Ann Arbor teen cooking (and dancing) his way through “Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook-Off”

Young Michigan native explains his love for cooking, meeting Rachael Ray, and why he dances while he cooks.

            Christopher Ekpiken, 13, is from Ann Arbor, Michigan and has been cooking for over seven years. He said that his love for cooking came from his parents. Since his mom is from New Orleans and his dad is from Nigeria, Ekpiken believes that he is able to take from both of those cultures and cook something special.

            “Cooking is a huge part of my parents’ culture so I saw them cooking and making stuff when I was younger and then I just started getting into it. I found it to be really fun,” said Ekpiken.

            After watching different shows featuring junior chefs on Food Network, Ekpiken decided to send in an audition tape to the “Chopped Teen Tournament.” Since he was only 12 at the time, the audition tape went to “Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook-Off” and he was selected to be one of eight junior chefs to compete on the Rachael Ray hosted show.

            The competition takes eight of the country’s most talent junior chefs and puts their skills to the test with various cooking challenges and other obstacles. Every week, Rachael Ray and a special guest judge guide the kids through culinary challenges, with one contestant being sent home each week. The winner of the competition receives a $20,000 culinary scholarship along with their own web series on

            One of the biggest thrills about being on the show for Ekpiken was meeting Rachael Ray. He said that she has just as much energy off camera as she does on and that she treated them all like her children. He added that although everyone was very nice, it was still a competition and that it was not all fun and games.

            “It was fun and a little stressful doing everything because you don’t want to get eliminated,” said Ekpiken. “I was nervous, but once I won that first challenge I was just ecstatic. I thought ‘I got this’ and my competitive side came out.”

            One way Ekpiken keeps his cool in the kitchen is by dancing. Once again, he says that his parents influenced this.

            “My dad is from Nigeria so he was teaching me a lot of Nigerian dances. So when I started cooking, dancing would make me calm while I was cooking,” said Ekpiken.

            The six-episode competition has aired two episodes, and Ekpiken has done exceptionally well. On each of the first two episodes he won one competition, even earning a special “5 All Day” rating from special judge Daymon Patterson in the second episode. Tonight’s episode is entitled “Hasta La Pasta” and will feature Chef Fabio Viviani.

            “Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook-Off” airs Monday nights at 8 p.m. on Food Network.