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.