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Queens Chronicle

Cookoff kid hails from Whitestone

Alessandra Ciuffo, 12, competes on a new Food Network show

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 1:04 pm, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

With specialties ranging from Italian cuisine to gourmet cupcakes, Alessandra Ciuffo of Whitestone will be making her national television debut on Sunday, inching her closer to fulfilling her goal of becoming a celebrity chef and she’s only 12 years old.

“I began cooking at three,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I love to make meals for my family. I’ve been making elaborate meals since I was 10 1/2 or 11.”

And now her love of the kitchen has landed her a spot on the premiere season of a four-episode series called “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off,” a competition for young chefs on the Food Network that features celebrity chefs Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri as team leaders.

Last year at a friend’s suggestion, Alessandra applied for and was accepted to participate in an internet web cooking series. The producer of that program was so impressed with Alessandra that he suggested she audition for the cook-off show.

So, while most young people were off from school, sitting at home and complaining of boredom, Alessandra spent part of her summer in Los Angeles taping the show. She will appear on all four episodes.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience,” Alessandra said. “We got mentored by them,” she said of Ray and Fieri. “You can’t put a price on that. They were so sweet and caring and loving.”

Sounding very much like the famously outspoken Ray, Alessandra explained that she was thrilled “to see kids who have the same passion as me. They understand you. We’re friends on and off the show. We’ve seen each other since.”

Traveling was nothing new to Alessandra, who during the past spring break went to London and spent time at Le Cordon Bleu, the world-famous culinary arts school in Paris, where “we got to taste all these different things.” She has also spent several summers in Italy.

“Travel exposes me and inspires me,” she said. “I do a lot of Italian cuisine.”

She also likes to try foods from different countries, naming Spanish and Indian dishes among her favorites, along with sashimi and sushi.

And, she added, “I’m a cupcakes girl.” One of her earliest creations, in fact, is “Southern red velvet cupcakes. They’re my favorite.”

Alessandra traces her fascination with cooking to the days when her father, a cardiac surgeon with prior experience in the restaurant business “used to pick me up over the stove to mix the food. That’s all I could do.”

Born in Astoria, Alessandra is entering the eighth grade in a school in Whitestone, where her cooking talents have already been noticed.

She has brought in samples of her creations to share with the principal and some of the teachers.

As for her colleagues, she is trying to teach them about healthy eating.

“I transform delicious things they love into something healthy and it’s so easy,” she said.

On each episode of the new show, the competitors, divided into two teams, face a series of challenges designed to test their culinary know-how. They attend a classroom mentoring session and create a menu plan, with guest judges on hand to grade their dishes. The junior chef with the highest overall score at the end of the series will win his or her own web series onFoodNetwork.com.

When the new show premieres, Alessandra hopes to “show that kids can cook and can be quite the sophisticated chef. I want to be a role model for New York.”

Alessandra would like fans to follow her on Facebook and at twitter.com/chefciuffo.

“Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off” premieres on the Food Network on Sunday at 8 p.m.

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