Jasmine Stewart on Mastering Cooking, Confidence and Encouragement

Jasmine Stewart on Mastering Cooking, Confidence and Encouragement

The day Jasmine Stewart auditioned for “MasterChef Junior,” no one in her family thought she would be among the top 20 young cooks selected to compete for a $100,000 grand prize. Not Jasmine nor her parents or brother. It was her mother’s idea for her then 12-year-old daughter to try out to get some experience auditioning.  Stewart not only won the MasterChef Junior trophy but also made history.

“Everybody in my family had the exact same reaction. I’m not surprised that we all use the same terminology because we were all shocked,” says Stewart, winner of MasterChef Junior Season 5. The show began airing on Fox in February of 2017, with the finale airing in May. “I can honestly tell you that never in my wildest dreams did I think she would have made it onto the show, much less win it. It’s been a pretty incredible ride,” says Deborah Stewart, Jasmine’s mother.

Historic Victory

Becoming the first African-American child or adult to win a MasterChef cooking competition made the victory especially rewarding for the young chef, who began cooking at age three. The finale itself was historic because the two finalists were both African-American girls and sixth graders from Georgia. Stewart considered it a privilege to compete against 11-year-old Justise Mayberry. “That was something very cool to see, and I was honored to be part of such a monumental moment for the show.”

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Stewart accomplished another first on the competitive cooking series. She is the only contestant to take home the title of MasterChef Junior after being eliminated. It happened the week the top 12 contestants took on a team challenge of making as many perfect pistachio pudding pies as they could in 10 minutes. Stewart’s Red Team came in last, so she had to make her best dish using a blow torch to stay on the show. She and another contestant were eliminated.

Her parents were impressed with how she handled the defeat. It turned out to be a temporary setback. A Reinstatement Challenge pitted six eliminated cooks against each other in a series of tasks. Stewart came out ahead and rejoined the “MasterChef Junior” show. “My parents have always taught me to stay calm versus getting rattled,” Stewart says. “Figure out a way to solve a problem.”

MasterChef Jr. Winner Jasmine Stewart
Photo credit: Shatakia Niles

Deborah and Steven Stewart also taught Jasmine and her 17-year-old brother Justin to believe in themselves and not be afraid to try something new or different. The young chef relied on confidence to push herself and go outside of the box with her cooking. In the finale, she pulled inspiration from her background by elevating comfort foods she enjoys at home. “My dad is from Jamaica, so growing up I’ve always had a big influence of flavors, spices and really Caribbean-inspired dishes,” Stewart says. “My mom is from Virginia, so she loves traditional Southern dishes.”

The three-course meal she prepared for the judges included a scallop and white fish appetizer, a lobster tail with coconut curry sauce and a sticky rum cake with pineapple chips. It was enough to win over mentors Gordon Ramsay and Christina Tosi along with guest judges Wolfgang Puck and Martha Stewart. Stewart’s ability to stay focused while cooking under pressure in front of a television audience amazed her mom. “She managed to keep it together, to take constructive criticism, to listen, to stay engaged while Gordon Ramsay or Christina Tosi were talking to her while she was still trying to cook,” Deborah says.

Whirlwind of Opportunities

The cooking that won her the title, trophy and $100,000 grand prize has also brought numerous opportunities for Stewart to travel and to be interviewed on television and featured in magazines. She is the first MasterChef Junior winner to have a cooking class series on Bluprint, a subscription video demand service (formerly Craftsy Unlimited). The “Cooking with Master Chef: Jasmine’s Delightful Desserts” videos give the young chef a chance to demonstrate making six of her favorite desserts. She shares kitchen tricks and hacks, secrets from the “MasterChef” show and answers to frequently asked questions, such as “Is Gordon Ramsay mean?” She finds that hilarious. “Honestly, he is one of the nicest celebrities I have ever met, but a lot of people think he is mean. They find it interesting when I tell them he is really sweet.”

Stewart joined other young cooks on the Great Wolf Lodge’s Junior Chef Council (JCC). Together, they helped the resort create a new kids menu to provide something different than chicken fingers and French fries. “One of the dishes that I included on there is green spaghetti and chicken meatballs, which is zucchini noodles and meatballs made out of chicken,” Stewart says.

Some of her other recipes, including pineapple upside-down cake, can be found in the MasterChef Junior Cookbook, still available online from some booksellers. Stewart appreciates all of the opportunities to share her cooking knowledge and skills. “It’s really amazing that I get to do what I get to do. It makes me really proud and grateful.”

Cooking and Inspiring Confidence
MasterChef Jr. Winner Jasmine Stewart
Photo credit: Endemol Shine/Fox

The eighth-grader at Ron Clark Academy is co-captain of the cheerleading squad at her school. Competitive cheerleading and keeping up with her studies prevent Stewart from cooking as much as she would like during the academic year.

When she does get in the kitchen at home, the young chef often uses fresh produce and herbs from the family garden. She and her dad mapped out a large space and planted seeds after she won MasterChef. Her exposure to different ingredients while filming the show in California changed her cooking forever. “I became more organized and more focused. I’m a lot better with time constraints and a lot better with limited amounts of space and with a lot better at plating and those techniques.”

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Stewart finds the accomplishments of celebrity chefs such as Ramsay, Bobby Flay and Ayesha Curry inspiring. She also admires the power and independence of change-makers Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Her greatest inspiration, however, comes from a mom with her own law practice and a dad who is a physician with a family medicine practice. “Winning the show, let alone being the first African-American, I recognize that I have a duty to use my platform for good, so I’m definitely trying to do that.”

One way she is accomplishing her mission to inspire other young people, especially girls, is through her own company. Stewart created the slogan “Let Your Inner Girl Slay.” She is selling T-shirts with the slogan and teaching her philosophy to students in an entrepreneurship and leadership class at her school. “Let your inner girl slay means essentially don’t change yourself to fit anybody’s mold. I want to let girls know to beat their own drum. Be yourself. Be who you are, and you don’t have to change that for anybody,” Stewart says. She considers it to be a universal message for girls and boys.

California Dreamin’

The advice her parents gave Stewart to always be herself worked in her favor on the MasterChef competition. Now, she is preparing for a future that will allow her to be all she can be. She is fascinated with California, so she plans to get a law degree from Stanford. She believes it is essential to understand contracts if you are going into the entertainment field. Stewart’s dream is to become an entertainment attorney while also pursuing her interests as a chef. “I plan to keep on cooking. I’d love to be a host of my own cooking show, or possibly a judge on a show. I still want to be on TV and continue to inspire other people.”

Stewart equates success with having a positive impact on the lives of others. She would tell young people with dreams of their own to surround themselves with positive people who also have specific goals. Combine that with making a plan and working hard to master what you set out to do. “I would tell other young people that it’s all about your mindset. So, start off knowing that you can do it.”

You can connect with Stewart, watch her videos and buy her T-shirts by following @justchefjasmine on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and on her website.

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The joy of cooking became a part of her life when Phyllis was a child learning her way around the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. Her retirement from a demanding career in broadcast news has given her time to write about African-American chefs and restaurant owners as well as other black professionals succeeding in the travel and wine industries. Phyllis still loves to cook and try out new recipes.