EL PASO, Texas - The timer begins to count down, yet she remains cool under pressure. Five ingredients have been given to her, and she has to get creative in order to impress the judges. The biggest challenge? One of those ingredients isn't exactly enticing. How can she incorporate insects into her dish and still make it appetizing?
30 minutes is all the time she'll be given. She decides on a critter-crusted chorizo wrap with Sofrito zucchini sauce, using crickets in that crust.
But will her skills be enough to win "Chopped Junior", along with the grand prize of $10,000?
The answer was yes, but Taliah Dancil had to keep it secret from her friends and classmates until Tuesday evening.
The Ysleta School District hosted a screening Tuesday at the YISD Central Office to watch a live feed of the popular Food Network TV show, "Chopped Junior".
The 7th grader at EPISD's Young Women's Leadership Academy sat down with family and classmates to watch the episode she competed on, "Bug Bites".
Eating popcorn, Taliah laughed and smiled along as the episode played, maybe because she already knew she won.
Hosted by Ted Allen, each "Chopped Junior" episode features four junior chefs, ages 9 to 15, as they cook meals from a basket of mystery ingredients over three rounds. Unlike the adult version of Chopped, the younger competitors are given 30 minutes for the appetizer round, but the entrée and dessert rounds are both still 30 minutes.
The dishes are then critiqued by a panel of guest judges. For this episode, it was actor David Arquette and chef/food blogger Jake Smollett, alongside regular "Chopped" judge and chef Scott Conant.
The dishes are then critiqued by a panel of judges, and scored based on presentation, taste and creativity. The judges then decide which chef is "chopped," and is eliminated from the competition. The winner receives $10,000 and a highly coveted chefs coat.
Taliah finally got to let her secret out as she watched her culinary dreams come true on national television in front of her peers and family.
ABC-7 talked with Taliah, asking her about her big win. She laughed and said, "I froze. I wasn't saying anything". She added, "I was shocked that I actually won because I've always wanted to win a competition like that."
About her competitors, Taliah said they were fun, and that their presentations were really good. When asked why she won, in a questioning manner she said, "because my food tasted better?". Her modesty quickly wore off and she began to laugh.
Taliah said she will use the $10,000 to take her family to Australia, where she plans to wear her new chefs jacket to show that she won "Chopped Junior".
Taliah said her signature dish is Asiago Shrimp and Grits, and that her favorite dish to make is pudding from scratch.
For still being in middle school, her future seems bright.