Freshman Andres De Marco: Latin’s Own Culinary Champion

“Okay, kids! Final seconds of the final round!” television host Ted Allen shouts. The countdown begins. Ten, nine, eight. Andres rushes to garnish his chocolate peanut butter lava cakes before time runs out. “Time’s up!” Andres steps away from his dessert creation, marking the end of his last challenge in the Chopped Junior kitchen in New York City.
Latin School of Chicago is home to a national culinary champion! Andres De Marco, a freshman at Latin, demonstrated his cooking abilities to the country when he won Chopped Junior in 2019 as a seventh grader.
Chopped Junior is an American reality-based cooking game show that airs on the Food Network. The show takes four adolescent chefs between the ages of 8 and 13 and pits them against one another in three cooking challenges consisting of appetizers, entrees, and desserts. The real challenge of the show is the use of mystery ingredients, including items such as mussels, bonito flakes, duck breast, and peanut-butter lasagna. The winner of the competition receives $10,000 as well as a Chopped Junior chef’s coat. Only 13 national culinary champions win each year.
Andres competed in Chopped Junior on Season 8, Episode 6, “Duck Duck Chopped,” and won the entire competition. In his three rounds, Andres cooked an appetizer of leek and potato soup with steamed mussels, an entree of pan-seared duck breast with a snow pea stir fry, and a peanut-butter-cup chocolate molten lava cake paired with coconut milk ice cream and spicy gummy-bear macerated strawberries for dessert.
Andres dreamed of being on Chopped at a young age but did not expect his dream to become a reality. Andres started cooking at the age of 8 and soon developed a passion for it. “Eventually, I started liking it even more and would do it every weekend,” he said.
Neither of his parents are professional chefs, but cooking is still a family affair in the De Marco household. Andres’ sister, junior Isabella De Marco, said, “We’ve always had really good food at our house, and I think that’s where my brother got inspired to start cooking at a young age.” Andres’ mom cooks dinner every night, and his dad will barbeque on weekends while Andres makes side dishes.
In seventh grade, after four years of cooking dinners with his family, Andres decided to take on a culinary challenge and apply to Chopped Junior. “I saw it as a challenge, and I really just wanted to see how good I was,” he said. “I thought it was interesting and decided to try my luck by applying, not really expecting to get in. Also, the prospect of winning and the $10,000 prize were good motivators.”
The application process was rigorous. Andres had to fill out forms and questionnaires. He was interviewed by the casting director, created a film about his signature dish, and then was interviewed twice more. He then had to sign appearance release forms and confidentiality agreements. After thousands of applications were reviewed, Andres was selected as one of four contestants for the show.
Chopped Junior itself is very fast paced, and while much of the experience was a blur for Andres, he does recall touring the set before filming. “The next morning, we had to wake up at 6 a.m. and we went together in a bus to the filming location,” he said. “The whole filming took until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and was very intense.”
Andres’ parents accompanied him to the taping of the episode. His sister, Isabella, said, “It was really cool to watch it when it aired and to learn about the filming process.”
Since Chopped Junior in 2019, Andres doesn’t cook as frequently because school and other hobbies now occupy most of his time. Still, Andres will dive right back into the kitchen and cook for other people on holidays and other special occasions.
“Usually when we have family and friends over for dinner or an event, my brother will cook something,” Isabella said. During Christmas and Thanksgiving—days spent with lots of family—Andres cooks with his dad or uncle.
“Sometimes I just feel like cooking and I will, but, overall, I don’t do it much,” Andres said. Even though Andres dedicates more time to other responsibilities now, he retains the poise he learned from Chopped Junior. “It probably did make me more confident in myself,” he said.
Andres’ friends at Latin are proud that he won Chopped Junior and love to ask him about his experience. One of his friends, freshman Ben Gibson, learned in math class that Andres had won Chopped Junior when someone airdropped him a video of Andres winning. “I was so confused because I had known him for years and he never said anything about it,” Ben said. “Now I love to ask him about what we can do to elevate the lunch food!”
Although Andres, Latin’s own Chopped Junior champion, does not plan on pursuing cooking as a career, Isabella said, “I’m sure he’ll definitely continue to cook in the future.”