The winner of this season’s MasterChef Junior is talented, he’s quick on his feet and he is gluten free. Che Spiotta defeated 23 other young cooks to win the seventh season of Fox TV’s MasterChef Junior and take home the grand prize of $100,000.
Che is a 13-year-old from Upstate New York who has been cooking since he started a gluten-free diet. Che’s mom said he was very sick as a toddler and that a gluten-free diet was the only thing that helped. Che learned to make the best of the dietary limitations by experimenting in the kitchen and finding delicious foods that don’t make him sick.
“It changed so many things, especially because the rest of my family eats gluten,” Che said. “It’s a curse and a blessing.”
His dad taught him to make a negative into a positive, Che said. “There is a world of things you can still have.” This attitude enabled him to get creative in the kitchen and discover a world of gluten-free options.
After years spent cooking, Che decided to audition for MasterChef Junior. He auditioned in New York City, saying “Let’s just go for it. If we’re not having fun, we won’t do it anymore.” Che was eventually flown out to Los Angeles to tape the show.
During the first episode, Che said he and his fellow contestants were nervous and unnerved by cooking on-camera. “Nobody executed their dishes the way they wanted to because everyone was so freaked out by the cameras,” he said. But after a few episodes, everyone got comfortable. Che made friends on the show who he still keeps in touch with.
“I learned how to work under stress, because I’ve never cooked with a time limit like that,” Che said. “Coming out of the competition I’m definitely more composed.”
He hopes his time on the show showed people that, while gluten-free living can have its challenges, it is rewarding and isn’t a hindrance. The show also gave Che an opportunity to talk to others about the gluten-free diet and educate them.
Che said he also learned from judges Gordon Ramsay, Christina Tosi and Aaron Sanchez. “I learned to be yourself when you’re cooking and not to let anyone else get to you,” he said.
During the competition, Che said being gluten-free was a challenge and disadvantage at some times. He was the only gluten-free chef on season seven of the show. “We had to make cupcakes for a challenge and I couldn’t taste anything I was making, but my competitors could, so that was difficult,” Che said. But he said his experience cooking gluten free taught him how to improvise and be creative with ingredients, which was an advantage in the competition.
Che said his strategy in the kitchen is to use fresh ingredients and foods that are naturally gluten free. “I don’t change things to be gluten free, I cook things that are that way naturally like fresh tacos and using vegetables from our garden,” he said. His favorite dish to cook is risotto.
Che is still considering what he will do with the prize money from the competition. He wants to use it to travel— and his first stop will be Paris. “There are so many amazing things about food that happen in Paris, and I cook a lot of French cuisine,” Che said.
Back at home, with newfound young chef friends and skills learned, Che is helping at a MasterChef Junior camp this summer in Connecticut. He answers questions and gives advice to young chefs. He also posts videos and news on his Instagram and on his website. In the future, Che said he hopes to have a restaurant and his own cooking show.