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Local kids cleaning up on 'Chopped Junior'

If you're keeping score, they're two for two going into Tuesday night's episode of the Ted Allen-hosted Food Network show.

Local kids are popping up on Chopped Junior this season.

If you're keeping score, they're two for two going into Tuesday night's episode of the Ted Allen-hosted Food Network show, in which boys and girls ages 9 to 15 rush to cook deliciousness from a basket of mystery ingredients and common pantry items. The four contestants' dishes are judged in three rounds, and the winner of each show takes home $10,000.

Ellie Kuhnle of Doylestown, a sixth grader at Bridge Valley Elementary School, won her episode just before Halloween.

Henry McDaniel of West Philadelphia, a seventh grader at Penn Alexander School, won his show a week later.

Next up (Tuesday, Dec. 15, 8 p.m.) is Dylan Marcus, 13, of Cherry Hill, the oldest of three boys, who says, "I'm home-schooling myself." Come again? "I go to [South Jersey] Sudbury School, where you learn on your own desire, whatever you want to learn." He says he taught himself string theory after dabbling in algebra and trigonometry, and is now "learning about the brain and what it does."

Dylan says he has been cooking since he was 3, when he made what he calls "a little thing out of cereal clusters where I melted my own chocolate."

Nowadays, his go-to dish is linguine and clams - "and if I feel like it, I make homemade pasta." The chef at Forno, an Italian restaurant near his home, has shown him the ropes and lets him use the kitchen.
As for a cooking career, Dylan says, "I don't know yet. I'm kind of thinking about it. At the same time, I'm not so sure. You have to work a ton. It's a 24-hour thing."

Meanwhile, Ellie Kuhnle, 11, whose basket of ingredients in one round on the Oct. 27 show included lamb loin, said she has been in the kitchen since 2 or 3, but it was "around 8 when I started to love cooking. I was allowed to cook by myself. My parents said, 'Just don't burn yourself.'"

She's an inveterate experimenter, hoping to achieve "small successes. ... I love to play around and go with the flow - kind of like make whatever I feel like making." Hence, her idea to encrust swordfish in cotton-candy cookies.

She said she was "really excited" before the show. "It takes me a lot to get me nervous. The fact that I got nervous was really crazy."

Henry McDaniel, 12, who won Nov. 3, loves social studies and history and has been cooking since age 8 when "I remember helping my mom whisking eggs."

Henry has traveled extensively with his dad, Justin, a professor at Penn, to such places as Thailand, Japan, Korea, and Singapore, which influences his palate as well as his cooking. He has an affinity for Cajun food from a trip to New Orleans, as well.

Witness his first course, which was tomatillo gazpacho with chili-spiced pork belly, sriracha, ancho chiles, and cayenne, followed by crab leg pasta with mango Thai curry, coconut milk, sriracha, and red onion.

His dessert, cinching victory, was a Dutch baby - a popover - served with mangosteen-strawberry compote.

He said he may turn his interest in history into a catering business, re-creating historical meals.

Rounding out the locals are 12-year-old twins Emily and Lyla Allen of Lawrence, N.J., who will compete Dec. 29.

Update: Dylan Marcus did not win his episode.