Local: Buck Milligan

Crowned the first-ever Chopped Junior Grand Champion, an interview with Buck Milligan.

Buck Milligan

Interview by Maggie Theodora
Photograph by Ryan Dorgan

Buck Milligan eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch most days at school. “And maybe some carrots,” says the twelve-year-old. “Pretty typical.” Less typical is an appetizer he once made: a camel meatball over sauteed kale and topped with an earthworm marinara. Also unusual was the time Buck had thirty minutes to turn a whole goat leg, succotash, cream puffs, and sweet cherry ketchup into an entree (after he butchered the goat leg). The result was cherry-glazed goat leg with a cream puff slaw and wasabi mashed potatoes. In November 2016, Buck, the middle child in the Milligan family, won an episode of the Food Network reality show Chopped Junior, which qualified him for the series’ championships in June. There he beat fourteen other junior chefs to be crowned the first-ever Chopped Junior Grand Champion. Gavin Fine, the co-founder of Fine Dining Restaurant Group, which owns several valley restaurants, including one that Buck practiced at, says, “He’s confident. He’s got skills.” Fine would give Buck a job if he weren’t in seventh grade. “He’s the second-best line cook at the [Rendezvous] Bistro,” Fine says.

Q: How’d you get into cooking?
A: When I was probably six or so, I would just be in the kitchen when my dad was cooking, and I would watch him.

Q: Have you become your family’s main cook now?
A: We have this schedule where sometimes you cook and sometimes you do the dishes—our kitchen jobs are all over the map, but I’m on the schedule to do some cooking now. We do a head cook and someone helping them, so sometimes my siblings help my dad and I, or my mom cooks something. Everyone learns all of the skills, from cooking to washing and drying.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to make?
A: I really like homemade pasta. It’s interesting. Sometimes I make it in the winter, but when I make it in the summer with fresh chicken eggs, it is amazing the difference you can see in the color. And [with] the flavor of the fresh eggs, it is like a whole different product.

Q: The show came with a nice prize egg—$25,000. You’ve said you’re saving it for college. Did you splurge with even a little of it?
A: Not really. I put it in this Roth IRA thing, and I put a little bit into this retirement IRA.

Q: Since you’re already saving for college, have you thought about what you want to study? Cooking?
A: I don’t know if a chef is the career for me. It’s pretty stressful. Actually, I think being a doctor would be cool.

Q: Judges at the final thought your use of earthworm jerky in a marinara sauce was genius. Where’d that idea come from?
A: I have seen different varieties of marinara sauce, with seasonings and stuff, and I thought the earthworm jerky would be a good seasoning.

Q: What were your first thoughts when you heard earthworm jerky was one of your ingredients?
A: I never would have expected that to be one of my ingredients, but I feel like they gave us a lot of surprises. It was interesting to think about how did they actually make an earthworm jerky? I thought the jerky was easier than the ground camel.

Q: Ground camel?
A: Another ingredient. I used it to make meatballs.

Q: What do you do when you’re not in the kitchen?
A: I do Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, kayaking, and soccer.

Q: What do your friends make of your celebrity chef status?
A: They think it’s pretty cool, but it’s not like anything has really changed.

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