Thirteen-year-old Sadie Suskind discovered her love for cooking before she could even walk. After watching her family prepare traditional dishes for the Jewish holidays, Suskind quickly started lending a tiny hand in the kitchen. By the time she was 6 years old, she was helping her mother prepare an entire Passover dinner.
Fast forward to this year, when the teen took her passion for food all the way to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef Junior, the kid-oriented spinoff of FOX’s intense cooking competition, MasterChef. Selected as one of 24 contestants from across the country, Suskind made it to the semifinals with dishes inspired by classic French cuisine with hints of Jewish flavors, like spaetzle with cabbage and apples.
“I feel super connected to my Jewish heritage,” she says. “It’s always been a tremendous part of my life and family. And it’s been comfort food for me.”
Throughout the competition, Suskind impressed the notoriously tough judge with dishes like her citrus mille-feuille and an olive oil poached halibut. She also won on episode three with her famous pink Champagne cake coated in rose buttercream and raspberry jam — a concoction that perfectly summarizes Suskind’s bubbly yet sophisticated personality.
Suskind admits that she was intimidated by Ramsay at first but found his mentorship to be priceless. She recalls his guiding words: “If you want to be a chef, follow your dreams,” she says. “You don’t need to play by the rules. Don’t just go by the recipe. I’ve used his advice on the daily in my school work when I have to do a big test. The same thing can be applied to all parts of life.”
Back at home, famous Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas took notice of Suskind’s talent. After participating in 13 episodes of MasterChef Junior, the pint-sized cook met Douglas and talked with him about their shared interests in food and the environment.
“Tom is my spirit animal and a huge idol of mine,” she says. “I have every one of his cookbooks. When I finally got to meet him in person, he was everything I thought he would be: kind, smart, cool-headed, and just a really down-to-earth person.”
Suskind’s recognition from accomplished chefs and her eloquent vocabulary make it easy to forget that she’s still in middle school. In her busy schedule balancing school and theater practice, cooking isn’t just a pastime, but also a stress reliever.
“[Cooking is] very therapeutic. I know that after a hard day I can stuff my hands in bread dough and knead away my stress.”
This summer, Suskind and her family will travel to France to follow in the footsteps of her biggest inspiration, Julia Child. The teen will visit Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris before heading to the South of France, where Child spent her summers. There, she will spend a week taking cooking classes.
At such a young age, Suskind’s passion for French cuisine and national television appearances are already mirroring Child’s career.
This trip will be the rose buttercream icing on the cake.
Salmon Leek Filo Pouches
Yield: 2 pouches
This recipe is adapted from Gino D’Acampo’s salmon and mascarpone leek parcels recipe. Sadie would bathe in creme fraiche if she were allowed to, and she will always swap it in when another soft cheese or cream is in a recipe. After talking at length with one of her biggest cooking heroes, Tom Douglas, she is fully committed to sustainable fishing efforts in the Pacific Northwest and will only cook with wild salmon. Sadie says, “In order to save the wild salmon, we have to eat them!”
4 leeks, sliced and chopped
5 T butter
½ c creme fraiche
2 skinless salmon fillets
salt and pepper
To prepare the leeks:
Wash and dry leeks and cut into slices, discarding the darker, thicker parts, and then chop finely. Add the chopped leeks into a saucepan with 3 T of butter and 2 T of water and sauté for 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender and translucent. Let the leeks cool, then add the creme fraiche and salt and pepper to taste.
To make the pouches:
1. Heat oven to 390°. 2. Lay out a sheet of filo on the countertop, and using a pastry brush, brush gently with melted butter. Repeat with two more sheets of filo. Place salmon fillet in the center of the sheets, gently feel for any bones that may be lurking and remove them, then spoon a large portion of the sautéed leeks over the salmon fillet and season with more salt and pepper. Fold the ends of the filo over the top of the fillet, then pull the sides over to enclose the salmon. Feel free to scrunch the tops of the filo to create a ruffled “package” look on top of the pouch. Repeat with second fillet. 3. Place the pouches on a lightly greased baking sheet, brush them with more melted butter, and cook for 20 minutes until the filo is nicely browned. 4. Decorate your pouches with fresh herbs and serve with green veggies or salad.
Summer Strawberry Tart with Lavender and Honey Cream
The strawberry tart is adapted from Mary Berry Everyday. Sadie adores Mary Berry in large part because she is British — both Sadie's maternal grandparents are from the UK. Sadie’s grandmother, Sally, was a superb cook and loved to bake with Sadie.
For the pastry:
1 c plain flour, plus extra for dusting
3.5 oz (about ½ c) almonds
2.6 oz (about 5 T) powdered sugar
6 oz (¾ c) cold butter cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk
For the lavender sugar:
10.5 oz (1⅓ c) granulated sugar
¾ T dried lavender
For the filling:
9 oz (about 1 c) mascarpone
220 ml (about 1 c) heavy cream
4 T lavender sugar (above), plus extra to serve
4 T lavender honey
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus 2 T juice
2 T lemon juice (or more for a tarter flavor; you can add ¼ c creme fraiche to cut the sweetness if you prefer a less sweet filling)
25 oz (about 3 c) strawberries, hulled
Mint leaves, thyme leaves, or any other herb that is in season
1. Blend the flour, almonds, sugar, butter, and a pinch of salt in a food processor until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Beat one egg yolk with 1 tsp water and add it to the dough. Mix gently until everything is well combined. If necessary, add some extra water. Roll the pastry into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until firm. 2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Gently drape the pastry over a 10-inch tart tin with a removable base (it should be 1 inch deep). If the pastry breaks apart, simply press it into the tin and patch wherever necessary. Prick the base with a fork. Place the tin in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. 3. Heat the oven to 390°. Make the lavender sugar by blending the ingredients in a food processor for 1 minute until combined. Set aside until ready to use.
4. Line the chilled pastry case with parchment pie weights, baking beans, or rice, and pre-bake it for 15 minutes until the sides are holding their shape. Remove the paper and weights and bake for 5–7 more minutes until the pastry is golden. Let it completely cool in the tin, then gently remove it.
5. For the filling, beat the mascarpone with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth, add the cream, and beat with an electric whisk until it’s holding its shape. Add the lavender sugar and honey, orange zest, and orange and lemon juice. Whisk to combine, and check for sweetness. Add creme fraiche and/or more lemon juice to cut the sweetness if desired. 6. Fill a pastry bag with the cream filling, piped in or just spread over the pastry crust.
7. Arrange the strawberries on top. If they’re smaller in size, just lay them in, pointed side up. If large, slice them about the thickness of a quarter, then layer them in overlapping slices, using the bigger slices for the middle of the tart and the smaller ones toward the edge. 8. Sift more of the lavender sugar on top, then decorate with mint and thyme.