Veronica Seguin may be a new student at Grafton High School, but she’s already a big name in the hallways.
It’s not because she runs cross-country or performs with the drama club. It’s because she is the reigning “Chopped” Teen Tournament Champion.
“It’s a pretty good conversation starter, especially at a new school,” Seguin said. “It’s helping me make more friends faster than I have ever made them.”
The 16-year-old Grafton resident beat out three teen chefs in the preliminary round of “Chopped,” a Food Network show that challenges chefs to create meals using mystery ingredients, before competing in the finale and taking home the $25,000 prize. The preliminary round episode aired Sept. 15 and the finale aired Sept. 22.
She competed on “Chopped” in March when her family lived in Massachusetts. She moved to Grafton in July when her father, a civilian special agent in the U.S. Air Force, was transferred to Langley.
Seguin, a home cook who memorizes recipes by watching YouTube videos, said she discovered her culinary creativity at 4 years old when she used leftover pie crust to make cinnamon rolls.
“I really like how [cooking] is a blank canvas and you can put you own personality and twist on everything,” Seguin said.
She applied for the first season of the Teen Tournament in 2013 but decided to pass up the opportunity to perform as Dorothy in her community theater’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Seguin said she did not know if she would get another chance to be on the show, but in August 2014 she was invited to compete in season two.
“I really think that is the reason I was on this year,” Seguin said. “If I had gone on last year I would not have been prepared and I might not have won last year.”
Seguin said she and her friends would challenge each other at home to see who could make the best dish from leftovers, but she was always the first to be “chopped.” To prepare for the real thing, Seguin’s mother would make a list of everything in the pantry, put four ingredients out and set a timer.
“I basically simulated the Chopped competition itself in my own kitchen,” Seguin said.
After securing a spot in the finale with ice cream and cupcakes made from flame grapes, peanut caramel candy, mango nectar and Greek yogurt, Seguin said she felt more confident going into the kitchen.
While she said she was not satisfied with her dessert presentation, she believes her decision to use mystery ingredients sugar snap peas and lemon Starburst-like candy pieces to make a pesto for her appetizer earned her the ultimate victory.
“If I hadn’t done that I would have gone home the first round,” Seguin said.
Seguin could not tell anyone outside her immediate family she competed on “Chopped” until the episodes premiered. Since the preliminary round aired, Seguin said she has heard from family and long-lost friends across the country.
In York County, Union Brothers Pizza owner Scott Wilco said he reached out to Seguin’s mother to see if the “Chopped” champion would create a specialty pizza for the restaurant.
“To see somebody that age that is so good at it or so passionate about it, I think it’s something we should foster,” Wilco said. “I thought it would be a fun way to show off her talent and expose more people to our pizza too.”
Veronica’s mother Leanne Seguin said the community’s response since the family moved and the episodes aired has been “outstanding,” adding that York County School Division Superintendent Victor Shandor recognized Veronica’s achievement during a meeting Wednesday.
Overall, Veronica said the “Chopped” experience was humbling, and while she does not aspire to become a professional chef — her goal is to perform on Broadway — Veronica said she plans to visit her competitors’ restaurants when she is older.