No one told Logan Guleff there would be fangirls.
As confetti rained down on the 12-year-old MasterChef Junior winner ("You can't replicate that confetti," he says, "not on the scale that Hollywood does it."), furthest from his mind were the legions of girls from all over the world, charmed by his blond mop of hair and dapper bow ties, who would soon be following him on every social media outlet and tweeting him hand-drawn portraits of his face.
He gets quiet, even blushes a bit, when his mom pulls out her phone to show me just a few of the portraits they've received, many of them from his fans in southeast Asia. But he comes to life when he shows off his kitchen tools -- three knives, including a sheathed one he calls "the sword," and a brand new espresso machine from his grandmother. It's the day after Christmas, almost exactly a year since Guleff decided to try out for the competition cooking show hosted by celebrity chef and kitchen taskmaster Gordon Ramsay.
"My dad watched the last season of the show," he says. "He said, 'Logan! You like cooking, you like kids. You should like this!' I was just like, 'No, because I could go on that. I could win.'"
The last time I interviewed Logan Guleff was long before the fangirls, before he had his own Wikipedia page. He was on his way to the White House to show off his recipe for Tuna Schooners -- tuna salad served in hollowed out peppers with lettuce leaf sails -- as part of the Epicurious Healthy Lunch Challenge.
Even after winning MasterChef Junior, garnering national and international attention, and earning the chance to work with Gordon Ramsay, Guleff still says going to the White House and meeting the president was his favorite experience. "It's hard to top that," he says.
Of course, the $100,000 prize and new refrigerator and light-up trophy he got from his MasterChef Junior victory is not too shabby. But Logan is still just a 12-year-old kid -- getting chided by his mom for little conversational tics -- and since he's not touching that prize money just yet, he's geeking out over his new espresso machine when I sit down with him and his mom Kim at their Memphis, Tennessee, home for a brief interview.
Hot Dish: Last time I talked to you, you were heading to the White House. What cooking techniques or styles have you conquered since then?
Logan: Well, you can never really conquer anything. If you forget how to do something because you think, "Oh I've conquered that I can forget about it," it of course comes back to you. The kitchen is a very hard place to be because you can have a bad day easily. Anybody can have a bad day. And when you have a bad day you just order pizza.
What about when you made your winning dish, the salt-crusted Branzino? Did you know you were having a good day in the kitchen?
Logan: I was very happy about how it went through and about how I managed the time. It was all Spanish-inspired. The chefs in Spain are really revolutionizing food. This one guy in Spain has redone the egg. He's taken the egg and made an edible shell and filled it with cream.
Are you interested in that kind of innovation? How would you describe your cooking style?
Logan: For me it's all about tinkering. I really enjoy that side of things. That's why I enjoy making spice blends. You're messing with it and you make it better or you make it worse and then you go back.
Kim: We let him make a big mess. We let him explore his creativity. I have enough cooking ability to say, "Okay, that's a good idea, and this is what that would be like." Sometimes he does stuff -- like he poached an egg in lemon soda. And he said, "If I poach this egg in lemon soda it's gonna be delicious," and I said, "Oh, I don't know about that."
Logan: Part of it was delicious! The white was delicious. The yolk was disgusting.
So what's the dish you're most proud of right now?
Logan: I really like my green grape salsa. It was really interesting to me that when you add a fruit to something spicy it can really make a cool blend. I also really like my Mediterranean pork roast that's in the FutureChefs cookbook. My dad always asks for the leftovers.
What's a technique or ingredient you really want to try?
Logan: Some of the cooler techniques out there involve sous vide, but I haven't done that yet. The smoking gun is fun.
The smoking gun?
Logan: It's a weird little implement that looks kind of like a gun and you put the wood chips in and light them and there's a little fan that poofs out the smoke. We have a smoker and it's nice for smoking a big huge chunk of meat, but if you want to smoke something little, you need something else. Coming from Memphis, smoke's a big flavor and you have to know what it goes well with and how to use it.
How do you like to use it?
Logan: I've smoked some drinks actually. I've smoked lemonade. I added rosemary and peppercorns and smoked it and it came out delicious.
Kim: When he got the smoking gun we let him smoke everything in the house that he could possibly smoke, which included things that should never be smoked. But then the lemonade was a nice surprise.
Not your average lemonade stand.
Logan: I never wanted to have a lemonade stand. I always wanted to do a coffee stand, so I'd have the coffee and the cream and a little espresso machine.
Kim: He said, "Nobody buys lemonade." But he wouldn't sacrifice quality and not make the coffee fresh so he had us out there with power cords so he could be the barista.
When we talked two years ago, you were interested in being an astronaut, a garbageman, and a lot of other things. What do you want to be now?
Logan: An astronaut and a garbageman and an oceanographer and a chef and maybe a salesman.
I don't know how good you are at taking out the garbage, but it sounds like you're closest to being a chef of all those things. What would your dream restaurant be?
Logan: An underwater restaurant. Basically there would be a main dining area with booths and tables. Not very many tables. I don't like tables, the kind with a bunch of chairs. I like booths. There will be a small bar area, and booths, and then there will be a submarine deck and little submarines will go out to exclusive, private dining areas on the reef.
What kind of food?
Logan: Pretty much everything. But probably not a lot of Ethiopian food.
Not a fan of Ethiopian food?
Logan: A long time ago I ate too much sourdough at an Ethiopian place and it made me sick. I haven't been back.
What was it like working with Gordon Ramsay? Is he really as tough in person as he seems?
Logan: Everybody asks that question. Here's the canned response: Working with Gordon Ramsay was very cool and very fun. It wouldn't be a show if he didn't yell at you.
Okay, the non-canned response?
Logan: His standards are very high. That's really why he yells at you because you're not meeting his standards. "If you don't meet his standards you're not meeting your standards." That's the line I came up with.
Kim: Logan really wanted the experience he saw on TV. When chef Ramsay held them to his standard of food, Logan was joyful. Even though he got yelled at, Logan was excited about that because it meant that he really did work with Gordon Ramsay on the line.
Did you make friends on the show?
Logan: Eh, yeah. It was like meeting a bunch of me's. I didn't want to have competition and we were all very competitive.
So was MasterChef Junior fun? Anxiety-inducing? Both?
Logan: There wasn't really anything anxiety-inducing. It was an amazing experience. I'm very happy I did it. Proved to everybody that was there when I said "I could do that" that I can do that.
Kim: It's true, you did. We ate our words.
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