Hunter Zampa still has a few more years before he can apply to culinary school.
Fortunately, the 13-year-old chef has already had the opportunity to train under some top-rate teachers.
Zampa, of Stamford, is one of eight contestants starring on a new Food Network series, “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off”, premiering Sunday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.
Hosted by Food Network heavyweights Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri, the show splits kids between “Team Rachel” and “Team Guy” as they compete against each other in a series of challenges cooked up to test their skills in the kitchen.
In each episode, the kids participate in a culinary pop quiz, followed by a classroom mentoring session with the hosts and the creation of a menu plan. Guest judges taste and grade the dishes and give each competitor a report card. In the end, the chef with the highest overall score wins his or her own web series on FoodNetwork.com.
Zampa, who has known his away around a kitchen since he was in kindergarten, wasn’t so much overwhelmed by the experience of being on television as he was grateful for the opportunity to learn from his boyhood idols.
“It was really amazing,” said Zampa, a student at Scofield Magnet Middle School. “It wasn’t really stressful . . . you had time to learn from Rachel and Guy, and that’s what was important to me.”
Zampa said he took home valuable lessons about “cutting methods, time management and flavor combinations.”
“I remember what they told me, and I’m applying all these great techniques in my own kitchen,” said Zampa, who was filmed for the show in late July.
Though it was “a bit nerve-wracking” being in front of the camera, Zampa had no trouble standing the heat. You might say he came prepared: Zampa started cooking when he was three, trading in his toy truck for a spatula and quickly dispelling any parental reservations about letting a toddler loose in the kitchen.
When he was six, Zampa begged his father to teach him the recipes in his Italian-American grandmother’s cookbook. From there, he discovered Thai food, a culinary style for which he developed a searing passion.
Zampa hopes to open his own restaurant one day. The theme? Italian-Thai fusion.
“As far as I know, it’s never been done before; it’s something that’s very unique to me,” said Zampa, whose original recipes include curry sausage and peppers and Asian-spiced venison with a tomato-soy reduction sauce. “It would be the new trend, the new craze; it would be a hole in one for me.”
Zampa also has dreams of being on television again one day as a contestant on “Iron Chef.”
And though he’s already racked a lot of experience, Zampa still has to get through some stiff competition — and middle school — first.