Local 12-Year-Old Nikki Bidun Wins Top Chef Cooking Contest

By Lisa Kava

A 12 year old Upper West Sider was crowned the winner of reality show Top Chef Junior’s Season 2 earlier this month, winning a prize of $50,000. Nikki Bidun, a 7th grader at M.S. 54 Booker T. Washington Middle School has been cooking since she was toddler.

“I’m an only child so I didn’t have a lot to do when I was younger. When I was 2 or 3 I started to help my parents in the kitchen, really basic stuff like rolling cookie dough or if they were making scrambled eggs I would crack the eggs” Nikki told West Side Rag in an interview.

According to Nikki, she continued to help her parents in the kitchen as she got older. What began as a way to spend time became a serious interest which developed into a passion.

“When I was about 7 or 8 I discovered that cooking was really interesting and a creative way to put myself on a plate.” At that time Nikki began cooking meals by herself and asked her parents to enroll her in cooking classes. “A lot of the classes for that age were decorating cupcakes or making pizza dough and that was not what I wanted to learn. So my parents would take me to a plating class or a knife skills class. We went to a lot of regional classes so we could learn about different styles of food.”

At the age of 10, Nikki auditioned for her first cooking competition, Chopped Junior. She won the contest which West Side Rag wrote about here.

Top Chef Junior is produced by Universal Kids, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s network for kids 2-12. Season 2 featured twelve chefs aged 10-13 from across the country competing for the Top Chef Junior title and the $50,000 cash prize according to a press release from NBCUniversal Kids.

Nikki auditioned for Season 1 of Top Chef Junior in early 2017 but was not selected. She was disappointed and determined to make it the next time.

“I watched the show over and over again. I thought the show was really interesting and really well put together,” said Nikki. “I kept watching it and I kept practicing for the whole year for Season 2. I tried out again and this time I got in and clearly it was a success because I won the season.”

The teenage contestants had various cooking challenges throughout the season. Each week a contestant was eliminated until it came down to two finalists, one of which was Nikki. Each finalist was allowed to each pick two sous chefs from the contestants that were eliminated prior for the finale.

“At the finale of the show, which aired on December 1st the challenge was to create a three course meal inspired by family, friends and our growth throughout the competition” Nikki explained. “For the first course I made a pork soup dumpling with soy sauce and rice vinegar foam that was inspired by my Russian grandmother. I decided I would elevate them and put the soup inside the dumpling instead of having the soup served in a broth.”

The additional courses included a short rib ragu with fresh made fettuccini and homemade ricotta and a lemon soufflé.

When asked how she balanced filming the show with school Nikki replied “my school was supportive. The teachers kept me updated. We had worksheets that the teachers would email to me. They emailed me homework and tests and I still made honor roll at the end of the year.”

Nikki’s parents, Olga and Michael Bidun, who both enjoy cooking have been fully supportive of Nikki’s interest in cooking from the start.

“As a family, we always liked watching cooking shows” said Olga. “We didn’t really know how much our family cooking would impact Nikki until she tried out and made Chopped Junior in 2017 when she was 10. At that point Nikki’s competitive spirit really hit overdrive with practicing with new ingredients from Chinatown and tons of research online and taking cooking courses. After winning Chopped Junior, Nikki wanted to be on Top Chef Junior. It is the most prestigious cooking competition for young chefs and she was determined to make it.”

Cooking and learning about different foods has been a large part of the Biduns family life Olga explained. “Living in Manhattan has given Nikki access to an incredible set of culinary culture from courses to restaurants which we try to take advantage of. Restaurant Week is a holiday we love to plan in our home.” said Olga

West Side Rag asked Olga if she had any advice for other parents with children who demonstrate a passion at a young age. “We couldn’t have been prouder watching Nikki on the show. I was supported by my mother when I was a ballroom dancer in Belarus, she’d make my dresses and take me to practices and performances. Mike’s mom washed his football clothes after every football practice and was a booster. Just like we were supported, we try to support Nikki without dictating what she should be.”

Nikki says she will remain in touch with the contestants from the show and that she has made close friendships. “Olivia and Ella and I try to hang out as much as possible. The top 12 have a group chat.”

As for the $50,000 prize? Nikki plans to put it to use towards both culinary school and a safari to Africa. Her ultimate end goal is to own a restaurant. “But first I definitely want to finish middle school.”

Photo via Olga Bidun.

NEWS | 5 comments | permalink
    1. Baseballbeauty says:

      Congratulations, Nikki! I am very happy for you. Loved reading this story about you and your family. I hope to be able to watch the finale On Demand. Enjoy your safari and best of luck to you in your future culinary endeavors.

    2. Lena Jarrell says:

      It was not fair when curtis told her what to do I want be watching it again

    3. Eve Epstein says:

      Congratulations Nikki! We haven’t finished watching the season yet but heard you had won.
      Amazing!

    4. Dale Semler says:

      Way to go Nikki. Thanks for representing the UWS!!

    5. Juan says:

      We have watched all of the episodes except the final. Nikki represented the UWS very well. She was an incredible chef and struck a perfect balance between showing how smart and talented she is while also being a normal, down-to-earth kid. Congratulations!