Watch Bay Minette's Starla Chapman cook her heart out on MasterChef Junior

By Melanie LeCroy
Lifestyle Editor
Posted 3/16/22

Keeping a secret is difficult for most people but 13-year-old Starla Chapman has been keeping the biggest secret for almost three years.

She is one of 16 young chefs that will compete on season …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Watch Bay Minette's Starla Chapman cook her heart out on MasterChef Junior


Keeping a secret is difficult for most people but 13-year-old Starla Chapman has been keeping the biggest secret for almost three years.

She is one of 16 young chefs that will compete on season eight of MasterChef Junior which premiers March 17 on FOX at 7 p.m. CST. Follow her journey and see if she takes the title, trophy and $100,000 in prize money.

At the tender age of two, Chapman was diagnosed with leukemia, fought hard and has been in remission for 11 years. During her fight she caught the attention of local football star AJ McCarron and was the 2014 Champion Child for the Children's Miracle Network. That was just the start of being in the spotlight.

Chapman began cooking with her mom and grandmother at a young age. After school each day, the bus from Bay Minette Elementary would drop her off at her grandmother's house where they would cook together.

"There is a thing I make called strawberry shortcake biscuits and it's one of the things I cooked with my grandmother after I got off the bus. It was really fun to do," Chapman said.

At 9-years-old, Chapman competed against hundreds of children to be the first IHOP "Kid Head Chef." Her winning pancake recipe was based on an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe that she used to cook with her grandmother who died in 2015.

Chapman was one of three finalists who traveled to Los Angeles to visit IHOP's test kitchen. She was announced the winner on National Pancake Day Feb. 26, 2018 and shortly after she was ready for another challenge.

"We were coming off a whirlwind from IHOP "Kid Head Chef" and then she came to me and said MasterChef Junior is having auditions. I was like I can't take another competition right now; my nerves just can't handle it. But at the same time if it was something she wanted to do let's go for it," said Starla's mother DeAndra Chapman.

One day while scrolling Instagram, Chapman saw that MasterChef Junior was holding auditions.

"When I first had the thought of going on the show, I asked my mom. She is my biggest supporter and she helped me with everything," Chapman said.

The closest auditions were in Atlanta, Georgia but Chapman was given the option of auditioning via video call. There were several video call interviews and in each, Chapman would have to prepare a different dish. She would be notified beforehand of the recipe and she and her mom would go to the store to get the ingredients.

"Sometimes it would be something small and then another time it was a steak dinner. Then they asked if I could make breakfast for them. It was different every single time. They would ask me questions about the food and then they would ask me questions that weren't related to anything about the recipe. I felt like they were testing me at that point," Chapman said.

Thousands of children all over the country were competing for 50 spots and they needed the best candidates. Chapman learned of her selection on one final video call.

Chapman and her mother flew to Los Angeles as soon as the 2019 school year ended and spent the summer living in a hotel with other competitors. DeAndra had to ask for the entire summer off while her husband Korey stayed at home to work and care for their young son.

"When we got flown out to Los Angeles there were 50 kids, but it felt like there were a thousand. We all got cut down to the 16 that are on the show," Chapman said.

While talking about the various aspects of the competition and challenges, Chapman was very tight lipped and was careful not to share any information that might tip off how far she made it in the competition.

The first competition was set in a park with all 50 competitors. If you are a fan of MasterChef or MasterChef Junior, you will be familiar with the format. Once the pool was reduced to 16, Chapman said they completed challenges in a large kitchen with the clock ticking overhead. While she said walking into the kitchen began to feel normal the timer and the unknowns were nerve wrecking.

"In the competition with the timer and the challenge you must complete, was all nerve wrecking. Everyone was running around. It was not like cooking at home. I don't think it ever felt normal to do, especially when you have a timer over your head," Chapman said.
Every challenge was a surprise, but she studied how to combine flavors on her down time. Chapman said she felt the competitors that did well each week were those that were creative.

"Some of the challenges they would tell us what we needed to use for it and other times they would just give us a theme. It was different every time. I think that is what makes it so hard to be on the show. If you knew before it would have been a challenge on who is better. Not knowing the challenge made the competition about who is better and who can come up with something on the spot and be unique," Chapman said.

The favorite challenge Chapman faced was when she was required to make a tower. She would not give a clue about what the tower was made of, but she did say she was afraid she would not be able to complete the challenge. The food she made for the tower was so delicious, she ate too much during the challenge and feared she would not have enough remaining.

Some of the challenges that were most difficult were food from countries she was not familiar with and those that required butchering. Yes, the young chefs had to butcher meat during at least one challenge.

"It was really hard to work with fish and break it down. Sometimes one of the judges would go in front of us and do a three-minute demonstration and you had to pay attention. The hardest challenges were the ones when I didn't know how to do something," Chapman said.

The judges for this season of MasterChef Junior are Gordon Ramsey, Daphne Oz and Aaron Sanchez.

"Daphne Oz was really sweet and helpful. She would come around and check on us. Aaron Sanchez was really funny and nice and Gordon Ramsey was mean. It wasn't an act or anything. He did joke with us a lot sometimes, but he threw something at us one time," Chapman laughed.

Chapman plans to buckle down and focus on school, cooking with her mom and one day become a surgeon, she said. There are also plans in the works for a Chef Starla food truck that will cook choose your own topping pancakes. Her logo has been created and her slogan is "Cook Up a Cure." The ultimate goal of the food truck is to assist cancer research and families of sick kids which is something Chapman has been doing for many years.

MasterChef Junior premiers March 17 at 7 p.m. CST on FOX and Chapman is both nervous and excited.

"I am excited people get to see me doing what I love but then I'm really nervous about what the kids at school will say. I have a huge mix of emotions that I feel about it but overall, I am excited," Chapman said.