At 4 years old, she’s a 5-star chef in the making

Who’s to say a child can’t cook a five-star meal?

Stephanie Zoufaly may be one of the youngest newcomers in the culinary scene: At age 4, she’s already capable of crafting complex dishes with guidance from her father and professional chef, Paul.

Mr. Zoufaly, co-owner of Michelangelo of Riverhead, said his daughter’s passion for cooking emerged when she was just under a year old. She’s prepared dozens of dishes and feels comfortable wielding a chef’s knife (though her mother, Jennifer, prefers she doesn’t, Stephanie said). She’s cleaned fish, deep-fried chicken, sauteed onions and measured ingredients, just to name a few. 

Since December 2018, the child prodigy has also attracted over 350 followers on an Instagram account, @food_with_stephanie. There, Mr. Zoufaly instructs his daughter in preparing meals and records the process. She’s cooked fried shrimp with plum tomatoes, lentil soup, pan-seared salmon and more.

In December 2019, the duo were interviewed for the Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show “The Doctors,” which aired last month after producers took note of her Instagram account.

Mr. Zoufaly — who confessed he had little social media skill and referred to himself as “Fred Flintstone” when it comes to technology — said he was prompted to create the account to easily keep family and friends in the loop on Stephanie’s meals. 

When she was younger, Mr. Zoufaly said, his relatives used to request photos of her in the kitchen.

“Next thing I know, I was getting like 15 texts a day, ‘What’s Stephanie eating tonight?’ ” he said. “Instead of getting all these texts, we set up an Instagram.”

When she’s in the kitchen, Stephanie usually sports an apron or white chef’s coat with her name embroidered in pink. Her favorite things to eat are “lobster and steak,” and she noted that fast food is “disgusting.”

Mr. Zoufaly said he’s teaching his daughter “there’s more to cooking than what goes on the plate.” There’s an educational element, too: Stephanie has learned math through measuring and memorizing recipes, he said. 

“You teach other things when you cook besides filling your stomach,” he said.

While he’d love to work alongside his daughter, Mr. Zoufaly said he’ll support Stephanie’s career choice whether it’s in the industry or not.

“The restaurant business is not easy at all. It’s good for her to learn and have this as a backup,” he said. “If she chooses to be with me in the restaurant in the future, that’s fine. But it’s not easy.”

Though a busy restaurant season is approaching, Mr. Zoufaly said, Stephanie looks forward to Mondays, when the restaurant is closed, so she and her father can cook together at their Bohemia home. On March 2, they prepared osso buco, or Italian-style cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth.