Marty Snyder might seem like the average nine-year-old, playing basketball, travel baseball and hoverboarding in his free time. But his talent in the kitchen and passion for creative cuisine has landed him a coveted spot on Food Network’s show Chopped Junior.
Now in its fourth season, Chopped Junior uses the same basic principles and challenges as Chopped, but is only open to contestants between the ages of nine and 15. During each episode, contestants are challenged to make three separate dishes: an appetizer, entrée and dessert. They must use specific ingredients from a mystery basket, which often contains highly unusual foods. A panel of judges critiques each round to determine who the episode winner will be. On January 3, Snyder will compete for the title and a prize of $10,000 and bragging rights.
The bright blue-eyed Berwyn resident developed his love for food early in life, with help from his mom, Michelle. “I started chopping little carrots and vegetables with my plastic knives when I was four,” he says.
Michelle noticed that her son’s tastes were different than most children his age. “He had an interest in cooking. He stopped ordering off the kids’ menu very early on; he really wanted to eat adult foods,” she recalls. Snyder would prepare dishes with unique combinations of food that Michelle says she never would have thought to put together. “I realized he really does have a talent for creating things, to go off recipe,” she says.
A long-time fan of Food Network shows, particularly Chopped and Chopped Junior, the Snyders began discussing the possibility of their son applying for the show in March of last year. “It’s always been his dream. There was a little trepidation because there was a lot of pressure. He said ‘This is my dream,’ so we said, ‘Okay, it’s our dream too. Let’s pursue it,’” says Michelle.
The audition process was a lengthy one that began with an online application and video of Snyder playing baseball and making his signature steak tower—“steer filet mignon, mashed potato balsamic reduction with mushrooms and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto,” he says of the dish he created at the age of eight. They went through multiple interviews before finally learning that he had been cast. “I was very, very excited and had a few tears,” says Snyder.
His parents had a similar reaction. “We were so proud of Marty for making it and putting in the work to dedicate that time when he could have been outside playing,” Michelle says of her and her husband’s response. “He really just decided this was what he wanted to do and it was important to him. This was a dream come true for him, so it was a dream come true for us.”
To prepare for the show, the Snyders had their own versions of Chopped at home, printing out some recipes from well-known chefs and looking at the ingredients in previous Chopped Junior baskets. “I definitely like the creative,” says Snyder of the unique no-recipe format.
“We did a lot of work in the kitchen, but it was fun because we got to spend a lot of time together and even more connection with Marty and I cooking,” says Michelle. “Most of [the baskets] worked out really well and we were realizing that he’s going to be okay on the show.”
Filming took place in May in the New York studio. For the most part, Snyder says the experience lived up to his expectations, though he admits he was a little nervous with the cameras and set lights. “It was kind of overwhelming because you’re going fast, but also slow,” he says, not expecting breaks in between courses and judging.
While filming was taking place, the crew would switch the feed on every so often, giving the waiting parents, including Michelle, a glimpse into what was going on. “There was a lot of nerves in the room, but it was exciting just to be there,” she says. “It was an amazing experience, really fun.”
Snyder echoes his mother’s sentiments. While he’s not completely sure what the future holds—he hasn’t ruled out a career as a professional bowler—he has already come up with a name for his Mediterranean and Italian restaurant: Marty Gras. For now, it seems he’ll enjoy being a nine-year-old and continuing to enhance his already impressive cooking skills.
Tune in to Food Network on Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. to find out whether Snyder was on the chopping block or went home victorious.
In the Kitchen with Marty
Favorite dish to make:Steak tower
Dish he most wants to master:Eggs Benedict
Favorite appliance or tool:A baseball spatula I got for Christmas
Favorite chefs: Geoffrey Zakarian, Bobby Flay, Alex Guarnaschelli
Ingredient: I love rib-eye