Stamford resident Jake Hunter Zampa is a cooking show star, part of a new reality TV program featuring celebrity chefs Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri. The twist is that he is only 13-years-old and one of eight contestants who are on a new Food Network web series, “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off” premiering Sept. 8. This young chef, who likes to go by his middle name Hunter, is one of eight young contestants on the show who are split between “Team Rachael” and “Team Guy” and spend four episodes highlighting their young culinary talents in the kitchen. Each week, kid contestants are scored by guest celebrities on assigned cooking challenges. At the end of the competition, the kid cook with the highest overall score will win his or her own web series on The Food Network. Filming was completed several weeks ago but Hunter, who lives in Stamford, is saying nothing when it comes to how he fared on the show. The eighth grader who attends Scofield Magnet Middle School did offer some insight on his cooking expertise, the experience and his plans for the future as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: I know this is a loaded question given you are on a certain show, but who is your favorite chef?
A: Rachael Ray. No, really. I always loved her because she is so versatile in her way of cooking. We have the same style; we both like to cook Thai and Italian. I was connected to her at a young age. I was six and my mother would turn her show on the television while she was doing the laundry. I started watching her too.
Q: If you had to put your best dish forward, what would it be?
A: Venison with green peppercorn sauce. My dad is a hunter and a fisherman so he brings home great game and fish. He always gives me the job of cooking it. I saw a dish with the green peppercorn sauce on The Food Network but it was for beef. I took the idea and tweaked it for venison instead because I knew it would be good, give balance to the taste of the game.
Q: A 13-year-old consumed with cooking — not the average pastime for a middle schooler, do you think?
A: Well, I swim competitively and am on the Westhill High School team. Butterfly is my specialty. No one makes fun of me as far as my cooking; in fact my friends encourage me. People love it that I cook and are always asking me to make something.
Q: Do you have a girlfriend?
A: Yes. Her name is Sidney. Her favorite dish is my chocolate chip cookies. I use almond extract in the recipe and that gives them another element of nuttiness.
Q: How did you learn to cook?
A: My dad always used to cook with me when I was little so I started from there. We would cook some of my grandma’s Italian recipes. Then I started to experiment on my own with Thai and other Asian dishes.
Q: How intimidating was it to be cooking with two celebrity chefs, and in a competition, no less?
A: It was scary at the first meeting with Rachael and Guy, pretty nerve wracking actually. But once I got to know them it was like family and they were encouraging and taught me so much. The time challenges were a little pressure. I’m not really used to cooking with a time limit. But I got to learn how and everything got easier after each challenge.
Q: I know you can’t tell me how you do on the show but what edge do you think you had against your competitors?
A: I think my versatility when it comes to the kinds of cuisine I am comfortable preparing. I can do Asian and Italian and that wide knowledge helped me.
Q: Do you watch any cooking shows?
A: I watch The Food Network every day of my life.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in your neighborhood?
A: Columbus Park Trattoria.
Q: If you could only eat one dish the rest of your life what would it be?
A: Trout. I love trout, freshly caught and sautéed with lemon juice and onion and tomatoes. It’s the best thing you can imagine.
Q: What appliances would your dream kitchen include?
A: A convection oven for baking, a six-burner stove, a griddle, a deep fryer. I like the versatility of a fryer. And an ice cream machine. I would love to use it to invent really savory ice cream flavors.
Q: So what kind of grades do you get with all this time spent cooking? You certainly must get A’s in home economics or whatever it is called now.
A: I am an honor roll student but my school doesn’t have cooking classes. I go to a magnet school for science technology and math.
Q: What are your college plans?
A: I want to go to the culinary school at Hyde Park. I want to someday open my own restaurant.
Q: And the name of that restaurant?
A: Game On, Harvest to Hunter.