Rahanna Bisseret Martinez Sets the Stage for a Future in Food
The 16-year-old Top Chef Junior finalist has her whole career in front of her, and she's not wasting a second of it.
A few years ago, Rahanna Bisseret Martinez reached out on Instagram to invite me to watch her compete on the first season of Top Chef Junior. My wife and I cheered her on as she became a finalist, then staged at Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley, Compère Lapin in New Orleans, and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, and worked with chefs like Emeril Lagasse. Her maturity and determination would be impressive at any age, and knowing she’s part of the future of food makes me optimistic. We spoke on the phone as she prepared to cook at the James Beard House in New York City. — Julia
I'm touched by how passionate you are about food and everything that food represents. Does living in the East Bay, such a food-driven place, fuel your journey?
That's a large part of it. I can go and eat at different places and have completely different food and experiences. I've always gone to restaurants owned by women and people of color, so I've never had an impostor feeling in the kitchen.
Do you like being on TV?
I love it. At first it was stressful to do competition TV but towards the end I realized I’m going to win or I’m not going to win, but at least I’m going to have fun with it.
You sounded like you were smiling when you said that. What's the most fun part?
Getting to cook with anything I want, and having completely creative ideas. In a competition setting, you’re trying to do your best while being concise. I also love getting to work with equipment I don’t have at home.
My wife Grace isn't putting out ingredients for me, setting a timer and saying “Go!” Maybe I should ask her to do that? You’ve also cooked in so many restaurants and have had so many experiences. Does one stand out more than another?
Even though every kitchen is different, they have certain qualities, like the teamwork and the organization. I play tennis and I’m part of a leadership team there. So I help out with younger kids. Tennis is really cool in regards to cooking because it shares the same qualities of working with other people as well as with yourself.
That’s so interesting because I think of tennis as an individual sport.
Tennis isn't about winning or losing; it's about playing the best that you could and doing the best you can under stress and pressure—something that's also part of cooking.
Without overthinking, what do you love most about being in the kitchen?
Using recipes from my family and learning more about my family through the food.
The most recent thing I cooked was beignets with Earl Grey powdered sugar.
I put The Great British Bake Off on my screen of choice when I need to escape for an hour.
Beyoncé’s music makes me energized.
I think of the farmers market when I need some inspiration.
My fridge always has fresh herbs waiting for me.