Fundraiser spotlights young chefs

SYCAMORE – Emma Reid loves to cook. She started four years ago, when she was 3.

“It’s cool,” Emma, 7, of DeKalb said. “You get to put different stuff in the food.”

“Since she was old enough to watch, she has been interested in what’s going on in the kitchen,” her mother, Kim Green, said. “The older she gets, I let her do more and more.”

Emma, whose favorite dishes involve pasta, was one of 13 local children who served up dishes at Cooking for Kids’ Sake Nov. 2 at St. Mary Memorial Hall in Sycamore. The event was a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of DeKalb County.

“We have Bowling for Kids’ Sake and other fundraisers,” Big Brothers Big Sisters of DeKalb County Director Courtney Denison said. “We thought, why not encourage the youth to get involved in a fundraiser and be the cooks and the leaders?”

Like Emma, many of the young chefs are developing a passion for cooking early, mainly by helping their parents in the kitchen. Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Manager Laura Nolan said the children were allowed to prepare whatever dish they wanted. The entries were then sampled and judged by people who purchased tickets to the event.

Emma Carlson of Kirkland prepared sausage stars – wonton wrappers with cheese, sausage and black olives.

“We’ve been making them for parties for about four years,” Emma Carlson, 12, said. She said she became interested in cooking through 4-H about the same time.

“She helps me all the time,” her mother, Dawn, said. “She’s very good. She has a new recipe for Almond Joy cookies. She also does muffins and loves to make cupcakes.”

Her favorite thing to make, Emma Carlson said, is chocolate chip cookies.

Perhaps the most interesting dish was made by 10-year-old Jamisan Matalonis, who prepared what she called Cheesy Sponge Bob Noodle Soup.

“I just wanted to make soup,” she said, explaining why she got started in cooking. Her parents, particularly her father, Dave, encouraged her interest. “I always wanted to learn. I love it.”

Jamisan said she mainly just makes soup right now, often working with her father in the kitchen to cut up the vegetables.

“I can’t really make hard food,” she said. “The only time I did, I didn’t like it. I am not ever making that one again.”

Jamisan – who said she once made chicken dumplings which were “delicious” – has been cooking for about two years.

Twins Delia and Lucinda Connelly of Elburn, 6, are just starting to help their mother in the kitchen. One of their favorite dishes is fruit salsa.

“They love to help me bake,” their mother, Holly, said. “They also love to set the table.”

At 15, Haley Ford of Sycamore has been preparing food since she was 10, and would like to make cooking her career.

“I would like to be a chef,” she said. “It’s fun cooking for others. Since I have a passion for cooking, I want to continue that through my business.”

Among her favorite dishes is chicken curry, which she first tasted when she was 2.

“It’s from Australia, so you can’t find it around here,” she said.

Another reason Haley likes cooking is because “you can personalize yourself through the dishes.” Her personality definitely came out in the pumpkin croissants and mint cookie candies she prepared, both a big draw at the event.

Many of the youngsters said they watch cooking shows on TV for tips and encouragement. Haley takes a cooking class in high school, but most of the younger cooks said they are learning the basics by helping their parents in the kitchen.

The practical benefits of learning to cook aside, Emma Carlson has a better incentive.

“If you work hard, you get to eat the stuff,” she said, smiling.

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