By Janee Law
When Ally Kustera was 3 years old her family began making homemade pizza once a week in their Huntington home.
“I cook a lot, so she was always in the kitchen with me and I would give her little projects to do,” said Ally’s mom, Michele. “Then, when she was in third grade, I started to let her do things on her own.”
Ally, now 12, has began cooking for the entire family, mastering the craft to the point where she selected as contestant on an upcoming episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” television show. The episode, titled “Pasta Love,” is set to air May 31.
“It was a very cool experience,” Ally, a sixth-grader at Huntington’s Woodhull Intermediate, said. “It was very nerve-racking because there’s a ton of cameras all in your face at once, you're trying to cook something, and there’s a lot of people.”
To be considered as a contestant, Ally submitted an application to the show last November. Her mom said that show producers reached out a couple weeks later for an interview, and then to have Ally audition via Skype, an online video chat service.
As a throwback to her original cooking days, Ally decided to make homemade pizza for her audition. It consisted of a regular pizza crust, but Ally used her own ingredients for the sauce, cheese, basil, oregano, caramelized onions and prosciutto.
In January, Ally got the call that she was cast in the episode, which was filmed in February.
She wasn’t permitted to talk specifics about the results in an interview Wednesday, but expect her to be one of four contestants when the episode ultimately airs.
As the show typically unfolds, all four contestants face three rounds of challenges in front of judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Eddie Jackson and Christine Taylor. Each round has a mystery basket full of items that contestants must use to create their own dish.
According to an episode description available online, Ally’s episode consists of a first round that yields an appetizer featuring heart-shaped pasta; a second round an unusual-tasting lime as well as shellfish still in the shell; and a finale that puts a twist on milk and cookies for dessert.
Winners of the show typically earn $10,000.
Although the “cool experience” was also a bit “scary,” Ally said she kept telling herself, “You just have to stay in the moment, stay focused and push through.”
When she’s not under the pressure of the “Chopped Junior” camera, Ally said she likes to make comfort style foods for her family. One of her favorite meals is a Rosemary-, thyme- and garlic butter-basted steak, which she with roasted potatoes and shallots. She sometimes adds a touch of duck fat to the entry.
Ally said her cooking skills have developed by watching the Food Network, reading cookbooks and learning from her mom.
“I enjoy the freedom of cooking because you can get creative, you can try different things,” Ally said. “There’s no rules in the kitchen, you kind of improvise.”
Away from the kitchen, Ally is also a singer, dancer, actress and pianist. She plays softball for the Huntington Sports League, and soccer with the Cold Spring Harbor-Huntington Soccer Club.