Essex County News

West Orange Student Competes on Circus-Themed "Chopped Junior"

West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett is runner up on circus-themed Chopped Junior
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett, Chopped Junior runner up, with mother, Natalie.
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett enjoys Chopped Junior viewing party with friends
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett enjoys Chopped Junior viewing party with friends and family
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett enjoys Chopped Junior viewing party with friends and family
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett enjoys Chopped Junior viewing party with friends and family
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett enjoys Chopped Junior viewing party with friends and family
West Orange 5th grader Megan Hackett with her father, who taught her about southern cooking

WEST ORANGE, NJ — A special circus-themed episode of Food Network’s “Chopped Junior,” entitled “Three Ring Kitchen,” featured West Orange fifth-grader Natalie Hackett—who was the runner up in the competition, but was surrounded by friends and family at SuzyQue’s BBQ and Bar as she viewed the episode for the first time on Tuesday.

Megan was selected to compete against three talented junior chefs from Rye, NY, Waialua, HI, and Hershey, PA in the three-round competition. The appetizer, entrée and dessert rounds each featured a basket of four mandatory mystery ingredients, which this week included circus favorites like corn dogs, caramel apples and circus peanuts as well as other ingredients like avocados, heirloom tomatoes and concord grapes.

Stating that the competition was extremely tough, Megan said all the kids worked hard and would always remember the experience.

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“I actually wanted to start an organization for inner-city kids because not a lot of kids get the opportunities that I do and I just want to give them the chance,” she said when asked what she would have done with the prize money. “Even though I didn’t win the $10,000 to start the organization, I’m still going to try to make art, music and cooking a possibility for other kids.”

In her introduction, Megan explained that she learned how to cook southern and soul foods from her father, whose parents are from Alabama. She won the judges over with her creative, cohesive dishes in the first two rounds, but was out-cooked in the dessert round despite positive remarks from judges Geoffrey Zakarian, a regular “Chopped” judge, Sunny Anderson from Food Network’s “The Kitchen” and TV/movie actor Ryan Guzman.

In addition to her cooking, Megan also showed off her dancing, beat-boxing and facial-expression skills during the episode. What her fans at SuzQue’s found most impressive, however, was her ability to make creative adjustments when something went wrong as well as how much passion and maturity she showed throughout.

“Megan showed profound creativity, poise and just was cool under pressure,” said West Orange Board of Education member Mark Robertson, who attended the viewing party with other members of the board. “She also seized fun out of every moment—she was just so joyful throughout the whole process and at the same time, she was very supportive of all the other kids who were competing.”

In the final round, Megan hoped to create a concord grape/caramel apple fruit tart with an elephant ear crumble, but resorted to her “Plan B” after realizing that her tart was not going to cook in time.

Although her competitor’s dessert earned him the $10,000 prize, the judges commended Megan for her ability to think on her toes in order to get every ingredient on the plate. The judges also applauded Megan’s usage of the ingredients in the first two rounds, noting the impressive flavors and cohesion of her dishes.  

“What was really cool about this was just that fact that Megan did a tremendous job and that so much of the community came out and were cheering for her throughout the entire thing,” said Robertson. “Some of her quotes throughout the show were just precious and she’s really got a fan club.”

Megan thanked all of those who came out Tuesday evening to support her.

“I had a lot of fun watching the show and it was a great experience,” she said.  

Click HERE to read more about how Megan prepared for the competition.

Sobel & Co, a full-service accounting firm in Livingston specializing in family business and not-for-profits, is the proud sponsor of the Essex County News section of and For more information, visit the Sobel & Co., LLC website.

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