Mark the Chef on Chopped Junior

Kid power: This preteen discovered cooking is cool — so is being on national TV


It’s a late Monday afternoon, and Mark Coblentz is hungry. Sporting his lucky cap, the seventh-grader moves between refrigerator and kitchen cabinet with the sliding glide preteens tend to perfect. As he builds an after-school snack on the fly, he maintains running commentary on sauteing vegetables or prepping a rack of lamb in red wine herb marinade like a culinary veteran. But Coblentz is all of 12 years old. Even so, he will make his national television debut Nov. 10 on the Food Network’s new show “Chopped Junior.”

Homemade chicken pot pie and a robust dose of confidence landed the Starkville youth a spot in the competition and a trip to New York, where the episode was filmed in August.

In this spin-off of the popular show “Chopped,” four junior contestants square off each week. They are tasked with preparing three dishes — an appetizer, entree and dessert — in progressive rounds, using ingredients found in a mystery basket, however unlikely those ingredients may be. At the end of each course, a panel of judges “chops” one chef. The last cook standing takes home $10,000.

Mark admits he may have been a little nervous as filming began, but that didn’t last long. He had too much to think about. Once presented with a mystery basket, participants had only 30 minutes to whip up the assigned dish.

The Armstrong Middle School student said the whole experience — including meeting show host Ted Allen and judges Elizabeth Chambers, Amanda Freitag and Lee Anne Wong — was an exhilarating adrenaline rush.

The whole family made the journey to New York: Mark, mom and dad Bonnie and Robbie Coblentz, and Mark’s brother, David, 14. Robbie accompanied Mark to the TV studio each day, where contestants’ parents figuratively bit their nails watching on a green room monitor as their sons and daughters cooked under pressure on set.
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