By Andrea Haughton
When I was ten years old, I had no clue what Kobe beef meant – I also highly doubt that my parents were privy to that culinary knowledge. My most adventurous meal was Frosted Mini Wheats in lieu of the standard Grape Nuts. Talk about branching out – that was a sugar high and then some. I’m confident that I am not alone in picky-eater-ville. Most ten-year-olds spend their evenings in some digitized land driving their parents postal by refusing their vegetables and noshing peanut butter sandwiches whilst grumbling about not being in front of the boob tube. Most ten-year olds aren’t familiar with Kobe Beef, nor do they know what basting is or know how to say – let alone make – Veal Saltimbocca.
Granted, I’m positive not all ten-year-olds are clones of me during my formative years; however, most probably can’t whip up crepes in their sleep either. Which is why meeting Brandon Scawthorn, the now eleven-year-old culinary prodigy and winner of Rachael vs. Guy Kids Cook-Off that aired this September on Food Network, is such a colossal treat. This kid knows food, loves food and cooks to impress. That his gregarious personality is as dazzling as his burgers are juicy is the icing on the proverbial cake.
Brandon’s obsession with food was cultivated from infancy on his mother, Yelena’s, hip. A stay-at-home-mom with commanding culinary penchant, Yelena gave her son fake ingredients and he would mix them around merrily as she asserted her prowess on a real stove. Eventually, the little chef grew off of his mother’s hip and onto a stool. Cooking represents a bonding mechanism to mother and son alike and Brandon credits his mother’s fondness of crepe making with his first real cooking experience. At first, he would pour the ingredients per his mother’s instruction in their respective bowls, stirring before they hit the hot pan. Eventually, he was adding ingredients of his accord and delivering his own version of his mother’s famous crepes to the family’s table. Pretty soon, he was legitimately cooking full meals and slinging steaks on a grill before he was tall enough to open it unassisted.
Trail and error is the method behind his culinary abilitym. He spends time reading cookbooks and watching celebrity chef greats Emeril Lagasse, but Brandon learns predominately from simply ‘doing’ in the kitchen. An aspiring celebrity chef and TV host himself, Brandon’s path to the Food Network competition began when his mom submitted pictures of his food (unbeknownst to the little chef) not thinking that they would be selected. All of the sudden, Brandon had made it through to the semifinals and was flying to Los Angeles to cook for the very chef personalities that he had been watching for years.
The premiere walk onto set blew the little chefs mind. “I couldn’t get over -right at first – when I was about to walk in and, when we did, it was just so cool. The experience was great and I had so much fun getting to cook without my mom and doing it on my own and thinking about the groceries and the dishes I would prepare.” Brandon spent his spare time trying to find new presentation ideas and strategizing on food concepts.
Exhibiting the makings of a tried and true chef, Brandon rolled with the punches (or, more accurately, the knife wounds) not letting his performance be affected by hiccups in the kitchen. He actually had a lot of fun poaching eggs with one hand behind his back after cutting himself while chopping scallions in the first episode. In talking with Brandon about other injuries he had sustained during his cook-scapades, the ten-year old boy mentality provided some insight into his resilience. While making saltimbocca (something I only attempted at the young age of 27), he dropped the veal into the pan from too high a height. The result was a bad burn that the little chef is quite proud of when he looks upon the scar – and his knife wound.
In addition to his resilience, Brandon’s creativity contributed to the coveted win. His personal favorite dish was “Cloudy with a Chance of Mashups” episode when the meat-loving Texan delivered a savory riff on cupcakes with a mini meatloaf in place of the cake and mashed potatoes posing at the icing. “Everything was seasoned to perfection, it was a real highlight,” Brandon recalled. Another highlight of his nascent TV career came at a particularly chaotic moment during filming when Brandon animatedly yelled, “that scarred the BAJABBERS outta me” amidst whipped cream and a flaming pan. His verbal creation ultimately became the top trend on Twitter.
Life has changed pretty dramatically for the now eleven-year old who, with proscribed from telling anyone that he was on the show (despite being called out by a classmate for a commercial segment spotting), was living a virtual double life. Brandon could not release details of the show prior to air dates no matter how much his friends would badger him – “zipping his lips up” and staying mum on the details. That is no small feat for a human, especially a young human. Since winning, with Korean-style ribs with Kimchi), in September 2013, the fifth grader says he will occasionally be recognized as the “kid from that Rachael Ray” show. He now has a Twitter account and is hoping to reach 1,500 likes on Facebook to promote his Foodnetwork.com mini series, Cooking in the Fast Lane. Each episode, Brandon takes to the streets to find busy strangers and subsequently prepare a flavorful, healthful meal in 20 minutes or under. Some dishes he has showcased are a taco bar, a French Dip Sandwich with au jus – for none other than Chopped Judge Scott Conant – and Salmon fried rice. Now in addition to cooking approximately 87 percent of his meals (including his school lunches instigating much jealousy and salivation among his classmates) and racing Banderlos with his father, Kevin, Brandon spends what little time not in the classroom fielding interview questions and fulfilling spotlight cameos at events around Central Texas. Standard modus opera for an eleven year old who can grill a better steak than Truluck’s and whose first dish to prepare was crepes.
Looking back, Brandon says, “It was just so cool to be there in this awesome kitchen, with these TV chefs and cameras everywhere, cooking on my own and then, I was kind of the winner.” Yes, little chef, not only were you the winner, but the judges thought they were eating a tried and true chef’s vittles. Hat’s off to the little chef and cheers to many years to come.
Q and A
A: What is your favorite thing to cook?
B: I am a Texas boy, we like meat – I love to grill and make BBQ chicken, along with ribs and steak.
A: How do you learn your kitchen repertoire?
B: I just kind figure it out. Sometimes, I watch TV shows but I learn a lot by trial and error – like learning not to drop the veal from high heights into really hot oil – that was rough.
A: What is your all-time favorite food experience thus far?
B: My all time favorite experience has been the show. It helped that I won.
A: This is the most important question a person can ever be asked… What would be on your plate at your last meal?
B: A 20-ounce sirloin steak and a two-pound baked potato with green beans and lots of bacon and a gigantic piece of garlic butter-salted bread. Make the potato five pounds.
A: What five things are always in your fridge?
B: Leftovers, steak, vegetable, milk and eggs. And butter, of course.
A: What Kitchen utensils can you not live without?
B: A knife, a grill, a pan, a stove, a fridge and an ice cream maker (I like to make strawberry ice cream).
A: What are you goals for the future – what do you want to be when you grow up?
B: I am still thinking about culinary school and thinking about going to college. I just really want to be a chef. And not just any chef – I want to be a TV chef. And sometimes a racer, but mostly a chef.
A: You might be able to cash in on the tv chef thing pretty soon. I hear you are in pretty well with Food Network?
B: Oh yeah. Yeah – that already happened.