CUTIES COOKIN’

WE TAGGED ALONG WITH TOP CHEF JU­NIOR STARSAND REAL-LIFE BUDS NIKKI BIDUN AND OLIVIA ACOSTA TO SEE WHAT THEY COOK WHEN THE CAM­ERAS ARE OFF.

Rachael Ray Every Day - - Contents - BY GRACE RASMUS

iIf you saw Nikki Bidun and Olivia Acosta to­gether, you might think they’re just reg­u­lar ol’ kids. But when you hear their con­ver­sa­tion slip into the specifics of sous vide cook­ing, you quickly re­al­ize that this duo is dif­fer­ent. Here’s why: The girls be­came friends as con­tes­tants on Top Chef Ju­nior, hav­ing spent sev­eral months to­gether in Los An­ge­les while film­ing the show. Dur­ing the sea­son, Nikki, 12, who was just crowned the Top Chef Ju­nior champ, helped Olivia, 11, make chicken wings for the first time, and they laughed to­gether when Olivia hit a tar­get with a foot­ball to dunk host Cur­tis Stone into a wa­ter tank.

Off-cam­era, the girls bonded over bul­let jour­nal­ing, a dumpling restau­rant near the stu­dio (“we went al­most ev­ery day,” says Olivia), and a mu­tual ob­ses­sion with cook­ing. “When we weren’t film­ing, we’d grill steak on the rooftop deck or watch episodes of Chef’s Ta­ble or re­search restau­rants in the area,” Nikki says. At five-eight, she’s a full foot taller than Olivia, and the girls tend to fall all over each other as they talk and gig­gle. Even elim­i­na­tions couldn’t keep them apart: In the fi­nale, Nikki brought Olivia back as her sous chef to help pre­pare her winning short rib ragu.

Back home in the New York tris­tate area—nikki lives in Man­hat­tan and Olivia is a Jersey girl—they get to­gether when­ever they can. They both started se­ri­ously cook­ing around age seven af­ter out­grow­ing the ba­sic kid-friendly stuff like bak­ing cook­ies. To­day the chefs are mak­ing home­made gnocchi with a spinach–brus­sels sprout pesto and Parme­san crisps. Gnocchi is a great thing to make with friends, Olivia says: “You just roll the dough around your fork over and over again. You can talk and talk and play mu­sic and re­lax.” Olivia lis­tens to Sara Bareilles while she cooks; Nikki is more of an AC/DC fan. For dessert, they’re mak­ing lemon pos­set, a cus­tardy dessert sim­i­lar to panna cotta. “Didn’t I tell you it’s bet­ter than curd?” Olivia squeals as her friend takes a big bite. How sweet is that?

SOME PEO­PLE UN­DER­ES­TI­MATE ME AS A KID CHEF,” SAYS OLIVIA. “BUT WHEN I START TALK­ING ABOUT MY TECH­NIQUES, THEY’RE PRETTY IM­PRESSED! IT’S FUN TO SUR­PRISE PEO­PLE.”

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