Chopped, but inspired

By Monica von Dobeneck

Tanner Waxman (left) with family and friends Tanner Waxman (left) with family and friends Sun Country Kid on Food Channel

Tanner Waxman has spiky blue hair, a lively personality and a flair for cooking. All three characteristics were on display when he competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped Jr.” reality TV cooking competition.

On Tuesday, April 11, Tanner, 12, was joined by dozens of his classmates from Hershey Middle School to watch the episode air. Up until that point, he had told nobody how he did on the show – not his best friends, not even his mentor, Travis Mumma, head chef at Cafe Fresco in Harrisburg.

Friends and family who came to watch were treated to some of Tanner’s homemade treats in the hallway outside the middle school auditorium – pear and blue cheese flat bread; lemon and red velvet cupcakes decorated with cream cheese frosting faces; and rice crispy treats.

When the circus-themed show started to air on the big screen at the front of the auditorium, Tanner yelled “It’s time,” and his friends cheered.

The four competitors first had to create an appetizer using corn dogs, avocados, corn on a stick and circus cookies within 30 minutes. It was not long before the first drama took place – an incident that almost left Tanner out of the running before he even got started. While cutting an onion, he sliced open his finger, an injury that might have required stitches. By the time his finger was glued together and bandaged, he had only 20 minutes to complete his task instead of 30.

“I’m thinking I can’t make a meal. I don’t have much time left,” he said on air. “But the show must go on.”

His hot dog taco nevertheless passed the first round.

His next effort, unfortunately, did not. Although his sliders with asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes and a red wine sauce earned high points for its presentation, the judges said he should have done something more interesting with the sliders.

His friends in the auditorium groaned when Tanner was “chopped,” but then gave him high-fives for his effort.

Although on air Tanner had confidently described himself as “cool, awesome, amazing and everything that’s good,” he said after the showing that he had been nervous, particularly after cutting himself.

He said his interest in cooking was first sparked by following around his father, Ali, a professional food photographer. That’s also how he met his mentor, Mumma, a veteran of many cooking competitions who came to the April 11 showing.

Tanner’s mother, Tijen, said Mumma took Tanner under his wing. Tanner looks up to Mumma not only because he is a good chef, but because he is cool – with a Mohawk like Tanner’s and tattoos. Mumma “inspired him,” Tijen Waxman said.

After the showing, Mumma showed off some of his own scars from cutting himself cooking. Don’t worry about it, he told Tanner it’s inevitable.

“My first competition, I got five stitches,” Mumma said.

Tanner first auditioned for the cooking show on Skype, then went through several interviews to assess his cooking experience and his personality before being chosen for the show. He said it was fun, and he got along well with the other contestants.

During the show, Tanner said he would like to be either a chef or a football player. After the April 11 showing, however, he said he’s leaning toward becoming a lawyer. In any case, he plans to keep cooking, if only for his family. Lamb sprinkled with rosemary and seared so it’s tender and juicy is one of his new favorite dishes.

He’d also like to try competing again.

“I hope to get back,” he said.

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