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Little chef

Estie Kung is the child prodigy of the kitchen

Like popcorn on a skillet, eight-year-old Estie Kung hops around her cooking station—chopping celery, throwing butter onto the pan, and nitpicking over her ingredients. She is quite focused considering that one of the Philippines’ prominent chefs Sau del Rosario is doing his thing just steps away. Little chef Estie cooks her seafood chowder sauce while Chef Sau sears a beautiful fillet of sea bass, both challenged to finish their dishes in just 20 minutes. She seems all confident in the kitchen but once in a while, while stirring the pot, Estie would steal a glance at the audience, looking to her mom for strength and support.

Estie is one of the stars of American reality cooking game show Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown. She recently visited the Philippines to promote the show, which premiered on Lifetime last Tuesday, and to show Filipinos that big things come in small packages. And boy, how she proved it! Estie cooked side by side with Chef Sau and rose up to the challenge, finishing her seared salmon with seafood chowder sauce within the time allotted.

The talented little girl joined the show when she was only seven years old, making her the youngest of the five child chefs there. Their cooking abilities and instincts are tested in the show as they are pitted against seasoned chefs and their dishes at the mercy of resident judges Chef Mike Isabella and Chef Alia Zaine.

Half-Chinese, half-American, Estie started cooking at a very young age, inspired by her mom, Laura, who she would watch whip up dish after dish at home, especially her favorite dish of her mom’s, steak.

At age three, she was already helping her mom in the kitchen. “I have cooked a lot of dishes with my mom but I couldn’t remember the first one. We’d sometimes make cookies and my great great grandmother’s noodles. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a small bowl of packaged ramen,” she says.

As young as she is, Estie already has a well-developed palate. Her favorite food is not what a typical eight-year-old would know about, much less love. “My favorite food in the entire world is caviar. I eat it with blinis (a type of thin pancake) and some crème fraîche, eggs, and shallots,” she says.

Chef Sau del Rosario and eight-year-old Estie Kung showing off their finished dishes: Salmon with clam chowder sauce

Chef Sau del Rosario and eight-year-old Estie Kung showing off their finished dishes: Salmon with clam chowder sauce

Right now, she loves to play with French cuisine. “I just got into French food. I like the names. Also, it’s because of [chef] Ludo [Lefebvre]. He’s a French chef and he’s my favorite. When I met Chef Ludo in the show, I screamed so loud it was crazy,” she reveals.

Although it was a competition, the atmosphere in the show was anything but competitive. She giggled all the time and had so many fun moments with her fellow young chefs. The show, however, exposed her to more techniques in cooking like sous vide, a method of cooking wherein food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag and placed in a temperature-controlled water bath. The method requires longer than normal cooking time. “I also learned some new techniques like how to make a sponge cake in a cup using a microwave oven. There’s one chef that used liquid nitrogen in his dish,” she says.

Back home, if not in the kitchen, Estie spends her spare time watching cooking shows on YouTube. Her favorite show: Rosanna Pansino’s Nerdy Nummies.

Estie is definitely the “big enchilada” in the world of young chefs. Who knows, she may well earn her Michelin star earlier than she expects. When asked why she likes cooking so much, her answer is what most chefs and foodies would say. “I guess, I just like to eat what I cook,” Estie ends. Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown is being shown on Lifetime.