Gordon Ramsay is the fire-breathing dragon of reality television, a celebrity chef equally renowned for his abilities to create amazing food and reduce contestants to blubbering messes.
So when 12-year-old “MasterChef Junior” contestant Sadie Suskind watched Ramsay take a bite of one of her creations, a delightful lobster cake with avocado, pickled onions and tortilla chips, on a recent episode of the Fox show, she was tangled up in an emotional knot.
And the initial look on Ramsay’s face was … well, it just wasn’t promising. “I’m going to be honest. Oh, Lord …,” Ramsay said as he wiped his brow and the show cut to commercial.
“That has definitely been the scariest moment,” the Seattle middle-school student said of her ongoing appearance on the show. “Just judging in general is really scary. You don’t know what the judges are thinking, so you’re like, ‘Is this fish good or did I just totally fail? Am I going to get eliminated, am I going to move on?’”
To Sadie’s great relief, Ramsay smiled and said, “It’s absolutely dee-licious.”
So far, Sadie has gotten nothing but hosannas from Ramsay and his fellow judges on “MasterChef Junior” and she has earned her way into the top 14 on the cooking-competition show as another pressure-packed episode airs this Tuesday. She’s excelled at most challenges. She cooked Parmesan egg cups with bacon, chive and sourdough toast on episode one to win immunity from elimination, then followed up with her second-place lobster creation on episode two. She then waylaid the judges with a pink Champagne cake with rose buttercream and a raspberry jam to win episode three.
The cake was so delightful, Ramsay called it a work of art and said, “That’s worth $25 a slice.”
“It was such a fun challenge honestly,” Sadie said. “When I’m baking I just kind of get in a zone. Cakes are like my happy place — well, all desserts are, but especially cake. And when I start icing, I get in a zone. I’m truly hyper-focused on it and nothing can stop me.”
That’s been Sadie’s mojo so far on “MasterChef Junior.” A precocious pixie with an enviable vocabulary and a shiny attitude, the Jane Addams Middle School student has proved to be a contender with experience belying her short tenure on this Earth. She says she’s been obsessed with food since before she could walk, and her mother, Rebecca Davis, says that’s not hyperbole.
She has video proof.
“It was a classic Sadie thing,” Davis said. “We’re filming her having solid food for the first time. And we put this kind of crappy rice cereal into her mouth and her eyes get huge, right? She throws her head back and starts making this noise, which I interpret in baby language as, ‘give me more,’ and then literally this goes on every single time I put the spoon into her mouth. Clearly Sadie was a foodie from the very start.”
Davis would often find Sadie underfoot over the ensuing years as she prepared meals for her family, so of course she’d allow the toddler to imitate her with bits of real food that the child mixed and matched with glee. As she got older, Sadie would formally join her mother and grandmother in the kitchen, learning how to make traditional Jewish dishes. Eventually she discovered Julia Child and a life plan to be a chef or food critic fell into place.
Her appearance on the show has only cemented those plans. After taping the “MasterChef” series last summer, she contacted multi-James Beard Award-winning chef Tom Douglas, creator of Seattle landmark restaurants such as Dahlia Lounge, Lola and Etta’s and a veteran of reality competition shows like “Iron Chef.” Douglas invited her to visit and she arrived with a list of questions and an infectious personality that left him as enchanted as “MasterChef” viewers have been.
“Which is half the battle, especially when you’re on a reality show, to entertain the audience in a way that you recognize you have to be yourself but at the same time you have to recognize that a hundred thousand people are watching you and you’re not intimidated by that,” Douglas said. “She doesn’t seem like she’s intimidated by much, I can tell you that.”
The two bonded over Child, the late chef and television host who turned millions on to fine cuisine during a career that lasted decades.
“In my career I met her many times over the years, so it was fun relaying some of those stories to (Sadie),” Douglas said. “Julia’s been dead longer than this young lady’s been alive. I transferred some of those intimate occasions and she ate it up with a spoon.”
The meeting had a real impact on Sadie, who called Douglas her “spirit animal,” and it reinforced the idea that she’s on a life path, not just indulging in a childhood infatuation.
“We all love food in my family,” Davis said, “but Sadie clearly has this thing. I feel like she’s genetically programmed, kind of like a robot.”
“MasterChef Junior” airs at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on Fox with the final episode to air in June.