What sparked your love of cooking?
I started helping in the kitchen when I was six. Living with multiple food allergies including eggs, dairy, beef, oranges, and nuts means I always have to ask about ingredients and cross-contamination risk in restaurants. Cooking at home lets me know exactly what ingredients are in my food and I love making delicious food.
The Power of Cooking
Having food allergies and turning to cooking has opened up a new world for me. When I was eight, I entered Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. She chose a recipe from each state and I won for Louisiana with a Sweet Savory Dip-tastic Louisiana Power Lunch. When I was 10, I won the $45,000 grand prize of which $30,000 went to my school in the Uncle Ben’s Beginners Cooking Contest, which they used to upgrade the gym.
You shined bright on Chopped Junior!
I recently competed on Season 8 of the Food Network show Chopped Junior in the episode Cookie Jar Spar. Contestants are given a basket of ingredients that we have to use to prepare dishes for the show’s judges. Surprise ingredients and food allergies don’t typically go together, which is why I think the food allergy community reacted so positively. But being creative in the kitchen is a superpower of living with food allergies.
It was a great experience and I was relieved that the Food Network and the show really understood the seriousness of food allergies. Many of the show’s judges and staff had a personal connection to food allergies, either through their family or friends—one of the judges even had an epi-pen in their dressing room. And guest celebrity judge Nikki Bella is lactose intolerant, so she was thankful she could enjoy the vegan lima bean mac and cheese that I made.
Behind the Scenes
They really took good care of me. The culinary producer made sure my baskets didn’t contain my allergens and I had my own EMT on set. They had a specific chef on set to cook meals for me and my own area where they would deliver it. And when I was on the set, I used gloves and tongs to prevent cross-contamination.
You really need to think on your feet on the show. When I saw that we had calamari in our basket, I planned to fry it but the other contestants were using it with eggs and milk in their batter, which meant that I wouldn’t be able to taste my food. So I switched it up and grilled it. Creativity in the kitchen is second nature when you have food allergies.
Recipe for Success
I want to inspire others to get in the kitchen. I’m rising up and taking initiative for all the allergic people out there, so they’ll know they can make great food. I’d like to do more acting—hopefully more food allergy-related shows. I want to be someone other kids with food allergies can look up to.
I just got a phone for my 13th birthday and I was so excited to share reviews on the Spokin app. It’s been so fun to find new safe snacks and share some of the safe foods and places I’ve found.
There’s a bakery I love called Pie Jacked. They make delicious vegan pies, muffins, and cookies. They have family members with a nut allergy and understand how hard it can be to find a safe bakery, so they dedicated their restaurant to being free of the top 8 allergens.
I frequently travel to North Dallas for acting jobs and we always stop at a diner called Spiral Diner & Bakery. They have really good pancakes that are egg- and dairy-free! They make things you’d think have dairy in them, like mac and cheese and milkshakes, and they taste so good.
Favorite meal to cook?
My all-time favorite is my Vegan mac and cheese and if it’s cold and rainy I make my vegetarian jambalaya.
Favorite grocery store find?
If I’m short on time, Annie’s Homegrown Organic Cheddar Flavor Vegan Mac is my go-to. The “cheese” sauce is really good, it’s nice and creamy!
Favorite meal of the day?
Sweet or salty?
I have to pick three! Iron chef Alex Guarnaschelli, and my mentors Chef Darrell Johnson of Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen & Great Food Truck Race, and Chef Hardette Harris of Us Up North.