Tuesday: Young kitchen whiz competes for MasterChef Junior title

Menlo Park's Mia Wuster

Mia Wurster, an 11-year-old from Menlo Park, can hardly remember a time when she didn't cook -- starting with easy dishes such as pancakes at the age of 2, and progressing to baking at around age 4. By 7 she was making family meals.

"My mom and dad don't really know how to cook," the Oak Knoll fifth-grader says, so she mostly taught herself by watching cooking videos, reading cookbooks, and watching shows such as Fox's "MasterChef." So it may come as no surprise that when Mia heard from her mother that auditions for "MasterChef Junior" were being held the next day in Los Angeles, Mia and her father jumped in the family car and headed for LA at 2 a.m.

"I love the show," Mia says. "I wanted to be on it."

During the multi-day audition Mia had to cook an egg to request, show off her knife skills and answer lots of questions in one session and, in the next session, prepare a favorite dish of seared scallops with balsamic reduction and brussels sprouts for the judges in 30 minutes. Mia won a spot as one of 19 contestants for the 2015 season of the show, which premieres on Tuesday, Jan. 6, at 8 p.m.

"I really love to cook," Mia says. "It's so fun for me because you get to experiment."

Mia had to miss several weeks of school because the show was recorded in the "MasterChef" kitchens in Los Angeles. She worked with a tutor during that time.

Contestants are eliminated each week of the show, and until each episode is aired no one is allowed to talk about it. The top contestant of the season wins $100,000.

"The kitchen was one of my favorite parts of the show," Mia says. "It was like really cool." Even cooler, she says, was the "MasterChef" pantry, which was "full of amazing ingredients" such as plantains, kimchi, "weird cheeses," tomatillos, "animal parts" and "spices that I never heard of."

"It was really fun because I made all these friends and we became like a family so quickly," Mia says. "I didn't want to leave the experience."

Mia may have been up for some of the challenges thrown at the "MasterChef Junior" contestants because of challenges she faces in cooking for her family, which consists of dad Rick, mom Jill, 9-year-old sister Faith and 18-month-old brother Drew. Mia's family became gluten-free a few years ago because her sister and a few other family members are healthier without gluten in their diet. Her dad is a vegetarian.

"I didn't like what my mom was cooking so I decided to take over," Mia says. Now her mother shops for ingredients and cleans up for Mia.

"I actually learned a lot from the show and I do a lot more cooking now than I did before," Mia says. "I cooked Christmas dinner for my family this year." The main dish? Beef Wellington, a beef tenderloin coated in a mushroom mixture and then covered with puff pastry, a recipe that has been known to trip up even experienced chefs.

Among her cooking inspirations is Menlo Park's Flea Street Cafe, Mia says. "I really like the chefs at Flea Street and I got to meet them" recently," she says. She also loves Jesse Cool's cookbook "Simply Organic."

Chef Ina Garten is another inspiration, and Mia is also enjoying "Yummy Supper -- 100 Fresh, Luscious & Honest Recipes From a (gluten-free) Omnivore" that she received for Christmas, she says.

What's next for Mia?

"I'm really happy I did the show, because it was fun to be a TV star for a little bit," she says. But she probably will not have time for more TV in her future.

"I want to open a restaurant, but I'm not going to do it for a little while, because I'm going to be a brain surgeon when I grow up," Mia says. She knows that being a brain surgeon will be hard, Mia says, so only after she's comfortable with that career will she open her restaurant, she says.

In the meantime, in addition to being in the fifth-grade class of Heidi Veneman at Oak Knoll, Mia is a competitive swimmer, with freestyle her favorite stroke. She also plays basketball and volleyball, rows crew and plans to start lacrosse soon.

Show segments can be watched online at the Fox website once they have aired.

For those who can't get enough of Mia's cooking on "MasterChef Junior," she has posted several cooking videos on her Facebook page, Mia Junior Chef.

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8 people like this
Posted by kitchen magician
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jan 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Enjoy the kitchen, enjoy the passion it engenders - go to med school. Kitchens, while rewarding in their own way, are a brutal life.

Service is honorable. Serving patients pays better.

Good luck in the competition!

3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 5, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Way to be a KILLJOY! Not everyone strives for the almighty dollar in life. Confucious says: Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life. And since when is doctor's life free of brutality? Yikes.

4 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Ugly thing, elitism...

8 people like this
Posted by kitchen magician
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jan 5, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Elitist, my (behind.)

Ever worked in a kitchen? For how long, and how long ago? The answer is obvious.

A kitchen can be a truly great place. Loads of fun. Seriously. Really, really fun with the right crew. ("The fact of the matter is, people who work in restaurants tend to be a hard- partying bunch.") Don't take my word for it, Mom: Web Link

But you have few choices in your life, compared to anyone who makes a living wage or above. It's also some of the hardest indoor work available. What's your boyfriend doing on Friday and Saturday nights while you work? (and you will.) And don't plan on making NY Eve plans for the first couple decades - you already have a plan: working. Ask Confuscious about that next time you see him.

Until you make Chef, how will you survive on 10 or 12 bucks an hour? You will never be able to afford to eat at any nice place you work. Find a couch to rent in the City, because that's all you will be able to afford living up there, unless you like the midnight commuting back to Mommy's house in Menlo.

It's a testosterone filled environment, fairly loaded with AD/HD types. And parolees.
("Kitchen teams include felons, perverts, and addicts") Don't take my word for it: Web Link

You better be able to wear contacts, because glasses and kitchens don't mix well when you get older and the eyes go falter. Speaking of older: bad backs, lost sensation of touch in fingers, gnarly scars, burns and more, etc...

Food Channel, that spiky hair dude from Sonoma, and Kitchens Confidential make it seem pretty sexy. Take the time to read the follow-up: Medium Raw. Kitchen life ain't for the meek, the weak or the hungry. And don't get me started on the diploma mills that define most of the culinary academies. Even if you graduate from Greystone, you'll almost never make enough to pay back the loans. You will still start out making next to nothing until you have experience.

Go to school. Make money so you can afford a house with a great kitchen IN it.

Make money and have choices. Make money so you can afford to cook steaks when you have friends over. Make money so your peers and yourself keep somewhat 'normal' hours. Taking your kid to school at 8am when you work till midnight really sucks. Going to work when your kid gets off school is no recipe for success, or at least the kid's success.

Culinary can be a great passion. Keep it a hobby. So... I'm sticking with:

"Service is honorable. Serving patients pays better. Good luck in the competition!"

Go get 'em, Mia!

Let's just leave with this, from food network: "Chefs cook when they’re sick.
It’s a long-standing tradition in the restaurant industry: Cooks report to duty unless they’re practically hospitalized. Half of those we surveyed said they come to work sick, and they stay there through injuries, too. Many chefs have cut themselves on the job, gone to get stitches and returned to work to finish out the night. Accidents definitely happen: Almost every chef we surveyed has been injured on the job in some way, and several chefs said they’re missing parts of their fingers."

Web Link

Seen any 3-fingered docs lately?

3 people like this
Posted by Stop the Triolls
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2015 at 4:28 pm

[Post removed; debate the topic but don't attack other posters.]

3 people like this
Posted by Congrats Mia!
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 5, 2015 at 4:47 pm


Congratulations on snatching the brass ring. I'm glad you saw something you would like to do and have pursued it. Don't listen to these adults. Listen to your heart and your parents. Between the two you will do well. Too many people on this forum use it as an opportunity to point out the bad. Stay focused on what brings you joy and the rest will come. You have so much life yet to live and I suspect you will go far.

To the adults out there who feel the need to rain on the parade - stop it! This article is a feel good local story that should be celebrated. Keep your cynicism to yourself. No one cares.

5 people like this
Posted by reality bits
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Reality does rain on the Food Network wannabes. Whats wrong with a good job AND cooking as a hobby?

5 people like this
Posted by menlo park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 5, 2015 at 5:53 pm

I am happy for Mia. At the same time, Kitchen Magician, is right. I studied computer science and math in college so that I could have a life of options (nice house, enough money, etc.) My dad always encouraged me in math and didn't tell me that math was not for girls. (Go girls!)

I could have taken only easy-peasy "fun" classes, but was given advice while I was in college that those can be taken anytime (community college, etc.) during my lifelong learning, and that in college I should focus on taking classes that could get me ahead in life.

I listened to that advice and studied computer science and math. I happened to do exceptionally with my career because of the courses I took and am now well off and can buy anything I want. It is much, much harder to do that with cooking as your focus.

So, I am with "Kitchen Magician" on this one. Its great to have cooking under your belt, but consider going to college to get a good degree that can support you. You don't want to be dependent on a man to take care of you (or your mom). Keep cooking as a hobby and make sure to learn how to cook healthy food so you can live a long life!

And, since you say you'd like to be a brain surgeon, more power to you!

2 people like this
Posted by Confucious sez
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 6, 2015 at 11:49 am

I agree with MPResident and Kitchen Magician: Congrats Mia, go for it! You will learn many things about yourself as you take your journey though the teenage yeas, and a passion for culinary will help in this time of discovery. Competing in a Fox reality show will certainly be part of that discovery.

But think long and had before you pigeonhole yourself into the restaurant world. Once you decide to skip college and go into the kitchens, you will not only be stuck there, but will miss out with what your peers are doing in college, and all the growth that such a period entails.

Confucious never paid rent in Menlo Park, or had to pay off student loans.

Jes' saying....

5 people like this
Posted by RW
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I can't wait to watch the show tonight and congratulations to Mia for pursuing a dream.

As for comments on what she wants to be when she grows you remember what you wanted to be when you were 11? I wanted to be a doctor, teacher, therapist, professional singer...and now I am none of those things. Let her fantasize about her adult life and quit giving a 5th grader so much grief.

5 people like this
Posted by HappyIdon'tliveinMenloPark
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2015 at 4:43 pm

I really don't know what to make of all these posts; get a life everyone. Do you really think an 11-year-old is going to read your post and seriously your long-winded career advice? Confucius say you're posting to fulfill your own narcissistic needs.

Congratulations Mia; I wish you luck!

4 people like this
Posted by amiafan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 6, 2015 at 5:37 pm

A wonderful article about a very motivated and capable young lady! It is incredible to make it on to a show like this and to do so, shows expertise far beyond most of their years. I have a feeling that Mia can do anything she wants-and what she wants now will certainly change a bit. Good luck, Mia, in whatever life brings you and bon appetit!!

5 people like this
Posted by Erin
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 6, 2015 at 6:14 pm

I am a huge MasterChef fan and am excited to see a local student compete. As an adult with culinary skills only slightly north of boiling water, this is very humbling. Good luck Mia!

3 people like this
Posted by Frightening...
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2015 at 4:48 am

After reading these comments, it seems that most of the people in Menlo Park are very literal minded.

This article was clearly written with a tongue-in-cheek tone. It is clear that the author found it amusing that Mia wants to be a brain surgeon and "after she is comfortable in that career," open her own restaurant. The adults reading are supposed to be amused by these careers goals, while kids reading the article will not notice the tongue-in-cheek tone (but apparently the adults didn't either), and will think this is a serious news story. It's too bad that the supposed adults reading this article had to interject their own opinion rather than being positive.

Kids have no idea what it means to be a brain surgeon, a restauranteur, or any other career, for that matter. Mia's comments are supposed to be charming and evoke nostalgic memories of when we used to want to be a rock star, a superstar athlete, or whatever. It's shameful that the adults reading this article are so literal minded that they feel compelled to spout their own advice to a child whose career goals will surely change with maturity.

If you can't say something nice to an 11-year-old, don't say anything at all.

3 people like this
Posted by Congrats!
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:15 am

"If you can't say something nice to an 11-year-old, don't say anything at all."

Couldn't agree more! Congratulations, Miss Wurster, and parents, whom are obviously pursuing the reality show circuit and all it's inherent publicity. TV shows are not for everyone, but that is their prerogative.

Miss Wurster will have all the choices she needs, given the area in which we reside. If she chooses to skip college and attend to a career in culinary, I'm sure her parents will be thrilled and look back on their participation and leadership with great pride.

I too see much posted previously as tongue-in-cheek - go kids, and be a brain surgeon rock star superstar athlete, or whatever. Ignore the haters, especially those that look down their noses at literal minded posters but insist they ain't hating as they literally out-literal others.

Congratulations are also in order to the Almanac, for their new style - apparently it is okay for some to interpret their reporting on the gifted youth of our community as "tongue-in-cheek". Well done, interpreters!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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