‘It doesn’t feel real’: Young Alabama grill master on his TV triumph, cooking for Gordon Ramsay

‘It doesn’t feel real’: Young Alabama grill master on his TV triumph, cooking for Gordon Ramsay

Trophies and titles? Alabama’s Bryson McGlynn has earned quite a few of those, competing in grilling competitions with his father, Mike McGlynn.

But now Bryson, 12, has received an accolade that outshines all the rest, as the new champ of “MasterChef Junior.” The young grillmaster won Season 9 of the FOX reality series, after preparing an outstanding three-course meal for the celebrity judges and competing against two other finalists.

It was an emotional moment for a tearful Bryson, as the boy was engulfed in confetti, applause and good wishes on Monday’s episode.

“It’s always been a dream just to try to get on this show, making it on the show is a big accomplishment, and making it to the finale felt amazing,” Bryson, an Auburn resident, said in an interview with AL.com. “Now, winning is crazy.”

Bryson isn’t the type to toot his own horn, but he does have “MasterChef” bragging rights, if he chooses to use them. And did we mention that the winner gets $100,000, fancy kitchen appliances and tools, and a sleek trophy?

Bryson, a sixth-grader at Fox Run School in Opelika, told AL.com he’d like to attend culinary school in the future, so he’s saving the prize money for his education. The budding chef wants to expand his already formidable skills, master new cooking techniques and learn about international cuisine. There’s no word yet on where the McGlynn family will store all that new kitchen gear, but we know where Bryson plans to keep his “MasterChef” trophy at home.

On the mantelpiece? In his bedroom? Or in the bathroom, where — believe it or not — some stars display their shiny statuettes? Nope.

“It’s going to be in a briefcase, because I do not want to break it, and I don’t want my dog to break it,” Bryson said. “If he knocks something down, he’s probably going to break it.”

Bryson McGlynn on MasterChef Junior
Alabama’s Bryson McGlynn is the Season 9 winner of “MasterChef Junior.” Bryson, 12, earned a trophy, kitchen appliances and gear, bragging rights and a $100,000 prize. (FOX photo)(Greg Gayne/2024 FOX Media LLC)

The rowdy dog’s name is Brick, by the way, as befits a McGlynn family tradition that’s all about cheese. Bryson used his real first name while competing on “MasterChef Junior,” but about 65,000 followers on social media know him as “Cheese Curd.” Bryson’s nickname is linked to his father, who’s a native of Wisconsin. This dairy state is famed for its “Cheeseheads,” and folks there have been known to wear decorative hats that look like wedges of cheese.

Along with his Wisconsin roots, Mike McGlynn is the founder of the Auburn BBQ/Grill Association — hence his son’s interest in grilling — and an associate band director and percussion director for Opelika City Schools. When Mike moved to Alabama, he earned the nickname “Cheese.” (He’s also been called “Papa Cheese” or “Coach Cheese.”) Folks who know the McGlynn family regard Bryson as a proverbial “chip off the old block,” and that prompted the moniker “Cheese Curd.”

As Bryson will be the first to tell you, he likes cheese — eating cheese, thinking about cheese, cooking with cheese and being called “Cheese Curd.” In fact, during filming for “MasterChef Junior,” he decided to give his mother, Shannon McGlynn, a cheesy nickname, calling her “Mama Cheesecake.”

“I had to come up with that one on the fly,” Bryson said. “It was really sweet and was just like her. Cheese cakes!”

Bryson’s parents were in the studio audience for the two-part “MasterChef Junior” finale, watching closely as their son cooked a savory appetizer with prawns and hush puppies, a Wagyu steak that Gordon Ramsay called “utter perfection” and an elegant peanut butter mousse cake. The clocking was ticking as the meal progressed and tension continued to rise in the kitchen.

Evidently, the families of all three finalists were feeling the stress, as well. (Michael Seegobin, 11, of New Smyrna, Florida, and Remy Powell, 10, of Hollywood, Florida, competed in the finale with Bryson.)

Bryson McGlynn on MasterChef Junior
Alabama’s Bryson McGlynn, center, reacts as his name is called as the winner of “MasterChef Junior,” Season 9. He competed against finalists Michael Seegobin, left, and Remy Powell, right.(Greg Gayne/2024 FOX Media LLC)

“To be in the audience, and watch Bryson cook, no matter what the results were, we couldn’t have been more proud. It was a dream come true,” Mike McGlynn said. “It was very, very fun to watch him, and watch both Remy and Michael. They all three are unbelievable kids and unbelievable chefs.

“If you ask any of the other cast’s parents, they said I was absolutely freaking out nervous,” Mike said. “I tried not to show it, though. But yes, it is very nerve-wracking. I felt like Bryson was comfortable and prepared, and he knew what he needed to do, to go in there and give him the best shot. But still, it is nerve-wracking, because it’s the finale.”

Did Bryson’s dad feel the urge to jump out of his seat, commandeer a pan or pick up a spoon to give his son an assist? “Maybe about 100 times,” Mike said, “But you know what? I felt comfortable that he knew what he was doing, and he did it.”

Season 9 of “MasterChef Junior” was filmed in advance — Bryson and his father traveled to Los Angeles in fall 2023 and spent several weeks there — and as you might expect, it was tough for the family to stay silent while they waited for the series to air.

“It was kind of crazy, because it’s definitely been the hardest secret to keep,” Bryson said, “because everybody asks me, and I’m not allowed to say. … Big time. I really wanted to tell a lot of people, but I couldn’t.”

Going into the finale, Bryson said, he wasn’t at all certain that he’d ace the three-course challenge, considering the talents and abilities of his competitors. Waiting for Ramsay to name the winner amped up the suspense even more.

“I felt really nervous, because you had a one-third chance of winning, and Michael and Remy are amazing cooks,” Bryson said. “So you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

During the 10-episode season, Bryson impressed Ramsay with his culinary know-how, innate food sense and respectful Southern charm. The boy was extremely polite to everyone on the judging panel — which included Aaron Sanchez, Daphne Oz and Tilly Ramsay, Gordon Ramsay’s daughter — and called them “sir” or “ma’am.”

“Bryson, do you know what, young man, there’s one word that will define your time here in the ‘MasterChef’ kitchen,” Ramsay said on Monday’s grand finale. “It’s respect for your cooking, and the respect you show everyone in this entire competition.”

Ramsay, of course, is the notoriously fiery founder of a culinary empire that includes series such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” “MasterChef,” “Next Level Chef” and “Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars.” On “MasterChef Junior,” audiences typically see a softer side of Ramsay, who’s been known to erupt in anger, throw plates of food and verbally eviscerate slackers on his other shows.

The kids saw Ramsay’s temper flare once or twice during Season 9, most notably when he grabbed an undercooked pork chop and hurled it into the air during a dinner service at Magic Castle in Hollywood. “No bit of magic will bring that thing back!” Ramsay said, chastising Bryson’s team. (The meat wasn’t aimed at any of the young cooks, of course, but it did hit a nearby wall.)

Bryson McGlynn on "MasterChef Junior"
Alabama’s Bryson McGlynn, center, competes with his teammates on the “Magic Castle” episode of “MasterChef Junior.”(Greg Gayne/)2024 FOX Media LLC)

Now that Bryson’s “MasterChef” season is over, AL.com asked him to settle the matter once and for all. Gordon Ramsay: Mean or nice?

“He is very, very nice,” Bryson said. “What I learned is, he’s very passionate in what he does. … He can be strict, but I actually love strict, because it helps me with different things like time management, and it helps me stay on my game.”

Ramsay emerged as one of Bryson’s biggest fans during the season, praising the boy for his grilling prowess and willingness to learn. Chef Oz was another admirer, saying, “Bryson, I mean, if you don’t open a steak restaurant at some point in your life, it’s game over for everybody.”

Bryson McGlynn on "MasterChef Junior"
Gordon Ramsay, right, holds up a barf bag so Bryson McGlynn can spit out a lima bean during a “Mystery Box” challenge on Season 9 of “MasterChef Junior.”(Greg Gayne/2024 FOX Media LLC)

During a February interview with AL.com, Bryson talked about having a food truck someday. (”I can take my food literally anywhere that I want to,” he said. “That would be really fun.”) But in the meantime, he’s determined to simply keep cooking. Bryson also said he might share his knowledge during some summer cooking classes at Auburn University.

He’s the first cook from Alabama to score a win on “MasterChef Junior,” and Bryson said his culinary milestone, however joyful, hasn’t quite sunk in.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Bryson said. “It still feels like I’m in a dream, and the funny thing is, I had a dream about that finale, that something happened, and I don’t even know what happened. It was crazy. It still doesn’t feel real, at all.”

Bryson laughed when asked if his celebrity status has increased over the last couple of months, and admitted that fans have been stopping him on the street, offering kudos and asking for photos and hugs.

“It has 100 percent increased,” Bryson said, “and it’s been a lot of fun, for the reason that I get to meet so many people.”

In a typically modest fashion, the new winner of “MasterChef Junior” pointed to his fellow finalists when asked if he wanted to give a message to TV viewers who watched him succeed on the show.

“Follow your dreams,” Bryson said. “Always follow your dreams, and congrats to Michael and Remy for getting where they’ve gotten to.”

Top 3 finalists on "MasterChef Junior"
From left, Michael Seegobin, Alabama’s Bryson McGlynn and Remy Powell, are the top three finalists on Season 9 of “MasterChef Junior.”(Greg Gayne/2024 FOX Media LLC)

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