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Local Kid Cooks His Way to the Food Network

Olathe’s Zach Hofen is one of eight kids competing on “Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook-Off,” premiering Aug. 24.

For years, 12-year-old Zach Hofen’s mom, Deliece, has been his kitchen supervisor. But earlier this year he got a new one: Rachael Ray.

The familiar Food Network face and best-selling cookbook author is putting eight talented junior chefs, including Zach, through the culinary ringer on her new show, “Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook-Off.” Each week Ray and an all-star guest judge will mentor and guide the kids through cooking challenges, from preparing the perfect well-balanced bite, to creating desserts in disguise, as well as on-camera challenges where they must articulate their culinary point of view. That’s because the winner gets his or her very own web series on foodnetwork.com in addition to $20,000.

Zach Hofen with fellow contestants Scarlett Smorynski, Sabrina Richard, Olivia Oshiro, Nicholas Hornbostel, Juliana Maltifano, Chris Ekpiken and Chandler Jackson. Photo courtesy of Food Network.

Zach ended up on the show after somebody sent the Food Network a Kansas City Star cover story about him written in February by KC Magazine Editor-in-Chief Kimberly Stern. The network reached out and asked him if he wanted to complete an online application, which was followed by phone and Skype interviews, but his culinary career began a few years ago. His brother Braden was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2007, and his mom Deliece was spending a lot of time at the hospital. Searching for something she could do to spend quality time with Zach, they signed up for a cooking class. Zach took to it instantly and has been cooking ever since.

“I usually cook on Sundays,” he says. “I find a recipe and then I sort of twist it a little bit, change a few things on it that I don’t like.”

His specialty is chicken Milanese adapted from Food Network’s Chef Anne Burrell’s recipe, but he’s had another culinary pro helping him polish his skills closer to home, thanks to an introduction from Stern.

“I went out to Chef Jasper Mirabile’s restaurant and he would help with a few things, with some of my recipes and adapt a few things and kind of have me try that way and see the difference,” Zach says. “It was very cool to cook in his kitchen,” he adds.

Zach Hofen races to finish his dish during the “Fusion Impossible” challenge on “Rachael Ray’s Kids Cook­‐Off.” Photo courtesy of Food Network.

Even with one of KC’s finest chefs in his corner, Zach had nerves about appearing on the competition.

“I was a little bit intimidated that I was going to be on a nationwide TV show,” he says after a long, thoughtful pause. And while he can’t say how he fared, Zach will say he learned a lot and had a good experience.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity might be most valued by Deliece.

“Normally you think of a kids’ heroes as an athlete, like one of the Chiefs or the Royals,” she says. “For Zach it’s all these Food Network chefs. To see him on the Food Network with all of those chefs was just a pretty amazing deal.”

Catch Zach in the premiere tonight at 7 p.m. where he’ll be cooking for one of his Food Network favorites, Robert Irvine, to secure a spot in the next round. –Kelsey Cipolla