Tara O’Donnell is 13 years old, and like any typical 8th grader, she likes cheerleading, art, swimming, shopping, and food. But unlike other early teenagers, she LOVES to cook… in particular, cooking food for others.
A Frisco resident and recent winner of the popular Food Network show, ‘Chopped Junior,’ her curiosity for food started as early as age 3 when she recalls helping her mom mix various spices during family meal preparation time. By 5 years old, Tara was allowed to actually use the stove top and cook meals while under the close supervision of her parents. Soon, she was creating her own unique pasta dishes and devising creations for her family on special occasions like Mother’s and Father’s Days.
Proud of her skills and recognizing an amazing talent, her dad decided to enter her into the popular Food Network show, and after many questions, photos, and creation of a video, she was selected from over 5,000 entrants to participate in the show.
Described as a show of “little chefs with tremendous ambition,” ‘Chopped Junior’ has an audience of approximately 6 million viewers. The format showcases the talent of children making three-course meals from a basket of mystery ingredients under a ticking clock… all while being scrutinized by a panel of judges who critique their dishes based on creativity, presentation and taste. No pressure!
Once confirmation came that she would be appearing on the live contest, she spent two intense months preparing and practicing for the show. Her parents, Fergal and Joanna O’Donnell, put her through a ‘boot camp’ of sorts and would create mystery baskets, just like on the show, from which she would then create a meal using all the ingredients inside.
The time to compete arrived… Tara traveled to New York with her parents for filming and thoroughly enjoyed every minute at the studio. She got to meet some TV celebrities and was fascinated with how the whole show is put together, from cameras and background production, to the selection of ingredients she had to work with.
Admitting it was a very pressurized environment, Tara managed to win over the judges. Challenged with such dishes as wild boar steaks, limburger cheese, liverwurst, and bacon-flavored toffee, she ultimately claim first place.
I have watched Chopped Junior for as long as I can remember,”she explains with a beaming smile.“But to actually appear on it was a huge dream come true!”
Her friends now affectionately call her “Ms. Hollywood.”
Cooking in any kitchen is Tara’s “Happy Place,” and she names Jeffrey Zackarian, Kelsey Nixon, and the Pioneer Woman among her favorite chefs. Tara appreciates all types of food and counts Bonnie Ruth’s, Sea Breeze, and Mexican Sugar among her favorite local restaurants.
Following her success, Tara thinks this is just the beginning of her cooking career as she has devised her own menu for home entertaining and catering. Among her favorite dishes to cook are a “mushroom risotto” and a “lemon meringue pie.” She is also a resident Junior Contributor for her community magazine ‘Stonebriar Village Life.’
While Tara has already spent some time at Frisco’s Young Chef’s Academy, earlier this year she earned a chance to be tutored by Dallas-based Chef Tara Anderson, the owner and creator of Half Pint Palates and learn even more skills she’s bringing to her dishes.
This is a 13 year-old with far-reaching ambitions building on her win from ‘Chopped Junior.’ Tara plans to attend culinary college, open her own restaurant (she has already picked out the name “Golden Grape“), and even host her own cooking TV show. She is a friendly, personable, and charming young lady with a positive attitude ready to take on a future in the exciting world of food.
Now that your mouth is watering, you’re in luck!
Tara is taking bookings to cook for you in your own home for up to 8 guests. She shops for the ingredients, prepare all the food, then travels to the guests’ house and cooks for them. She just charges for the ingredients and a fee for her time. Check out her menu and signature dishes.
I can personally vouch for the apple and blueberry tart… It’s beyond delicious. Congratulations, Tara, and we’re so proud that you are a part of the foody fabric in Frisco!