Q&A with Springfield Master Chef Molly Leighninger

Most of the time, you’ll find Molly Leighninger enjoying classes at Summit Preparatory School. But she also knows her way around the set of MasterChef Junior, where you’ll see her cooking to impress Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez and Daphne Oz.

By Lucie Amberg

Apr 2022

Girl holding whisk
Photo by Leah StiefermannMolly Leighninger competes in the current season of MasterChef Junior, which was filmed in 2019. Purchase Photo

417 Magazine: What got you interested in cooking competitions?
Molly: My dad [Brad Leighninger, owner of Gettin’ Basted]. He’s a very good chef, and I was always influenced by him. He saw that I enjoyed cooking and was interested whenever he’d go to competitions. When I was 5, he saw one specifically for kids and asked if I wanted to do it. I said, “Yes,” and since then, I’ve done about 45 contests.

417: Do you remember the first time you created a dish that really made you feel proud?
It was my first cooking competition. I competed with my first burger, and I ended up getting Third Place. That’s what really got me hooked. 

417: Do you cook for your family and friends, too?
Any chance I get! 

417: How is cooking in a competition different from cooking at home?
In a competition, I’m obviously having fun, but I’ve got my game face on. It’s not as laid back as cooking at home, where I don’t have to worry about things going wrong and have all the time I need.

417: Do you have any time management insight or other tips that help set you up for success when you compete?
It’s all about mindset and preparation. If you think you’re going to do well, you’ll most likely do well. Also, before the competition, prepare as much as you’re allowed to. Then just have fun. It’s something you should enjoy doing. 

417: How do you develop your recipes?
At the beginning, my dad and me put things together and saw what worked. Over time, you start to learn what goes well together. So as you make those connections, you get better at predicting what will taste good.

417: When you’re at home, cooking for people you love, what do you like to make?
I’m not going to lie—I really love making homemade pasta. It’s completely made from scratch, and it’s a simple dish to make. 

417: Oh, yeah! Pasta definitely says, “I love you.” Do you have a favorite variety?
Sometimes I’ll ask what someone’s preference is. But I really like to make fettuccini and chicken alfredo. 

417 : Do you think you’ll continue with competitions?
Yes, definitely. And I want to start a business of my own that has to do with cooking. I get a lot of firsthand experience from watching my dad. I get to see the kitchen, and I get to see how much hard work it takes.

417: You’ve already accomplished so much. I’m wondering if you have insight for other people who have big dreams.
I would say: If you really want something, don’t let anyone hold you back. It’s easy to get in a mindset of thinking your dream isn’t attainable, but if you really go for it, I believe you can achieve anything. 

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