Before launching Chino Chinatown, her Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant in Trinity Groves, Uno Immanivong was a food TV star on ABC’s The Taste. She didn’t take home the crown on that particular show, but it certainly launched her career as a chef and restaurateur. Now, it looks as if Immanivong has passed down the gene for culinary competition to her daughter, Emma.
Immanivong’s daughter Emma is already somewhat of a local celebrity kid chef. She’s been the "Favorite Foodie" on an episode of WFAA’s Daybreak, and makes cooking videos for her YouTube channel, Epicurious Emma. Next week, though, she's taking her kitchen chops to the national stage, when she'll make her first appearance on the Food Network.
"My mom was always into catering and cooking, so I started helping her with that," says Emma. "When I started school, I would bake with her to make stuff for my teachers."
Emma got the call from Chopped: Junior earlier this year. To prepare, the 11-year-old chef "staged" at restaurants in Trinity Groves. "Emma learned how to pan-fry and butcher a whole fish at Amberjax. At St. Rocco's, Chef Jay Valley spent three days teaching her how to brunoise and dice and cut matchsticks," says Immanivong. "As her mom, I have very little patience when I teach her in the kitchen. Everyone else was really excited to help."
The episode in which Emma appears was filmed in New York City this past August. "They ask you to make a signature dish, and I made fish on top of a carrot salad," says Emma. "They wouldn’t let us see the competition. In the morning, we all took a bus over to Chelsea Market, where we opened the baskets. We had to do all of that a few times to get the right take, like walking through the hallway to film our walk-in on the show."
Considering that the episode doesn’t air until next week, neither chef could provide any more details on what happens in the competition. Immanivong did say, though, that Chopped: Junior doesn’t take it easy on their pint-sized competitors. "They had to work with freaky things, like candy with ants," says Immanivong. "Kids get no breaks on the basket. I don’t think the typical adult could make dishes with those baskets."
This appearance is likely just the beginning for Emma, who is also an aspiring model (who’s appeared in campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch and JC Penney, among others) and singer. "Being on Chopped kind of inspired me to do more things will take me even further," she says. "My goal for 2016 is to have my own cooking show."
Emma Immanivong’s episode of Chopped: Junior airs Tuesday, January 12. A watch party will be held at Chino Chinatown, where Emma will prepare some of the dishes she created for the show.