recent episode.
What does her family think of her instant popularity?
“We were on board from the beginning,” said Abby’s dad, Art Major, as the two waited for a train to New York, where she was to be a guest on a television show. “Abby obviously loves to cook.”
A big fan of the show’s first season, Abby went online and found out about auditions for the second season last January.
“We went up to New York kind of just for fun, never thinking that it would turn into what it turned into,” Major said. “She did so great up there; they loved her.”
Abby called the first round of auditions “pretty easy.” Hopeful contestants had to cook an egg, measure water and chop celery.
After making it past the first cut, Abby was called back to New York to do an on-camera cooking demonstration. She had to prepare a meal of her choice — Southwest Chicken Lettuce Wraps — after shopping for the ingredients.
Abby was home when she got the call in April that she had been chosen for the show, which was to be taped in Los Angeles, California.
Since the 16 contestants needed to be at the TV studio for a month, teachers were brought in to ensure that they didn’t fall behind in school. They also took cooking classes to prepare them for the show’s challenges, which “taught them different techniques and how to develop a recipe,” Major said. For each challenge, Abby had to get creative and come up with a recipe on the spot.
“Something just pops into my head, and that’s usually what I make,” she said.
Abby, whose mom taught her how to cook starting at age 2, had to tackle all kinds of obstacles, such as time limits. Abby adjusted to that one easily. “My mom used to time me on my math homework,” she said.
Abby said her favorite task was the cupcake challenge, and the hardest was the fish challenge. But cooking the fish wasn’t what made it hard: It was holding the massive thing. “I have small hands!” she said, laughing. “Plus, everyone else was older than me, and I wasn’t as strong because I was 8.”
The shepherd’s pie challenge was also tough. “Hardly anyone knew what a shepherd’s pie was at the time,” she said of the meat pie with mashed potato crust. “I had never tasted it; I had never made it.”
And while being on national television — she appeared in six episodes — might seem intimidating, Abby kept her eyes on the prize. “I tried to imagine the cameras weren’t there,” she said.
Abby said the experience helped improve her cooking skills, which she hopes to use one day in a restaurant of her own, a place that will serve “healthy comfort food.”
Although her time on “MasterChef Junior” is over (Logan Guleff, 11, won the competition), Abby has her show apron as a reminder.
“It makes me feel like I’ve done a humongous accomplishment,” she said.
Season three of “MasterChef Junior” airs beginning January 6 at 8 p.m.