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MasterChef Junior Competitor Opens Business

Ariana Feygin is already an accomplished chef at 13. When she was just 12, she competed on MasterChef Junior, and is now launching her business, Ariana’s Kitchen.

When she was 5, Ariana Feygin’s parents weren’t so keen on her obsession with baking. 

“My parents were hesitant to let me use a knife as big as my head,” not to mention an oven, the 13-year-old says. But as most precocious children do, she wore them down. Had they pushed her, Ariana muses, she may have balked, but because she had to hide in a closet to watch her beloved cake decorating videos, her passion for baking and then cooking, grew, rather than fizzled out with the hard work required.

“You have to trust them,” her father, Lenny Feygin, says about raising children. “You have to let them make mistakes; stay out of their way.”

Lenny and Ariana Feygin have a special bond. Not only did the two of them hang out in Los Angeles during the six weeks of filming the reality cooking show, but he’s given up his job to help manage her career. 

Ariana hasn’t made many mistakes. The middle schooler from Excelsior has the drive of an adult, co-mingled with the enthusiasm of youth. She’s on Season 6 of "MasterChef Junior," Fox TV’s top-rated non-scripted reality show that pits 8- to 13-year-olds against each other in the kitchen— much like "Chopped" does with adults on the Food Channel. The Junior version, which airs on Friday nights, is hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, who presents a more patient persona here.

At presstime, the show was airing its fourth episode, therefore Ariana isn’t allowed to talk about whether she’s the champ, or even the hardest item she had to cook, since that info could give away her tenure on the show. 

This was her third attempt to get on MasterChef, she says, and this time she landed in the top 40 youngsters who start out in the first episode. About 10,000 kids did live auditions in the cities considered large markets. Minneapolis wasn’t a major market, so Ariana and her family had to first go to Phoenix, then Los Angeles and finally Jacksonville, Florida, for tryouts. Since they had to travel  anyway, Feygin says, they picked a warm city and made it a family vacation. Had she not made it the third time, she says, she would have aged out. “This was my last chance, so I was begging my dad to take me,” she says. 

And while she’s not the oldest on the show, she doesn’t believe the contestants’ age plays into the equation. Everyone was equal on the show, she contends, the judges didn’t give the younger kids a pass nor did the older ones have an advantage. “I’m a strong believer that age is just a number and doesn’t define your abilities,” she says. 

On the first episode Ariana’s filet mignon was selected as the best dish  of the night, and she was the first winner in the battle for the aprons. Twelve girls and 12 boys receive the coveted white aprons on the first two episodes. That first challenge was easy, she says, breezily. Her parents are from Belarus, a former Soviet Union country, where meat and potatoes are a mainstay. “I know how to cook steak,” she says. 

Cooking appeals to her, she says, because “I love art and I love science.” Eating out is an education, as well as watching cooking shows. But now, she says, she doesn’t need recipes because “I know what ingredients go together and I know ratios.” She also cooks all the meals for her family.

When she and her father stayed in California during the  filming of the show, she says she left her mother and three siblings with about a week’s worth of meals. After that they were on their own, and she laughs as she confides that when she called home, her mother told her they were eating frozen pizzas. 

In part Ariana’s confidence comes from her family’s philosophy of helping others. Her parents came separately to the U.S. as political refugees. Feygin remembers each family member could only bring two suitcases and they were allowed to exchange  just $100 in cash per person.

When she was younger, Ariana and her sister raised money for cancer causes through vehicles such as lemonade stands. Now she has packaged her personal chef skills into silent auction items—one of which sold for $3,000.

Gordon Ramsay isn’t the only celebrity chef she knows. She’s been befriended by Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable and Bellecour, and has worked in the kitchen of 6Smith, through her neighbor, Randy Stanley, who is the owner. 

Her first visit to 6Smith was a bit intimidating—for the Hispanic cooks, not her. As they watched her garnishing plates, she says, she overheard them talking about her. “I'm fluent in Spanish because of school,” she says, so she popped her head over the counter and said, “Oh, ustedes tamién hablan espanol?” She laughs as she remembers the look on their faces. 

She also became friends with Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Food fame, when they were both judges on the Super Snack Challenge as part of the Super Bowl festivities. 

As part of her contract with Fox, Ariana isn’t allowed to be on another televised competition for three years. But she’s OK with that because it opens the door to being a judge. One day, however, she envisions having her own cooking show. She’s still working out the format.

In the meantime, she’s launched Ariana’s Kitchen. In addition to cooking for parties, she says she’s not at liberty to talk about the specifics. One lesson adults can learn from Ariana’s experience, her father interjects, is that “if you want something, go for the top.”  

He believes in his older daughter’s talent and drive so much, he says, that he quit his job to manage her business.

Now we just have to wait for nine more episodes to air before we find out just what that business entails, and whether she took home the $100,000 prize. 

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