'Chopped' winner looks up

In the appetizer round , Mikey Robins, then 14, of Lower Gwynedd worked with grapefruit, tuna loin, hen of the woods mushrooms, and graham cracker cereal.
In the appetizer round , Mikey Robins, then 14, of Lower Gwynedd worked with grapefruit, tuna loin, hen of the woods mushrooms, and graham cracker cereal.
Posted: July 12, 2013

Lower Gwynedd's Mikey Robins, a rising sophomore at Germantown Academy, is the youngest winner of the Food Network show Chopped.

He's 15 now, and was 14 in the fall when he and three other teens competed for the chance to win $10,000 in the special "Teen Invasion" edition.

The episode was shown last week, and the Robins family invited a hundred or so friends and family members to watch the action on a big screen set up by the pool. A Jack & Jill ice cream truck was parked in the driveway, as was the Sweet Box Truck, whose owner Gretchen Fantini was handing out cupcakes.

Chopped contestants - usually culinary pros - get a mystery basket of ingredients. Four compete in the first round, and judges eliminate ("chop") one. They move on to a second course and another gets chopped. The two remaining contestants duke it out over dessert, and then the winner is declared. Mikey prevailed in that final round with his creation of a Japanese mayo chocolate mousse (see recipe.)

"There's no way to prepare for something like this," Mikey said in an interview. ". . . Some things you can prepare for, but once you get there, it's a different ballpark. You're cooking with unfamiliar ingredients, the judges you don't know. . . . You have to come in with your A game on."

He admitted to being nervous.

For the first course, the teens were given grapefruit, tuna, hen of the woods mushrooms, and graham cracker cereal. Once he got over the look of the raw tuna, Mikey turned it into pan-seared tuna topped with horseradish tartar sauce, a salad dressed with grapefruit vinaigrette, and graham crackers crumbled on oven-toasted bread.

For the second course, the must ingredients were a leg of goat, hummus, rhubarb, and frisee. Like the other contestants, Mikey was unfamiliar with rhubarb. Each contestant was shown recoiling at its tartness. Mikey converted those ingredients into a stir-fry goat leg with shallots and potatoes. Mike survived a scare; he seemed to be idly chatting with the judges when Marcus Samuelsson pointed out that his pan of potatoes was burning to a crisp.

Dessert's basket included kettle-style potato chips, black currant jam, red Anjou pears, and Japanese mayonnaise. Mikey knocked that one out as Japanese mayo chocolate mousse with black currant compote.

At home, Mikey cooks simple meals (omelets and home fries for breakfast) as well as for big family parties (he's the youngest of Kevin and Linda Robins' four kids). He is partial to Italian food. His earliest food memory is at age 3 or 4 helping his mother make congo bars (chocolate-chip blondies).

Let's make it clear that he does have two advantages: his parents used to operate a Young Chefs Academy in North Wales, and the family's house has two kitchens.

One for everyone else and one for you? "That's how I like to think of it," he replied.

After applying to appear on the show, Mikey landed an in-person interview in New York. Since he enjoys party planning, he brought photos of five dishes he'd serve at one and, for good measure, brought up walnut loaves for the casting people to try.

This summer, before a family trip, he is teaching at a theater camp at Germantown Academy.

Mikey isn't sure what he will do with his $10,000 in winnings. But he does want to pursue culinary training as well as a broadcast degree. And his ambition doesn't end there. He wouldn't mind becoming the youngest Food Network host - or a talk-show host. "My goal is to create a lifestyle brand, like Rachael Ray and Oprah Winfrey," he said.


Easy-Peasy Japanese Mayo Chocolate Mousse

Makes 4 to 6 servings

10 ounces milk chocolate chips

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups cold heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons confectionary sugar

2 tablespoons Japanese mayonnaise

Optional garnishes:

Whipped cream

Raspberries

Fresh mint leaves

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized glass bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat.

2. While the chocolate cools, with a hand mixer beat the heavy cream and sugar until soft peaks form, making sure not to overbeat the cream. Gently fold the Japanese mayonnaise into the cream. Once incorporated, spoon about 1/4 cup of the cream mixture into the cooling chocolate. Fold the remaining cream mixture into the chocolate.

3. Serve chilled and enjoy.

- Adapted from the recipe prepared on the Food Network show "Chopped" by champion Mikey Robins

Per serving (based on 6, without garnishes): 408 calories, 4 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 28 grams fat, 66 milligrams cholesterol, 255 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Contact Michael Klein at mklein@philly.com.

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