If you watched this season of MasterChef Junior, you probably remember vegetarian contestant Mia Evans. Mia is 12 years old and was born with a rare genetic condition called PKU that requires her to follow a strict, low-protein, diet for life. Mia learned to cook so she could maintain her diet and used her cooking skills to earn a spot on MasterChef Junior.
We talked to Mia about her favorite things to cook and eat, what being a vegetarian means, and we also learned a little bit about PKU.
Name: Mia Evans
Where you live: Leander, Texas
ChopChop: What inspired you to try out for MasterChef Junior?
Mia: I regularly watch MasterChef Junior and one day I noticed a casting call that wasn’t too far from where I live. So, I decided to try out for fun. I applied and when I found out I had an audition, I told my mom and dad they needed to drive me to Houston.
ChopChop: What was the best part of the show?
Mia: The whole show was really exciting! I got to go meet kids that are interested in what I’m interested in. Connecting and cooking with them was ridiculously fun. I liked getting to cook with cool stuff, too, like white asparagus and a fish called an Arctic char. I even got to use a blowtorch with my marshmallow dish!
ChopChop: Can you tell us a little bit about PKU and how it affects what you can eat?
Mia: I was diagnosed with PKU when I was born. It’s a disease that stops my body from digesting protein. Basically, protein gets caught in my blood stream and it can cause serious brain damage and other complications without the right diet and treatment. I can only really have 20 grams of protein a day. The genetics specialists at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, a member of Ascension, have been there since the beginning helping my parents and me understand how my body works and maintain my diet my entire life.
ChopChop: Can you explain to kids who might not know what a vegetarian is?
Mia: A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t believe in eating meat or doesn’t eat meat for health reasons.
ChopChop: What kind of vegetarian foods do you love?
Mia: Some of my favorite things to eat are potatoes and pizza. I also eat a lot of soups, stews and chili because they’re easy and fun to experiment with. My mom and I recently made a delicious chili with bulgur wheat.
A recent favorite is this recipe for mushroom pizza:
1 6-inch square flatbread
2 tablespoons Pesto
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
3 tablespoons sliced roasted red pepper
5 cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt/pepper and crushed red pepper flakes (if you like spicy)
Top the flatbread or any other pizza crust with pesto and half of the cheese. Then add the mushrooms, roasted peppers, and tomatoes and top with the remaining cheese and salt and fresh ground pepper. Bake at 400 degrees until the toppings melt, usually around 8-10 minutes. Serves 1.
ChopChop: Some kids might think you need meat to get protein. How do you get protein?
Mia: Traditional vegetarians eat a lot of nuts, dairy and grains to get their protein. My body can’t handle protein from animals or other food sources so I have to be careful and eat foods with little or no protein. To make sure I stay health and grow, I have a special shake that gets me all the nutrients I need. The team at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, a member of Ascension, recommended it to my parents when I was born and it’s been a part of my diet my whole life.
ChopChop: What is one vegetarian recipe all kids should learn to cook?
Mia: Potato tacos! It’s potatoes with taco seasoning, corn and a few other ingredients. It’s really easy and tasty, and I think any kid can learn to make it. Pancakes are good to know how to make, too! There are so many different options.
3 large red potatoes(diced)
1 Poblano Pepper(diced)
1 ear fresh corn (cut kernels off the cob)
½ teaspoon: ancho chili powder, chipotle chili powder, cumin, chili lime spice, and smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon: cinnamon
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Queso Fresco(crumble on top)
Sauté potatoes, pepper, onion and corn in oil for about 5 minutes, add the spices and continue to cook until tender. Put filling mixture in a tortilla and top with Queso Fresco.
ChopChop: What is the first thing you remember cooking?
Mia: When I first started cooking I made a lot of soups and recipes with potatoes because there are so many recipe variations. In the beginning, my mom and I experimented with pancakes a lot.
ChopChop: Have you ever messed up a recipe? What was it and what happened?
Mia: Oh yes, plenty of times! Just a couple months ago I was trying to make a hollandaise sauce and ended up going through two cartons of eggs. When I first started cooking I was always burning everything. It was hard for me to get the different temperatures right and I’ve burnt myself many times.
ChopChop: What is the most fun part of cooking?
Mia: I love layering flavors and adding new flavors to make it my own. Cooking is like art – you make it your own and can be as creative as you want with different combinations.
ChopChop: Do you want to be a professional chef when you grow up, or is there something else you want to do?
Mia: I haven’t really decided yet, but I would love to be a chef!
ChopChop: If you could cook a meal for anyone in the world, who would it be?
Mia: Alton Brown! He’s my all-time favorite. Gordon Ramsey didn’t appreciate that much on the show.
ChopChop: What advice do you have for kids who haven’t cooked before and may be a little nervous?
Mia: My biggest piece of advice is not to substitute things. When I started out cooking, I would try to substitute ingredients we didn’t have in the house for other things and it never turned out the way I expected. It’s best to start simple and follow the recipe.