Eva Achuthan-Kozar, an eighth-grader at the Hayground School, was a contestant on the TV show Masterchef Junior, which will premier on Fox on March 17.

Most parents would have some degree of trepidation about letting their 5-year-old handle kitchen knives or work around a hot stove. But for Lana Kozar, it was easy, because of a preternatural kind of calm, focus and confidence she observed in her daughter, Eva Achuthan-Kozar, at a young age.

Kozar remembers being in Croatia with her daughter around that time, on a visit to see her grandparents. Eva would cook with them on hot summer nights, assisting in making the Mediterranean fish dishes they prepared. Doing anything in the kitchen intrigued Eva, her mother said, whether it was helping to fillet a fish or simply folding dish towels.

Eva’s love for cooking only grew over the years, and in the summer of 2019, when she was just 11 years old, she earned a golden opportunity to show off her talents in the kitchen. Eva, a Sag Harbor and East Hampton resident, and now a 13-year-old eighth-grader at the Hayground School, made it through several rounds of tryouts to grab a spot as a contestant on the cooking show “Masterchef Junior,” which will air its eighth season on Fox on Thursday, March 17, at 8 pm

The show is a spin-off of the popular show “Masterchef,” with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, who also serves as a judge on “Masterchef Junior,” alongside fellow acclaimed chef Aaron Sanchez, and nutrition expert Daphne Oz. Over the course of the season, Eva and 15 other budding young chefs between the ages of 8 and 13 will complete a series of cooking challenges until one is named America’s newest Masterchef Junior, taking home that title along with a $ 100,000 prize.

Several years ago, when Kozar saw the casting call for “Masterchef Junior,” she knew it was something her daughter would want to try.

“Eva was always so passionate about cooking and baking,” Kozar said, sharing that in addition to strong family influence on both sides when it comes to home cooking, Eva also always gravitated toward anything that would improve her acumen in the kitchen. “She loved watching the ‘Great British Baking Show’ and ‘Masterchef,’ both the adult and junior versions.”

Kozar said they would often watch “Masterclass” online cooking lessons and frequently cook the recipes themselves later on. “The most intriguing and difficult recipes were the ones Eva would select, and try to master and replicate them,” Kozar said.

Eva said that her family has been a big inspiration for her when it comes to cooking and baking, trying new foods, and being exposed to different types of food. She has developed a particular affinity and love for baking, she said in an interview last week. Cooking is a big part of her day when she’s at school as well, as the Hayground School has a kitchen and puts particular emphasis on teaching students how to be proficient in growing, preparing and cooking food.

Eva’s father, Arjun Achuthan, is a founder of the Hayground School and does cooking instruction there, which makes it extra special.

Of late, Eva has developed a particular fondness for baking.

“I love cooking, but I love baking, too,” she said, speaking excitedly about her favorite baked goods to make – apple pie is at the top of the list, along with cookies, madeleines in particular. At Christmastime, gingerbread is a staple, she said.

When her mother told her about the opportunity to try out for “Masterchef Junior,” Eva says she jumped at the chance. And several months later, when they found out that she’d earned a spot, both Eva and Kozar were jumping for joy on Eva’s bed, celebrating.

Eva and Kozar spent several weeks in Los Angeles in the summer of 2019 filming the show. Eva, 11 at the time, said it was an overwhelmingly enjoyable and positive experience.

“It was intense, but they wanted to make you be the best you can be,” Eva said of the show’s format and the attitude of the judges in particular. Anyone who has even a slight acquaintance with the world of competitive cooking shows knows Gordon Ramsey, who became a household name more for his no-holds-barred approach to telling contestants exactly how he felt about their performance – and often, their failures – in the kitchen. But Eva said that Ramsey and the rest of the judges made the experience a great one for her and the rest of the contestants.

“All the judges were so nice and super helpful,” she said, adding that it was “amazing” and “inspiring” to meet Ramsey in person and learn from him.

Of course, Eva is not permitted to share any details about the show in terms of the end result or the specifics of certain challenges they were asked to perform. But she said she not only made lifelong friends with her fellow contestants but also learned a great deal from the experience, and picked up several new culinary skills and tips along the way.

One of her best new pointers relates to cutting onions, a necessity for even the most basic of home cooks, but an often annoying experience for obvious reasons. Eva said she was happy to learn that leaving the root part of the onion intact helps minimize the flow of tears that often result from that task.

The collection of cooking tips and pointers Eva gleaned from being a contestant on the show will surely stay with her as she grows older and expands her acumen in the kitchen. But participating in “Masterchef Junior” did much more than give Eva the kind of cooking prowess many adults never achieve.

“It definitely taught me to go big or go home,” she said, “and to experiment and do something exciting – don’t always play it safe. I learned that it’s important to push yourself and make yourself better, and to step outside of the box. “


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