A t age 9, he flew to New York as a semifinalist in a Jif peanut butter contest; his Chomp Burger placed in the top five. At age 10, with his Tuna Schooner, he was named the Tennessee champion of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge; he and his mom dined at the White House. Then last December, at age 12, Memphian Logan Guleff grabbed the title of MasterChef Junior on Fox’s popular reality TV show, taking home a cool $100,000. As one of thousands of children ages 8 to 13 who auditioned and competed in the show, Logan rose to the top with — wait for it — a grilled spot prawn with soaked saffron aioli and olive tapenade for his appetizer; and a salt-crusted branzino with chimichurri sauce for his entree. Host Gordon Ramsay called it “one of the most unusual dishes we’d ever seen.” Since then the home-schooled, laughing-eyed, sharp-witted tween — who has “fangirls” as far away as Indonesia — has become a media darling, fielding hundreds of interviews (12 this week alone) in the past few months. His mother, Kim Guleff, can’t account for his culinary gift; she simply says, “There’s a tiny little chef inside his head that tells him these things are gonna go together and make a composed dish.” Recently she and Logan sat down to talk about his early foray into cooking, his favorite restaurants, food trends he predicts, why he loves bowties, and more.
You knew you won MasterChef Junior, but you had to keep it quiet. How hard was that? Very hard. If I had told, I’d be disqualified. I had to keep it secret over summer and fall, till they announced it December 16th.
How did you decide on the meal you cooked? I needed redemption on the prawns that I messed up in an earlier competition, so I wanted to prove I could nail them. Picked the big fish, branzino, because it really wows people.
Your earliest memory of cooking? Very first was playing with plastic food, like Velcro. You could chop it up, then put it back together. Then I’d make morning coffee for my mom, with a drip pot; I was only about 2. When I was 3, I started helping my mom make ravioli by hand.
Favorite type of food to eat? Sushi.
Utensil you can’t live without? A nice sharp knife. You can take away my cutting board, the kitchen faucet, the stove, all righty — but you’re not taking my knife.
Favorite restaurants? Here’s my big three: Panda Garden, my favorite Chinese restaurant. And Tsunami is my favorite higher-end restaurant. Chef Ben Smith taught me how to cook seafood ’cause my mom’s allergic to it and my dad can’t cook. Best all-round is Elwood’s Shack. I like the clam chowder.
You’re not wearing a bowtie today; I hardly recognized you. What do you like about them? They’re cool and popular but you don’t see a ton of people wearing them. Mine are all handmade by my godmother; she makes them just for me. She made 14 in one night right before the show and delivered them to me.
How will you spend your big prize money? Still haven’t decided. Maybe go to Japan. They’ve really refined their art of cooking and culinary knowledge.
Do you watch a lot of cooking shows? We don’t have cable. But I do watch The Mind of a Chef with David Chang and Quantum Kitchen.
Food trends you predict? The world is in need of a new sweet. Cupcakes are dying, macaroons are dying. Also I think we’ll see juice pairings with food. Juice might be from carrots, celeries, pears — concentrated and served with the meal. Instead of having dinner with wine, you’ll have this fancy juice and less alcohol.
You’ve had lots of interviews. What do you wish someone would ask that they haven’t? Nobody has asked what it was like to be at Paramount Pictures. It was amazing. I watch a lot of old TV, like CHiPs and MASH, and I could see where all that was filmed. It’s historical. Plus it’s one of the five most haunted places in America. And another question: I wonder what the world would be like without salt and pepper. What would replace the stuff in those shakers on our tables? I’d say maybe cumin and mustard powder. But not salt, I love salt.
What’s next for you? I’ve already got my own YouTube channel, my line of spices [Logan’s Rubs], and my blog [Order Up with Logan started at age 8). Don’t ever start a blog. They’re so tiring, demanding. But now I really want to get a cooking show, make a cookbook, keep selling my spice blends. And just have some more fun.