From Hobby to Passion

From our past interviews with teenage Chopped contestants Shania Thomas and Greg Grossman, we know age is just a number when it comes to culinary talent. On a recent episode, high schooler Emma Scher displayed her cooking skills with a confidence far beyond her years. We caught up with her to learn just how she developed her skills as such a young age.

Emma Scher
Emma Scher

FP: How did you get your start with cooking?

ES: Ever since I was a baby I was pulled to the kitchen! Watching my mom and grandma cooking made me want to do the same! It started with playing with measuring cups and spoons in the kitchen sink and through the years has developed from a hobby to a passion.

FP: Sounds like you were born to cook!

Name some chefs that have inspired you.

ES: Chef John Branda and Chef Mary Beth Brace– My chef instructors at Bergen County Academies have not only been teachers to me for the past four years, but mentors, trainers, advice givers, cheerleaders, supporters and friends to me. They have taught me the ins-and-outs of the kitchen and I could not have accomplished anything that I have done during high school without them.

Rachel Ray– My TV chef of choice growing up who taught me the basics of cooking.

Chef Angel Tenesaca- Who not only welcomed me into the Centrico kitchen but also trusted me with far more than I ever thought that I was capable of doing.

FP: Always great to have mentors with you throughout the process!

Tell us about your experience on Chopped. What was the hardest ingredient to work with?

ES: When I saw the ingredients each round, there were a few that I was concerned about because I had not worked with them before like the rhubarb and the cereal, but I was able to find places for them in my dishes easily. On the other hand, when I saw the leg of goat, I was not only concerned because I had never worked with it nor eaten it, but also because it was so large that I could barely lift it. Luckily, with some hard work and a little luck I was able to butcher it into steaks to cook! Even then I was not sure how it should be served though… was it like a steak where it could be rare? Was it like chicken where it had to be cooked through? I just did not know!

FP: When we saw the leg of goat, we felt for you and all the contestants…you did great though!

Which round was the most difficult?

ES: The most difficult round for me was definitely the dessert round. Going into the competition I was worried about the dessert round, should I make it to it because I do not have nearly as much experience in baking and pastry as I do in culinary arts.  Though the mishap with the ice cream machine set me back a lot during the round, all-in-all I was happy that all four of my ingredients were on my plate and that it was a solid dish.

FP: What are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself and/or for guests?

ES: I generally like to make hors d’oeuvres mainly to give guests a chance to try many different things instead of one big plate. This is also how I like to cook for myself and how I eat when I go out… sharing a few appetizers instead of an entree.

FP: We love sharing small plates as well!

If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NJ or other states you’ve visited.

ES: Of course I love all of the places I have worked, like Badlands Tacos in Ramsey, NJ, Centrico in Tribeca, NY, Empanada Mania in Bergenfield, NJ and Restaurant DANIEL in New York, NY. All of these restaurants not only have incredible food, but truly amazing chefs who have mentored me.

When I go out with my family and friends, I tend to enjoy small funky ethnic restaurants.

FP: Since, we’re from New York, we’ll add those places to our ever-growing list of places to try!

What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂

ES: I must say that I do have a few go-to foodie pleasures that are all but ordinary!  My favorites are pickles (especially homemade ones!), Havarti cheese, mocha bubble tea, and empanadas.

FP: Those are great choices! We could go for all four 🙂

Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them.

ES: Marc Murphy, Amanda Freitag and Marcus Samuelsson for sure. I would cook them a WELL SEASONED meal to show them that I do know how to season food! I would love to show all three of my judges how I can cook outside of the Chopped kitchen.

FP: With no time constraints, we have no doubt you would prepare a great meal for them!

In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?

ES: Sloppy- Because though I try to work as neatly and as organized as possible when I am at work in restaurants, when I come home I do tend to slack on the cleanup.

Mature- People who meet me may say that I act professionally and mature for my age, but my friends and family know that when I am not working I act just as childishly as any other teenager.

Innovative- Whenever I am cooking I like to try to come up with fun new dishes like salted caramel potato chip butter cream or a cake that looks like a thanksgiving dinner, and even when I am going off of a recipe I will always put my own twist on it.

FP: Where will we see Chef Emma in ten years?

ES: Within ten years I hope to have graduated and completed 2 degrees from Cornell University and The Culinary Institute of America. With this training, I will have worked within the food industry and will still be dreaming and planning my own restaurant.

FP: With your talent, maturity and thirst for knowledge, we know the future is extremely bright for you! Thank you so much for your time and we wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors. We look forward to keeping track of your career!

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