Soldier’s daughter wins big on Food Network

| September 15, 2017 | 0 Comments

Taliah Dancil prepares ingredients for her mother for lunch at their home on Helemano Military Reservation, Sept. 2. (Photo by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications)

Kristen Wong
Contributing Writer
HELEMANO MILITARY RESERVATION — How many teenagers can say they successfully cooked insects for actor David Arquette?

Taliah Dancil, the daughter of Staff Sgt. Dontavis Dancil, A Company, 325th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and her food-blogger mother Jamiah, did just that last year.

Taliah Dancil poses in front of shopping carts on the set of ÒGuyÕs Grocery Games.Ó (Courtesy of Jamiah Dancil)

The 13 year old was the grand-prize winner of $10,000 on Season 4, Episode 2 of the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior,” last year, entitled “Bug Bites,” as well as the $20,000 grand-prize winner on Season 14, Episode 2 of the Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games,” entitled “Guy’s Grocery Games Juniors” last month.

While watching TV, Dancil saw “Chopped Junior,” and asked her mother if she could be on the show.

“I want to be on TV,” she said. “Little kids dream to be on TV.”

After applying and undergoing interviews, Taliah was on the show.

Taliah Dancil prepares ingredients for her mother for lunch at their home on Helemano Military Reservation, Sept. 2. (Photo by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications)

“Boss Frog”
The budding chef, who calls herself “Chef Grande Grenouille,” or “Boss Frog,” learned to cook from her mother and grandmother.

Taliah has offered to help in the kitchen since she was 4. By the time she was 7, she had learned to make simple foods such as toast or eggs. Sometimes, it was not uncommon for Jamiah to see her daughter experimenting in the kitchen.

“Chopped Junior” features young chefs in a cooking competition. Dancil, then 11 years old, competed against three other children, preparing an appetizer, entrée and dessert.

Taliah Dancil cracks open an ostrich egg during an episode of “Chopped Junior” entitled “Bug Bites.” The competitors were asked to make a dessert out of an ostrich egg, fairy bread, sesame seed candy and muscat grapes.

“‘Chopped Junior’ was kind of stressful for me, since it was my first time ever doing any competitive cooking show,” Taliah said. “But it was also fun because I got to meet other kids and explore the world of what it’s like of being on a TV cooking show. Ted Allen (host of “Chopped Junior”) was nice; he offered to help us open jars and things like pick up the Kitchen Aid if we needed help carrying it, cause it was heavy.”

Competitors were given half an hour to prepare each dish, using surprise ingredients from a basket provided. Taliah worked with ingredients such as fairy bread, bug kebabs and aloe marmalade.

The chefs worked to impress three judges: Arquette; Scott Conant, a chef and restaurateur; and Jake Smolett, an actor and food blogger.

Taliah’s first dish was a critter-crusted chorizo wrap with sofrito zucchini.

“I do love that Taliah ground (the insects) up and put them around the chorizo,” said Arquette, who was less than thrilled to eat insects. “I think she disguised it the best.”

Actor and food blogger Jake Smolett describes the presentation of Taliah Dancil’s entrŽe as “five-star restaurant” quality. (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

Dancil’s entrée, a cereal-crusted branzino with aloe marmalade sauce was given a favorable review by Smolett.

Kudos and invites
“Taliah’s presentation was outstanding; it was definitely five-star restaurant,” Smolett said.

In addition to the $10,000, Taliah also received a chef’s jacket.

“My thought was ‘Yes! Oh my god she did it! She rocked it!’” said mother Jamiah, who watched the show from a separate room with the other competitors’ parents.

Guy Fieri, host of “Guy’s Grocery Games,” gives Taliah Dancil a hand with her dish. (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The Food Network contacted Mrs. Dancil to ask if Taliah could compete on “Guy’s Grocery Games.”

During this show, Taliah again competed with three other chefs close to her age. During each of two rounds, competitors were given half an hour to grab ingredients from the show’s makeshift grocery store, cook and plate a dish.

In the first round, the chefs made a “school lunch remake,” choosing either string cheese or chicken nuggets to complement their dish. In the second round, the chefs were asked to cook an international dish with only 7 pounds worth of ingredients.

“I had to give back the powdered garlic,” Taliah said, as her ingredients exceeded 7 pounds. “It was so terrible.”

Competitors cooked for judges cookbook author Kenji Lopez-Alt, food reporter Brandi Milloy and Food Network host Damaris Phillips.

During the international dish round, Taliah chose to prepare a shrimp Mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish, with a tomato-based sauce.

Taliah Dancil cooks Mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish for judges, during “Guy’s Grocery Games.” (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

“It is absolutely delicious and the amount of seafood flavor that you actually got into your sauce in that amount of time is incredible,” Phillips commented.

At the end of the show, Taliah sped through the makeshift grocery store, picking up five items worth $4,000 each, in order to win the grand prize of $20,000. Each item had a clue, such as a “long, thin pasta with a heavenly sounding name,” (angel hair pasta).

“It’s amazing and it definitely makes me proud … seeing your kid going out doing what you do and performing very well, and knowing you taught them and they were listening,” Jamiah said.

When she is not cooking, Taliah also enjoys arts and crafts, sewing, making jewelry, and collecting rocks. As for her future, Taliah is still deciding. She is considering becoming a geologist, or having her own TV show. She also thinks about studying film and media at Yale University.

 

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