We weren’t surprised at all when we saw Chef Hunter Zampa as one of the teenage contestants on a recent episode of Chopped. Having already cooked alongside celebrity chefs Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri on Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cookoff, Hunter was born to cook and is definitely not intimidated by the bright lights of TV. We recently caught up with Hunter after he won Chopped, becoming the youngest champion ever.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
HZ: Cooking has always been my passion. It started out in my little kitchen in my old house, with my Dad, making tomato sauce. I was around 6 years old from what I remember. I have always loved to cook my Grandmothers recipes and from there my love turned to modern Italian, Thai, and farm to table food. My dad has taught me to cook resourcefully, using the freshest local and sustainable ingredients available. This has made a huge impact in my cooking style.
FP: Sounds like you were definitely born to cook!
Name some chefs that have inspired you.
HZ: Some chefs that have inspired me include Mario Batali and Rachael Ray. They have been on my television since I was a baby, and they are the chefs that I have always felt a connection with. Their styles for really fresh, rustic, and versatile cuisine and has impacted my style of cooking greatly. I have been fortunate enough to have met both and not only are they great chef’s but also great people.
FP: Two great chefs indeed!
Congrats again on winning Chopped! Tell us about your experience on the show.
HZ: Chopped was one of the most difficult things I have ever completed in my life. The timing, the immense pressure, and the secret ingredients all played a part in being the hardest culinary showdown out there.
Winning was amazing, but every round I prepared myself to see my plate under the cloche, and when it wasn’t, I was striving to be humble not only to the judges but also to my fellow competitors.
FP: What was the hardest ingredient to work with? Which round was the most difficult?
HZ: The hardest ingredient by far had to be the salt bagel. I mean, sure I love them for breakfast, but what am I supposed to do with them for dessert?
The dessert round was definitely the most intense round. I could taste the $40,000 dollar scholarship, and the only thing in my way was my other competitor. I put everything I had in my soul and mind on the plate. Even if I lost in the last round, I would have been proud of what I accomplished but to be totally honest, winning was priceless.
FP: We’re sure it was a great moment for you and your family!
What are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself and/or for guests?
HZ: My favorite meals to cook for guests and myself are rustic, home-style delicious recipes. This includes Pad Thai, Lupini Meat Sauce, and even Venison Shepard’s Pie. I try to mix things up by creating new variations of time-tested recipes.
I also like to meld different cuisines like the Larb Shark recipe I created on Rachel vs. Guy. Even though the dishes can be complex, the idea of using fresh, simple ingredients really gets everyone’s attention.
FP: Yum! Everything sounds delicious!
When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in Stamford or other towns in CT.
HZ: I love experiencing all types of food so the list of my favorite restaurants is too large to list. Not all are well known but rather smaller local low-key restaurants. Stamford has a wonderful variety of all types of cuisines and we are also close to New York City so the options are limitless.
Examples of these restaurants include Westover Pizza, which our family friends own and Casa Villa. At Westover, I am able to go into the kitchen and make my own pizza but the cool part is learning from friends who love pizza! As I said before, it is not only the food but also the experience. At Casa Villa, their home-style Mexican cuisine is great, and I love the Tongue and Chicharrones Burritos!
FP: Stamford is one of our favorite towns in CT so we’ll have to check those spots out next time we’re there!
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
HZ: Trust me; I have too many foodie pleasures to even imagine. I love chocolate. Just thinking about Chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, or even just bars of Vahlrona Dark Chocolate are enough to make my mouth water.
Another guilty pleasure of mine is jerky. Whether it is venison, beef, or elk; jerky is something that I cannot tell if I have eaten one or one hundred pieces! I love it so much my Dad bought me a dehydrator and jerky kit so we can make our own!
FP: We hear you about chocolate. It’s good with practically everything!
You’ve already cooked with Guy Fieri and Rachel Ray. Who else would you like to cook with?
HZ: I would love to cook with Chefs Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Morimoto. I love Iron Chef America, and to even have the opportunity to cook with one of these great chefs would be a dream come true. One day, I hope to be cooking alongside these chefs on a regular basis but my ultimate goal is to become an Iron Chef.
FP: We have a feeling that we will see you on Iron Chef one day!
In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?
HZ: Three words that my family and friends would use to describe me are “Talented, Smart, and Determined.”
FP: Where will we see Chef Hunter in 10 years?
HZ: You will see Chef Hunter Zampa going as strong as ever in 10 years. I will have graduated college and culinary school, and hopefully will have become an Iron Chef. Cooking is my life, and I will keep doing just that every day for as long as I’m alive! Whether I own restaurants or have my own television show or both it doesn’t matter as long as I am in the kitchen!
FP: Thank you again for your time Chef Hunter. You certainly have a very bright future ahead of you and we wish you the best of luck!