The only hint that gave away whether Addison Osta Smith became the fourth MasterChef Junior was a net filled with balloons hanging above the large-screen television at Brian Boru’s in Forest Park.
Now, watch parties are usually reserved for sports, political events and an occasional episode of Downton Abbey.
But Friday night’s event had a definite local interest and flavor as more than 250 people packed in to cheer on the 10-year-old Roosevelt Middle School fifth-grader, who was a finalist on the Fox TV Network cooking competition show hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
Certainly the party was well-suited to a finale. “Pre-game” festivities included plenty of finger food and Addison’s homemade cupcakes topped off with M&Ms. Friends and family hugged and chatted with Addison, who at “game time” still kept the name of the winner (figuratively) under the signature backwards baseball cap she wore during each and every episode.
Addison’s dad, Tony, tossed out orange baseball caps for dozens of friends and fellow sports teammates who got them autographed and wore them ala Addison all night. The din was ear-piercing and the drama clicked ever upwards as the audience waited for the 7 p.m. start time.
“I’m so glad you’re here to support Addison,” her dad, Tony Smith, told the crowd.
Addison shouted, “Enjoy the show!”
Cheers and words of encouragement were plentiful as Addison and the other finalist, Avery Kyle from Baton Rouge went through their paces, running to the pantry to pick out the food for the dishes — appetizer, entrée and dessert — they had to prepare. Addison chose a Pan-Asian menu of sake-marinated shrimp, miso black cod and green tea panna cotta, which all three hosts praised as restaurant-quality.
Tension filled Brian Boru while Addison and Avery created their fare. The oxygen in the room vanished in one audible gasp when Addison cut her finger. She may have lost a bit of time, but she soldiered on.
Cliffhangers with nearly every commercial break produced other high drama – and an even more hushed audience, especially when Ramsay and fellow judges Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi were to announce something dramatic about a dish that the girls prepared.
When Ramsay announced Addison’s name as the winner, the restaurant went up for grabs. The balloons fell, confetti swirled, the kids and some adults whooped and rushed to congratulate her. She was the first girl to win the competition, and at 9 (when the show was taped last spring), she was the youngest.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I don’t have any plans,” said an exhausted Addison, who continued to chat, autograph baseball caps and balloons.
Friends thought the whole thing was pretty cool.
“I loved how hard she competed and how hard she worked,” said 9-year-old Sarah Wax, who met Addison at Lincoln Elementary School. “I’d love for her to give me a couple of pointers on how to cook.”
Watching her win was something that her great-aunt, Kathleen Osta, didn’t want to miss. So Thursday night she cashed in all of her frequent flier miles and jetted out Friday from Asheville, North Carolina, arriving at 2 p.m. that afternoon.
“She’s fearless. That’s her spirit. I had to be here,” Osta said. “It was the best use of those miles.”