Article Comment 

Kid power: This preteen discovered cooking is cool -- so is being on national TV

 

Mark Coblentz of Starkville, 12, is pictured in the “Chopped Junior” kitchen in New York City in August. The Armstrong Middle School seventh-grader is a contestant on the new Food Network show’s episode to air Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Central Time. The Armstrong Middle School seventh-grader is the son of Robbie and Bonnie Coblentz.

Mark Coblentz of Starkville, 12, is pictured in the “Chopped Junior” kitchen in New York City in August. The Armstrong Middle School seventh-grader is a contestant on the new Food Network show’s episode to air Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Central Time. The Armstrong Middle School seventh-grader is the son of Robbie and Bonnie Coblentz. Photo by: Food Network/Courtesy photo

 

Launch Photo Gallery

 

Mark Coblentz of Starkville is third from left in this lineup of contestants on the New York set. The others hail from California, New Jersey and Texas. The young cooks have remained in touch since the filming.

Mark Coblentz of Starkville is third from left in this lineup of contestants on the New York set. The others hail from California, New Jersey and Texas. The young cooks have remained in touch since the filming.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

The Coblentz family Monday in their Starkville home. Clockwise are David, mom Bonnie, dad Robbie and Mark.

The Coblentz family Monday in their Starkville home. Clockwise are David, mom Bonnie, dad Robbie and Mark.
Photo by: Mark Wilson/Dispatch Staff

 

“Chopped Junior” and “Chopped” television show host Ted Allen autographed the signature cap Mark wore during the competition.

“Chopped Junior” and “Chopped” television show host Ted Allen autographed the signature cap Mark wore during the competition.
Photo by: Mark Wilson/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

It's a late Monday afternoon, and Mark Coblentz is hungry. Sporting his lucky cap, the seventh-grader moves between refrigerator and kitchen cabinet with the sliding glide preteens tend to perfect. As he builds an after-school snack on the fly, he maintains running commentary on sauteing vegetables or prepping a rack of lamb in red wine herb marinade like a culinary veteran. But Coblentz is all of 12 years old. Even so, he will make his national television debut Nov. 10 on the Food Network's new show "Chopped Junior."  

 

Homemade chicken pot pie and a robust dose of confidence landed the Starkville youth a spot in the competition and a trip to New York, where the episode was filmed in August.  

 

In this spin-off of the popular show "Chopped," four junior contestants square off each week. They are tasked with preparing three dishes -- an appetizer, entree and dessert -- in progressive rounds, using ingredients found in a mystery basket, however unlikely those ingredients may be. At the end of each course, a panel of judges "chops" one chef. The last cook standing takes home $10,000.  

 

Mark admits he may have been a little nervous as filming began, but that didn't last long. He had too much to think about. Once presented with a mystery basket, participants had only 30 minutes to whip up the assigned dish. 

 

The Armstrong Middle School student said the whole experience -- including meeting show host Ted Allen and judges Elizabeth Chambers, Amanda Freitag and Lee Anne Wong -- was an exhilarating adrenaline rush.  

 

The whole family made the journey to New York: Mark, mom and dad Bonnie and Robbie Coblentz, and Mark's brother, David, 14. Robbie accompanied Mark to the TV studio each day, where contestants' parents figuratively bit their nails watching on a green room monitor as their sons and daughters cooked under pressure on set.  

 

 

 

Griddles and gridiron 

 

Just how does a middle school football player and avid hunter in Mississippi end up in the Big Apple on national television? 

 

It all began, Mark says, when he was about 6 years old, helping his grandparents make homemade rolls. Before long, Bonnie "forced" him to attend a few cooking camps, he adds with a lop-sided grin. It seems Mom knew what she was doing.  

 

"When I was 10, I decided I really wanted to learn how, so I started watching Food Network," explains Mark. He became a real fan of chefs such as Alton Brown and Guy Fieri. He studied the dishes and searched out other versions, writing out recipes by hand and adapting some of them as he went. 

 

"Mark likes to experiment," smiles Bonnie. "I've bought some strange ingredients because he wants to test them."  

 

This past spring, Mark submitted a cooking video filmed by his father to audition for the premiere season of "Chopped Junior." His skills, personality and chicken pot pie caught the eye of producers. 

 

For a time, he was juggling getting in shape for the cook-off and his football season simultaneously. He loves both activities. Mark immersed himself in cooking shows and practiced at home with mystery ingredients his mom provided. He's been the recipient of some expert advice.  

 

"Chef Ty Thames of Restaurant Tyler has mentored him in the kitchen, and Chef Leon Jefferson at Central Station Grill was kind enough to let him cook with him," Robbie explains.  

 

 

 

Show time 

 

When presented with the first mystery basket on set, Mark had to think fast on his feet, especially when faced with components like pickled pigs' feet and beet hummus he was required to use in his appetizer.  

 

"We had no recipe books, only things we could think up," says the preteen. 

 

Bonnie jokingly interjects, "I would have cried and quit." 

 

The family cannot reveal in advance how the episode airing Nov. 10 turns out, but the adventure has left Mark eager to do more. His fervor is fueled. 

 

"I'd like to go on a culinary tour of Europe, and I'd like to have restaurants all over the country, including a high-end Southern restaurant," he says, brushing pesto on the Mississippi catfish destined for supper that night. "Oh, and I'd like to retire at 21 on a few thousand acres and hunt all day," he adds, flashing his laid-back, trademark Coblentz grin.  

 

Editor's note: View Mark's cooking videos at markthechef.com or facebook.com/Marktherealchef. 

 

 

 

KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF DONUTS 

 

 

 

1 1/2 cups hot milk 

 

2 tablespoons yeast 

 

1/2 cup shortening 

 

1/2 cup sugar 

 

3 eggs 

 

2 teaspoons nutmeg 

 

4 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour 

 

 

 

For the glaze: 

 

2 cups powdered sugar 

 

3 +/- tablespoons water 

 

1/2 teaspoon vanilla 

 

 

 

  • Heat milk and water until hot enough to melt shortening Once melted, add the yeast. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Then put eggs, sugar, salt and nutmeg in a mixer.  

     

  • Add in yeast mixture. Put on a dough attachment and mix. Finally, add in the flour 1 cup at a time with the mixer until dough forms. (Use more or less flour to get the dough right.) 

     

  • After running the mixer for about 5 minutes, stop and put the dough in the fridge for at last 1 1/2 hours covered with a towel. After that, flour a work surface and knead the dough 10-12 times by hand. 

     

  • Roll dough out about 1/2-inch thick and cut with donut cutter. Once you are finished cutting dough for the first time, ball remaining dough up, knead gently and roll it out again and again until you are out of dough. 

     

  • Put a towel on the doughnuts and let them rise for about 30 minutes. Fry in a deep fryer until lightly golden brown. 

     

  • For glaze, mix the three ingredients in a bowl, adding water as needed to make a thin paste. Dip slightly cooled doughnuts in glaze and set on rack to drip, or set directly on plate. 

     

     

     

     

     

    MARK'S ALMOST WORLD-FAMOUS CHICKEN POT PIE 

     

     

     

    1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins or breasts 

     

    1 tablespoons honey 

     

    1 teaspoon liquid smoke 

     

    1/2 teaspoon each pepper flakes, black pepper, cayenne, Old Bay seasoning and your favorite herbs 

     

    1 tablespoon salt 

     

     

     

  • Fill a cast iron skillet with 1 inch water and all ingredients above. Chicken should be just under the water level. Boil gently 15-20 minutes until chicken is cooked. 

     

     

     

    For the crust: 

     

    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 

     

    1 teaspoon salt 

     

    3 1/2 tablespoons each cold butter and cold shortening 

     

    6-8 tablespoons ice-cold water 

     

     

     

  • Mix salt into the flour and cut in the butter and shortening. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing by hand or with a fork until a soft dough forms. The dough should not stick to your hands, but use enough water to be able to top the casserole dish. 

     

     

     

    For the sauce: 

     

    1 medium onion, diced 

     

    2 celery stalks, diced 

     

    1 large carrot, diced 

     

    1 1/2 cup corn, frozen or fresh 

     

     

     

  • Saute vegetables in about 1 tablespoon of oil, adding the corn last. When tender, make the sauce. 

     

     

     

    1-2 tablespoons flour 

     

    1 cup milk 

     

    3/4 cup chicken stock or broth 

     

    1 cup sugar snap peas 

     

     

     

  • Sprinkle across vegetables, stir and then add the remaining ingredients. Simmer about 15 minutes, then add in cubed chicken. Pour all the sauce into a 2-quart casserole dish.  

     

  • Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick and use it to top the mixture in the casserole dish. Bake at 350 F. 30-35 minutes until crust is golden brown. 

     

     

     

    FLUFFY, PUFFY 'MARKMALLOWS' 

     

     

     

    3 packets unflavored gelatin 

     

    1 1/2 cup sugar 

     

    1 cup cold water 

     

    1 cup corn syrup 

     

    1/4 teaspoon salt 

     

    1 tablespoon vanilla 

     

    Confectioners' sugar for dusting 

     

     

     

  • Combine gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water in mixer bowl. Set aside and let it bloom. 

     

  • In a deep sauce pan, combine the other 1/2 cup water, corn syrup, sugar and salt. Bring this mixture to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. 

     

  • Combine the sugar mixture on low speed with the bloomed gelatin. Pour sugar mixture slowly into the gelatin, making sure to not allow it to contact the whisk. Once mixture is combined, add vanilla and set the mixer on high speed. Whip for about 15 minutes until mixture is white and stiff.  

     

  • Pour the marshmallow fluff into a prepared 11-by-13-inch pan that has been liberally dusted with confectioners' sugar. Work quickly to smooth the mixture to all four sides. Dust the top liberally with confectioners' sugar. 

     

  • Let this set overnight, or at least 6 hours to dry slightly. Cut into 1-inch cubes and serve with any dessert. 

     

     

     

     

     

    SHRIMP BECHAMEL 

     

     

     

    1 cup heavy cream 

     

    +/- 1 1/2 cups milk 

     

    2 tablespoons flour 

     

    2 tablespoons butter 

     

    1/2 cup Parmesan cheese 

     

    1 cup mozzarella cheese  

     

    1 lemon 

     

    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 

     

    Salt and white pepper, to taste 

     

    1 pound fettuccine noodles 

     

    1 pound peeled shrimp 

     

    1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces 

     

    8 ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped 

     

    1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved 

     

     

     

  • Boil fettuccine according to label directions. Drain and set aside. 

     

  • In a saucepan, melt butter and combine flour until it forms a thick paste. Slowly add in milk until it forms a gravy-like sauce. Add in heavy cream, mozzarella and nutmeg. Let simmer. 

     

  • Heat a small mount of olive oil in saute pan and add asparagus. let cook 3-5 minutes, or until asparagus begins to soften. Add in mushrooms and let saute 2 minutes. Then, add shrimp and tomatoes; let cook 2-4 minutes or until shrimp is bright orange. Squeeze half a lemon over the top. 

     

  • Combine Parmesan, salt and pepper into the bechamel sauce. Immediately pour sauteed vegetables and shrimp into sauce. Pour drained pasta in next and gently toss until thoroughly combined. Finish with the other half of the lemon squeezed over the top and garnish with fresh herbs. 

     

     

     

     

     

    STUFFED MUSHROOM CAPS 

     

     

     

    5 ounces frozen spinach, thawed 

     

    1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese 

     

    1/4 cup sour cream of plain Greek yogurt 

     

    About 20 mushrooms, stems removed 

     

    1/2 cup Parmesan cheese 

     

    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 

     

     

     

  • Preheat oven to 275 F. In a bowl, combine spinach, sour cream, feta, Parmesan and nutmeg. Spoon mixture into mushroom caps.  

     

  • Place filled caps on a baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until mixture is bubbly and brown on top. Serve warm as an appetizer. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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