Kids in the Kitchen

Alexis Higgins, 9, uses her new Kitchenaid stand mixer attachment to make fettuccine at her Gilroy home Dec. 27. Higgins' favorite thing to make is pasta, however she admits she prefers baking to cooking. Higgins was a contestant on season three of Master

In this corner, weighing in at approximately 50 pounds and an imposing height of 4 feet 5 inches tall, is spunky Alexis Higgins. In the opposite corner, 18 other kids (ages 8 to 13), and three absolutely intimidating judges. The challenge: knock the socks off the judges with the best dish they have ever tasted and win the hearts of America.
Alexis stepped up to the challenge as the youngest girl contestant, armed with her family’s secret recipes and the ambition to win the title of “MasterChef Junior,” hosted by chefs Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich.
Alexis is not your typical 9-year-old girl and has a few tricks up her sleeve. Like many girls her age, she is involved in dance, basketball and volleyball. But her absolute favorite creative outlet? Cooking. So much so that she has been to cooking camp at Sur La Table in Los Gatos and took second place in a Spam cooking contest in Honolulu.
With culinary lessons from her grandmother Carol Higgins (whom Alexis refers to as Mimi), her Auntie KK and her great Aunt Mooney, Alexis was well equipped to try out for the hit show “MasterChef Junior.”
Alexis auditioned for the show after watching the first season on television.
“She said, ‘Mom! Dad! I want to try out for this show,’” recalled Alexis’ mother, Jill. Both Jill and Alexis’ father, Scott Higgins, were ecstatic when they found out she passed the auditions and was going to be a contestant on the show.
“Alexis started baking with Auntie KK years ago and that’s where her passion started,” Jill said.
“I’d measure and pour ingredients in,” Alexis chimed in. “I started when I was about 3 or 4 (years old).”
Her grandmother, Carol, designed and made wedding cakes, but Alexis’ own baking began with chocolate chip cookies and vanilla or chocolate cupcakes with both her Auntie KK and Mimi. Since then, however, her culinary skills have expanded to include a variety of creations, including meatballs, pasta, pigs in a blanket, biscotti, macaroons and cucidati (a pastry twist with a sweet filling and light glaze on top).
Her eyes sparkled with excitement while talking about how she cooked Dungeness crab for the first time after family friend—and fisherman—Frank Souza brought some live crab from Monterey Bay. She explained how to hold the crab without getting pinched. Alexis said to hold the crab from one of the back legs so it can’t pinch you, but if it does happen to get ahold of your finger, don’t pull away. Hold it steady and the crab will eventually open its claw.
Alexis’ signature dish—the one that earned her a spot on “MasterChef Junior”—is her barbecue breaded chicken with her special barbecue sauce.
“I was screaming and jumping up and down when we got the phone call,” Alexis said.
In March, Jill and Alexis packed their bags and headed to Los Angeles to meet the three famous judges, meet the competition and begin filming.
“We are very proud of her,” Jill said. “She did great in the auditions and she’s a good listener.”
Lilly Higgins, Alexis’ 13-year-old sister, agreed.
“I was excited and happy she made it on the show because cooking is something she loves to do,” Lilly said.
Alexis said the cameras gave her butterflies in her stomach and she did not like being away from her family, but the opportunity to win “MasterChef Junior” kept her focused. She said everyone questions her about Gordon Ramsay—well known for losing his temper and screaming tirades. But Alexis said she found him to be more like a mentor, offering advice and suggestions.
“I think our season (season 3) is the most friendly,” she said. “We were more friendly than competitive. I made friends with everyone.”
While participating on the show, Alexis did not escape homework or school duties and she had to juggle schoolwork and the education she was receiving as a cooking artist.
Alexis comes from three generations of Italian women—Mimi, Auntie KK and Great Aunt Mooney—who gave her secret recipes and their expertise at the stove. Even so, her dad Scott made sure she knew what she was doing in the kitchen.
“We started her early with her learning how to use knives and be safe around them,” he said. “Every chance we got, we taught her which knife to use so we would be comfortable with her in the kitchen.”
“And how to be safe around the stove,” added Jill. “It’s all about safety.”
When the Higgins family takes a break from home-cooked meals and dines out in Gilroy, Alexis’ top pick is Barbeque 152 on Monterey Street.
“I get the pulled pork sandwich with the hogwash barbecue sauce,” she said. “I love their sauce. Their sauce is the bomb-diggity-bomb. I love getting it on their garlic bread.”
The family also enjoys dining at The Milias Restaurant where Alexis orders calamari and pasta, and she added, “Westside Grill has the best fried green beans.”
The Garlic City girl plans to own a restaurant when she grows up and would like to have a television show and teach other kids how to cook.

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