On Friday, 14-year-old “MasterChef Junior” winner Alexander Weiss took over the private dining room known as “The Vault” at Drago Centro in Downtown Los Angeles, teaming with Chef di Cucina Ian Gresik to prepare a lavish four-course feast in front of 36 admiring diners in the city’s only demonstration kitchen.
The meal marked the first time the two chefs had worked together since Weiss competed in “MasterChef Junior’s” Restaurant Takeover challenge last season, when the reality competition’s Top 6 contestants served Drago Centro’s lunchtime patrons under Gresik’s watchful eye.
The odds were a little more even this time around, with Weiss and Gresik collaborating on the ambitious menu, which included a first course consisting of freshly made ricotta cheese, fava beans, peas, garbanzo beans and crispy pancetta; a second course of handmade chitarra pasta, wild mushroom ragout and a truffle butter glaze; a meat course of duck breast with heirloom risotto cake, accompanied by beets, asparagus and radish; and Weiss’ signature dessert, a lavender cannoli with farmers market berries and kumquat sorbet.
Weiss admitted that he drew inspiration for the menu from the dishes he enjoys cooking at home, including the cannolis he often makes with his father — a version of which helped win him the “MasterChef Junior” contest last fall.
Collaborating with Gresik was a welcome learning experience for Weiss, who said that the VIP dinner gave him his first opportunity to learn how to make ricotta cheese. The junior chef also hand-cut the pasta for the dinner on a chitarra cutter, resulting in a dish that was reminiscent of the guitar strings that inspire its name.
As guests filtered into the intimate dining room — far removed from its previous identity as Bank of America’s vault — they were served with house-made nectarine spritzers and delicate hors d’oeuvres including chicken liver mousse crostinis, smoked Skuna Bay salmon tartlets and gnoccho fritto sandwiches stuffed with capacollo and gorgonzola cheese.
Weiss spent the evening going from table to table to answer guests’ questions about the meal and his stint on “MasterChef Junior,” telling Variety that he still keeps in touch with the judges and contestants from his season on the show.
“I hang out with Jack a lot … [and] I’m actually going to a Fourth of July party at Dara’s house,” the culinary wunderkind said, revealing that he and Gordon Ramsay still trade emails periodically because the “MasterChef” boss “wants to check in with me every couple of months or so.” Weiss also has plans to visit Graham Elliot at his Chicago restaurant later this year, and recently returned from filming a guest spot on “MasterChef Indonesia.”
He’ll also appear on tonight’s episode of “MasterChef” alongside previous winner Luca Manfe. Read a summary of the episode below:
In the next mystery box challenge, contestants must prepare a unique dish using various unlabeled canned foods. The winner of the mystery box will have a significant advantage in the next round and with the help of “MasterChef” winner Luca Manfe and “MasterChef Junior” winner Alexander Weiss, determine which former “MasterChef” champion’s specialty dish each contestant will prepare in the elimination round. Find out who will stay and who will be sent home at 8 p.m. on Fox.
In November, Weiss, Manfe and Elliot will take to the seas for the first MasterChef cruise, where the pair will join “MasterChef” season three winner Christine Ha and adventurous fans on a weeklong voyage, which will depart from Ft. Lauderdale and stop in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.
No matter where his talents take him next, it’s clear that Weiss has a long and flavorful career ahead of him.
(Pictured: Chef Ian Gresik of Drago Centro and Alexander Weiss, the MasterChef Junior Winner, prepare a dish called “meat,” with duck breast, heirloom risotto cake, beets, asparagus and radish.)