Young Tara goes down a treat in prime US TV show ‘Chopped Jnr.’

Tara O'Donnell with her parents Joanne and Feargal.
Tara O'Donnell with her parents Joanne and Feargal.

A Derry man has spoken of his pride after his talented young daughter cooked up a storm on one of America’s top TV culinary competition shows.

Fergal O’Donnell was speaking after his daughter Tara cooked her way to victory in hit national US TV show, ‘Chopped Junior’.

Tara O'Donnell on Derry's quayside.

Tara O'Donnell on Derry's quayside.

Tara, who just turned 13 recently, was chosen from among thousands of young hopefuls to appear on the national TV series which draws in millions of viewers every week.

Fergal and his wife, Joanna, have been helping Tara hone her culinary skills in the months leading up to the competition, and her creativity in the kitchen combined with a winning personality bowled over the judges.

Fergal said his daughter’s natural flair for cooking emerged when she was just five years old and she has since gone on to have her own column in a magazine in Dallas, Texas, where the family live.

‘Chopped Junior’ is a spin off from Food Network Channel’s ‘Chopped’ show in the US, which has a similar premise to ‘Masterchef’ here, only the US show has an audience of six million - about the population of Ireland.

Tara O'Donnell presenting a roast chicken dinner she prepared.

Tara O'Donnell presenting a roast chicken dinner she prepared.

The four contestants are all given a basket of mystery ingredients and one person is eliminated after each course - entree, starter, main and dessert - with 30 minutes to come up with a dish each time.

Fergal told the ‘Journal’: “We’re delighted and very proud with what she has achieved. This is such a popular show.

“Tara has loved cooking since she was very young. I entered her into the competition and we had to answer a lot of questions, go through two interviews and had to create a video and send in a lot of photos of Tara and her cooking.

“There were 5,500 entries and they accepted just 48 entrants for the show. We took Tara to New York for the filming and it’s very pressurised.”

Despite the pressure, however, young Tara managed to wow the judges with her creations from mystery ingredients such as wild boar steaks, Limburger cheese, liverwurst and bacon flavoured toffee.

And Tara’s Irish roots came into play as she cooked up a version of her father’s savoury mash with purple sweet potatoes. “I learned it from my dad, Pat O’Donnell who lives in Derry,” Fergal said.

“We have been to Derry back and forth since Tara was born and we were back last August and we took her up to Grianan, Kinnego and Stroove and Moville and, of course, all over Derry. She did a couple of Derry frys in my mother’s house in the Waterside, and we still like to get a full Irish breakfast now and again.”

Tara’s Derry grandmother, Pauline Morrow says the family here are all very proud of her and her achievements in the competition:

“She is fantastic. As well as being a great cook, she has wit and sense of humour, and she is overflowing with personality.”

Tara now has her own website at www.tarastastytable.com and is also on Facebook at Tara’s Tasty Table.