Namaste student and MasterChef Junior contestant Beni Cwiakala preps her signature dish, "Shrimps on Land," at a recent school event.

Namaste Student Beni Cwiakala Competing on MasterChef Junior

Published March 9, 2018

Namaste Charter School fifth-grader Beni Cwiakala is a contestant on the MasterChef Junior TV show currently airing nationwide. The contest, now in season six, is in the process of showing Cwiakala's and others' progress as they face various cooking challenges adjudicated by celebrity chef judges.

"I am very determined and competitive," Cwiakala said. These traits, openness to new ideas and a sense of fun are things that helped her on the TV show, she said.

Beni Cwiakala gets ready for a cooking event at Namaste Charter School.Cwiakala gets ready for a cooking event at Namaste Charter School.Cwiakala, now 11 years old, has been cooking since she was three. "I begged my dad and mom to let me cook; they let me make salads," she said. "I started just helping them prep, then I began to cook meats, especially fish, and vegetables.

"After a while, I started to read cookbooks and wanted to create recipes myself," Cwiakala said. Her signature dish is called "Shrimps on Land" and consists of grilled garlic lime shrimp with couscous and asparagus-and-chickpea hummus. "I usually serve it on a crostini," she said.

Connecting as a family through cooking is important, Cwiakala said. "You can make your own versions of your favorite dishes together with your family, and it becomes a fun activity."

She also likes the creative nature of cooking: "Cooking is like art. You can be as creative as you want." Cwiakala said she and her brother will often host test kitchen nights where they try out new recipes for the family, which resides in the nearby Pilsen neighborhood.

A focus on the culinary arts is in Cwiakala's sights for the future, in particular, sharing healthy cooking and eating practices with other young people. "I think that kids like fast food and packaged food because it tastes good. I want people to know that all food can taste good if you make it right," she said.

"My plan is to own a food truck and go around the country to teach kids how to make their own healthy meals with local ingredients," she said.

New episodes of the MasterChef Junior TV show air at 7 p.m. on Friday nights through March on WFLD-Fox 32 Chicago, as well as via select online services.

Photos provided courtesy of the Cwiakala family.

Beni Cwiakala commercial kitchen racks forwebCwiakala racks a baking sheet while gaining some real-world experience during a recent stint in a commercial kitchen.

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