Port Richmond teenager brings his Philly flavor – and his swagger – to “MasterChef Junior”
I’m not saying I should take full credit for discovering Freddy Taylor exactly. But I got a taste of its Philadelphia charm long before TV chief Gordon Ramsay and most people watching the final season of Junior Master Chefwhich premiered March 17 on Fox.
In 2018, when I turned my attention – and the iPhone camera – to Freddy, he was one of many adorable children in the Portside Arts Center, a beloved community center in Port Richmond. I was there to write about the center, then facing an uncertain financial future, in the hope of securing much-needed support.
Even back then, Freddy was a star – a wise 10-year-old entrepreneur who earned extra pocket money by upselling Slim Jims to nearby classmates Mother School of Divine Grace.
It turns out, Freddy was also an aspiring chef who enjoyed food as his single father took him and his younger brother on his journey to the family catering supply company, Frederick & Son Knife & Slicer Co.
Taylor’s men regularly visited restaurants in and around town, and it was on these trips that Freddy came into contact with all manner of foodies, including Beth Esposito, of pink garlic, who would later become his mentor. (“You have to learn to take it on the chin,” she advised her protege, a lesson that would come in handy on the show.)
While Freddy’s younger brother, Dylan, was happy to slip into the bar for a Shirley Temple, their father Fred recalls, Freddy walked behind the line to chat with everyone in the kitchen and sample the food he sometimes later tried to recreate at home ; though a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak remains his staple.
“It was a joy because, very young, he showed a lot of talent,” he said.
So when someone Junior Master Chef called Portside a few years ago in search of Philadelphia kids who liked to cook, teachers at the arts center immediately thought of Freddy.
“Freddy has always come up with really cool recipes,” said Portside founder Kim Creighton. “Speaking of, ‘Hey, Miss Kim, look what I did for my dad last night.’ We just always tried to encourage him by saying, ‘You’re going to do something good one day, Freddy!’ »
After a failed attempt to be cast on the show in 2018, Freddy then beat thousands of applicants to compete in Los Angeles against 50 aspiring chefs in a 2019 cooking competition. Those final 50 were then narrowed down to the 16 “testing chefs” aged 8 to 13, who are competing for the title, a trophy and $100,000 in prize money.
But there is TV magic at play there. The eighth season was actually filmed in 2019 and was supposed to air the following year, but COVID-19 delayed the release.
Freddy can’t say much about the show — spoilers, you know — but regardless of the outcome, he and his dad said filming was an unforgettable experience. Neither father nor son had ever been to California. In addition to competing, they recalled grabbing dollar hot dogs at a game between the Dodgers and Phillies and visiting Rodeo Drive and the Santa Monica Pier.
Freddy, now 14, made an impressive debut in the first episode.
“I can cook all kinds of food because all kinds of chefs taught me,” Freddy confidently told Ramsay at one point.
But promos for upcoming episodes hint at what made him a contender.
I admit some bias here, but Freddy pretty much cements his position as the next Gordon Ramsay when kids are asked what to do if they’re low on sugar. Most are of the opinion to replace honey and various other sweeteners.
Freddy, however, offers a distinctly Philly response.
“You’re screwed,” he says, as laughter can be heard off camera.
In another promo, Freddy takes a shine to Ramsay’s 20-year-old daughter, Tilly Ramsay, who served as a guest judge on an episode.
“What do you think of American boys? he asks shyly, while a clearly amused Ramsay chides him, “You’re here to cook, not flirt!”
After waiting so long for the show to air, Freddy can finally enjoy fame.
“People want to take pictures with me,” he said when we met in Portside last week.
After going through the first episode, Freddy is now one of the final 15 contestants for this season. The next episode will air on Thursday.
A lot has changed for Freddy since I first met him. He’s a freshman in high school now. His family recently moved to South Jersey, and while he still loves to cook — still an entrepreneur — he’s expanding his repertoire of interests to include sneaker resales and, get this, inventory.
Imagine: Today – MasterChef Junior. Tomorrow — the world.