Food & Drink

Local Teen Owen Pereira Wins $50,000 Grand Prize on Top Chef Junior

We follow-up with the eighth-grader as he looks toward the future.

-Courtesy of NBC Universal

The list of Charm City chefs who have made it big on national television (think Duff Goldman, Bryan Voltaggio, and Jason Hisley) now includes 14-year-old Owen Pereira. The Mt. Washington teen took home the top prize on the finale of Universal Kids’ Top Chef Junior that aired Friday. 

“I have no clue how I did it,” Pereira tells us. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”

Pereira, an eighth-grader at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, stood out among more than 200 young applicants from around the country, and was eventually chosen as one of the top 12 finalists to compete on the first season of Top Chef’s teen spinoff.

He continued to impress judges with his classic French techniques throughout the competition, and ultimately went head-to-head with 13-year-old California native Rahanna Bisseret Martinez for the final challenge—in which the two were tasked with creating dishes that represented their past, present, and future as chefs. 

Pereira won over chefs Curtis Stone, Gail Simmons, and Josiah Citrin (one of his top culinary idols) with his turnip soup and parmesan croquette, a duo of pork, and a braised short rib with a caramelized onion puree, pickled onions, mustard seed, and chanterelles. With his family by his side, Pereira was crowned the winner.

“I was surprised,” he says, reliving the moment. “I had convinced myself that Rahanna won, just so that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I lost.”

His mom, Susan Manning, was also admittedly shocked. While she had always believed in her son, she explains that she was surprised at the outcome because he had remained an underdog throughout the show’s filming.

“Rahanna had been dominating throughout most of the competition,” she says. “Owen was kind of a come-from-behind situation. It was exciting, but also bittersweet because I have a lot of respect for Rahanna and the other contestants. It was just so close, but I was really happy for him and proud of him—I still am.”

Though he is happy to be the reigning Top Chef Junior champion (the show’s second season will begin filming this summer), Pereira says that he’s excited to get back into his own kitchen. He has big plans to launch a pop-up with fellow contestant Henry Wieser in Chicago next month, and hopefully bring it to Baltimore this summer.

“Recently it’s been a lot of TV stuff, so I’m ready to finally be able to cook again,” he says. “I want to get my pop-ups going and hopefully have my restaurant up and running in the next four or five years.”

In the spirit of dreaming big, Pereira hopes to win other accolades like James Beard Awards and Michelin stars. Though he isn’t exactly sure how his $50,000 winnings (currently secured in a trust fund) will be utilized in the future, he is certain that the money won’t go toward paying college tuition.  

“Culinary school happens way too late,” he says. “If I want to start my career, I really don’t have the patience to wait until I’m 18.”

Manning has the show to thank for her son’s focused ambition. Above all, she is happy that Pereira had the opportunity to explore his passion with other young chefs.

“In this day and age, it’s hard for teenagers,” she says. “They’re between childhood and adulthood, and in a lot of cases, they don’t know what they want to do. It’s all so abstract, but this is concrete for Owen. He’s so fortunate to have a real sense of direction.”

You May Also Like

Food & Drink

Open & Shut: Sacré Sucré Coming Soon; The Emporiyum Takes a Break; In Bloom Closes

The latest restaurant openings, closings, and recent news.

Food & Drink

Owners of Wight Tea Co. Share New Flavors and Tips for Springtime Tea

Siblings Brittany and Joey Wight are infusing local tea scene with specialty blends and serious know how.

Food & Drink

La Calle Bringing Modern Mexican Food Downtown This Summer

Globally influenced cantina set to open inside 10 South Street building near City Hall.

Arts & Culture

Post Typography Creates Underwater Art Piece For Light City’s Art Walk

Baltimore design agency teams up with PI.KL Studio and Figure 53 for installation.

Food & Drink

The Land of Kush Owners Win Grant to Make Restaurant Cashless

Husband-and-wife team win $10,000 from Visa to help launch strictly digital sale system.

News & Community

Lisa Salters of ESPN Talks Life in Baltimore and Legendary Sports Career

The well-known broadcaster will be an honored guest at this year’s Casey Cares gala.