In Australia, reality cooking show Master Chef is big. No, Master Chef is massive, airing as many as six nights a week during the season that runs between May and August. There’s a popular magazine dedicated to the show. René Redzepi even got in on the action during the 2011 finale. And it was clear that, like Top Chef in the States, if you do well on the show, your future in the food world is pretty much sealed.
Fourteen year-old Tasmanian Jack Lark was runner-up of the 2009 season of Junior Master Chef. He’s still recognized on the street and was personally invited by Heston Blumenthal to work a shift at The Fat Duck near London. But that doesn’t mean that Lark is destined for a career in the kitchen. As he snacked on a fresh goat burger at the Farm Gate Market in Hobart, the 9th grader told me his story. And, yes, the patty topped with paprika aioli is called the Jack Burger — named after Tasmania’s most-famous young chef.
How did you get into doing TV?
My auntie in Sydney knew I was a bit of a cooker (edit: cooker is Australian parlance for chef) and saw an ad at a local farmer’s market for auditions. I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?” So, I entered it and a couple of weeks later I received a phone call asking if I wanted to go to the auditions.
What was that like? Stressful?
I had to make a cold dish and talk a bit about what I like doing with food and what styles I like. From that they picked the top 50, which was eventually cut down on the show to 20, 12, 8, 4 and 2 on the show.
What dish did you prepare at the audition?
A tartare made with smoked Tasmanian salmon. They thought it was great because a lot of people were doing desserts and mousse. I’m more of a savory cook, so I went that way.
How did you learn to cook?
From a young age I was helping my parents out. Stirring a pot and whatnot. And I was told that if I cooked, I didn’t have to clean. Then I watched the movie Julie & Julia and that inspired me to learn the proper French technique.
Do you plan on going to culinary school?
That’s surprising. Why not?
The best chefs in the world—Tetsuya, Heston Blumenthal—began in commercial kitchens and not school. It seems school doesn’t teach you to be creative. And I’m still not sure I want to be a chef. I’m really into forensics.
So say you were to begin training in a kitchen. Where would you want to be?
Heston has offered me a spot. And people locally have as well, like at Ethos. I love Movida in Melbourne. I like all the garlic in Spanish food.
Are you recognized on the street?
I was on TV in 2010 and am still known. It’s kind of weird, especially since I have grown and my hair is different.
Have you traveled much?
Recently I went to Hong Kong, Berlin, London and Paris. In Hong Kong, I was working with Suzie Wong, who is a god there. She took me around for six days and showed me the famous Chinese food, from stinky tofu to moss maggots to the Krug Room, which is crazy fine dining. Then I was off to London and worked in the Fat Duck for a day. The mock turtle soup was my favorite dish. He did a whiskey gum that was really good.
Do you have interest in doing more TV?
I’m alright being in the public eye, but it’s not something that I want to do. I’d rather be around my friends than spending a lot of time doing TV.
What dishes do you like to make at home?
I started making a lot of jams—rhubarb and vanilla, port, apricot and brandy. They are good for presents. I certainly like the French style.