Young Old Bridge boy makes Top 8 in Season 6 of MasterChef Junior


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OLD BRIDGE — Anthony Martino Jr.’s love of cooking started with helping his dad, Anthony, make Darth Vader shaped and food coloring pancakes.

“I was about four or five years old,” he recalled.

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The love only grew from there. Coming from a big Italian family, Anthony drew inspiration from his grandparents — JoAnne and Danny Fasano and Joanne and Anthony Martino — and his mom, Danielle, watching them prepare Sunday dinners.

“I learned how to make homemade pasta and meatballs,” he said.

The family also has a garden in the backyard of their Old Bridge home, which Anthony and his dad maintain together.

Fast forward a few years and Anthony, now 11 years old and a sixth grader at Carl Sandburg Middle School, spent more than two months in California competing against the top 24 youngsters on Season 6 of MasterChef Junior, which aired in March and April.

MasterChef Junior is a culinary competition television series on FOX that gives talented young chefs the chance to showcase their culinary abilities.

Anthony finished in the top eight on the show, cooking in front of judges including chefs Joe Bastianich and Gordon Ramsey.

“Cooking next to Chef Gordon Ramsey, I was 50 percent excited and 50 percent nervous. I knew I had to really nail every dish,” he said.

Season 6 premiered on March 2, and a few weeks ago, Anthony and his family reunited with the top 12 contestants and the chef judges at the finale in Chicago.

Anthony’s journey to compete on the cooking show began after he saw an open casting call in New York after watching an episode of MasterChef Junior.

“I told my mom about it and asked her to sign me up,” he said.

Danielle Martino said she reluctantly filled out an application.

“I dragged my daughter [Anthony’s younger sister Angelina] and husband into [New York City], and Anthony tried out,” she said.

In the initial audition in June 2016, contestants were given an egg and asked to make it in any way they chose.

“I wanted to impress [the judges] so I made an egg over easy,” Anthony said.

On the way home from the initial audition, Anthony realized his culinary skills with an egg made an impression, as he received a call to come back for a cooking demonstration and to see how he would be in front of the camera.

Danielle Martino said the show rented out townhomes in New York for the auditions, and the contestants had to bring their own pots, pans and cooking utensils.

“I was carrying a cast iron pan into the city,” Anthony recalled.

The first dish he prepared before a camera crew was his shrimp scampi recipe.

Shortly after the cooking demonstration, the show called back and asked for videos of Anthony’s home life.

“We put everything in the video,” Danielle Martino recalled. “We had the grandparents come and show Sunday dinners and showed Anthony out and about on the way to sport practices.”

After additional Skype interviews and background checks, Anthony was called as a contestant for Season 6 at the end of September 2016.

The following month, 44 children were selected from around the country to compete in Los Angeles, where the number was reduced to 12 boys and 12 girls, creating a top 24.

From October until Dec. 20, 2016, the show was taped. With his mother and father splitting their time between California and New Jersey, Anthony received home instruction for 15 hours per week, attended cooking classes, conducted interviews and competed.

“In my head I knew I had to be good at this and cook everything correctly,” Anthony said. “We only had a certain amount of time to cook, and it was nervewracking.”

Anthony said for one of the first challenges, the girls had to cook filet mignon and the boys had to cook chicken.

“There were a lot of meats,” he said.

Another challenge was an Asian challenge with eggrolls.

“We had to choose savory or sweet,” he said.

During one challenge, the young contestants had to create a dish with a waffle. Anthony also made a number of desserts, including a fruit tart.

For the most part, Anthony said he stuck to his Italian roots and put his own flair and influence into the challenges.

Danielle Martino said even with the wardrobe selection, the show put a bit of Italian flair into Anthony’s outfits with bright collared shirts.

While on the FOX show, Anthony prepared his signature dish, homemade linguine with white clam sauce, which gained him the nickname Tony Clam – and it has stuck.

Danielle Martino said Bastianich “took a liking to my son.” The celebrity chef told the youngster a story how he got his nickname, Joey Clam, and said, “I think I will call him Tony Clam,” Danielle Martino recalled.

Since the show aired, Danielle Martino said there have been telephone calls and emails requesting Anthony to attend food festivals and cooking demonstrations. But, Anthony has declined. His mother said her son wants a break; he loves being a regular boy who happens to like to cook.

Anthony, who was nine years old when he filmed the show, said watching his younger self on television was a bit embarrassing.

“The sound of my voice didn’t sound like me,” he said. “And some of the things I said, I can’t believe the younger me said.”

In school, Anthony is taking a cooking class as an elective and he is busy with baseball practice.

His classmates, school officials and the township have been supportive of his success. The Old Bridge Board of Education recognized Anthony’s accomplishments at its April meeting.

“[Anthony’s classmates] signed a banner and students at [James] McDivitt Elementary School wrote him letters,” Danielle Martino said.

As for the future, Anthony said he wants to either one day open a restaurant with his dad and call it Tony Clam, or become a professional baseball player.

“I want to make it big someday,” he said.

Contact Kathy Chang at




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