By Ginna Parsons
STARKVILLE – A Starkville teen is trying for a second time to make a name for himself in the culinary world.
Mark Coblentz, a 13-year-old at Armstrong Middle School, has been chosen to be among 40 young chefs competing for a coveted spot in the Top 20 on the Fox show “MasterChef Junior.”
Coblentz took second place on the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” in November 2015.
“It was my dad’s idea for me to audition for MasterChef Junior,” said Coblentz, an eighth-grader. “But I love cooking and when there’s a chance to show off my skills on TV, I’m all for it.”
Coblentz was among 300 to 400 kids who auditioned in Atlanta in December 2015 for a spot on the Fox show. Other young chefs were also auditioning in other cities, such as Los Angeles, New York and Austin.
“I was one of the first ones called in and they asked me to cook an egg, I guess to see if I had some skills or was just trying to get on TV,” he said. “Then I went into an interview room to talk about how I learned to cook, and when and why. After that they asked me to come back and make a signature dish.”
Coblentz, the son of Bonnie and Robbie Coblentz, prepared Shrimp Béchamel, the same dish he made when he was featured as a Cook of the Week in the Daily Journal in November 2015.
“In January, they called and said, ‘We want you to be part of MasterChef Junior,’” he said. “They sent us back to Atlanta for a security check and a mental evaluation. We signed a 50-page contract and the week after spring break we went to L.A. for the taping.”
In the series premieres, Feb. 9 and Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., the 40 junior cooks compete for a MasterChef Junior apron. In each culinary showdown, four chefs receive a unique challenge, from steak to scallops to cupcakes. Two winners from each group earn an apron and a chance to move on, while two head back home. Coblentz isn’t sure which of the two shows he’ll appear in yet.
The competition show features two judges – Chefs Gordon Ramsay and Christina Tosi – who give feedback to the contestants.
“The first time I met Gordon and Christina, they were really nice,” Coblentz said. “Gordon was nice to us, but he treated us like chefs. Christina also treated us like chefs, but she was a little sweeter about it.”
Coblentz can’t reveal how he fared in the contest, which carries a grand prize of $100,000, but he did say he picked up quite a bit from the other young chefs.
“I feel like I learned how to prep proteins better and my plating got better,” he said. “And my clean-up skills got better. My mom used to have to come behind me on that one.”