Due to food allergies, I cannot simply walk into a random restaurant or my school cafeteria to blindly order food. I must be meticulous about knowing all ingredients and potential cross contaminants involved. This led me to learning how to create my own allergy-safe foods. When I was 8 years old, I entered my first recipe contest, and that led me to the White House with Mrs. Michelle Obama.
My favorite cuisine is comfort food, with a healthy twist. For example, my family is from Louisiana, the capital of hearty, spicy, Cajun comfort food. I take those traditional recipes and remake them with allergy-safe, lighter, and healthier ingredients. I have been influenced and inspired by my parents, and incredible television culinary geniuses such as Rachael Ray, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Alton Brown. I also train with incredible chef mentors Chef Hardette Harris, and Chef Darrell Johnson, Season 10 winner of Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race.
In addition to competing in Mrs. Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, I have also cooked in the Healthiest Kid Chef in America, the Uncle Ben’s Beginners Challenge, and Food Network’s Chopped Junior. I have appearances, food demonstrations, and speaking engagement throughout the US, and I enjoy encouraging kids to create their own magic in the kitchen. One of the greatest challenges in my career is the lack of awareness and accommodations for allergies. Some people think that you can just take an ingredient off, or just add a safe item to any pan in the restaurant. For someone with severe allergies, this can be dangerous. You have to completely sanitize the area and all utensils, as well as not introduce any allergens to the environment. In some competitions, I have no choice other than to use the ingredients provided. I utilize gloves, and often cook by sight, rather than taste in those instances to avoid allergic reactions.
I would like to create restaurants and cookbooks for families with allergies. Most people are never fully aware of what it is like to never be able to relax and enjoy anything on the menu without the fear of an allergic attack. Creating safe spaces for families with allergies would not only empower those with allergies, but it would increase awareness in chefs and non-allergic consumers.
I am thankful to have such supportive parents. They sacrifice so much for me to live out my dreams, and they are my biggest advocates. They taught me that my allergies could either be my greatest hinderance or my greatest superpower, the choice was mine. I decided to take what could have been my biggest adversity and turned it into my advantage. My allergies and culinary skills opened the doors to speaking engagements, public appearances, and television and film roles.
Bullying is one of the causes that I hold dear because I know how it feels to be left out and teased. I take it very seriously, so I try to encourage kids of all ages to stand up for what is right. Being kind is far cooler than any bullying behavior pretends to be. It takes great strength to be respectful and kind. If you are being teased, or if you witness someone being mistreated, stand up for them. If you are afraid of the bully, find a trusted adult and get them involved. Never turn a blind eye to bullying. Always stand up for what is right.