On Saturday, April 24th, 2010, Antonio Thomas entered his first cooking competition at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy and won 2nd Place, landing him a Chef’s hat and coat, a professional kitchen knife, a $125 gift certificate for cookbooks, and a $2,000 scholarship towards his culinary education.
When asked why he decided to become a chef, Antonio responded, “I know what it’s like to be hungry. When I become a chef and open my restaurant I can use part on my earnings to feed the homeless and make sure families don’t go hungry. I’ve always helped my mom by making lunch and helping with dinner. It was amazing how she would make something out of nothing and make it taste good.”
I had the privilege of chatting with an amazing young man a couple of weeks ago. In the interview below, Tony shares his insight regarding his love for cooking as well as growing up in a single parent home (at one point) and a stepfamily. The lessons we learn from kids who are in the trenches, living the modern family lifestyle everyday, is absolutely incredible. I learned so much from this young man as his wisdom far exceeds his age. I also picked up some cooking tips from the young chef.
Diane: What are the most important items one should always have in their home pantry?
Tony: Salt, sugar, flour, wine, and oil,
Diane: I love to incorporate spice in my cooking. What 5 spices should I never go without in my kitchen and which one do you think is often the most misunderstood?
Tony: Salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, and onion powder. Most meals begin with these basic ingredients.
Diane: Coming from being raised by a single-mom, what began your interest in the culinary field? Was it from watching and admiring her in the kitchen?
Tony: No matter what we had in the kitchen she always made something out of nothing. I would look in the fridge and the cabinets and see nothing to eat. Then she would come home and whip up a meal out of whatever we had and It always tasted great!
Diane: Cooking is one of my personal passions as well. I get a huge release and relaxation from creating in the kitchen. I try to recreate the stories of my life through my food (i.e., dishes my grandmother made by going through her old marked-up cookbooks, etc.). Sounds corney, huh? Tell me what inspires your cooking.
Tony: My inspiration for cooking comes from creating dishes and watching others enjoy my food.
Diane: I grew up in a single-parent household as well. I remember that my mother used to call me in from playing a few nights out of the week and try to get me to watch her cook because she felt it was important for a young girl to learn this skill. Did your mother do the same with you?
Tony: Yeah, I always stay up with her on holidays and watch her cook. She would have all four burners going. She’d be cleaning the greens and making my favorite ‘stuffing balls’ and I would watch her cook and clean up as she went along. Then she would place this fabulous feast on the table and I would remember that all this food was once groceries that I had just put up.
Kela: What is your definition of family?
Tony: No matter what we went through my mother always showed me that she loved me. It made the tough times not so tough and I love her for that. So my definition would be – LOVE
Kela: Will you share any words of encouragement for other children who are being raised by a single mother or are in a stepfamily situation?
Tony: Do your part to make it work. Being the oldest I have had a few step dads. Some were great, some were pretty cool, and some just didn’t work out. I learned that it take the parents and the children to make the step family thing work. If everyone does their part to make the house a loving home it will work. There will be misunderstandings and everyone won’t always agree, but if everyone at least tries to understand where others are coming from, everything will be just fine just fine just fine whew!) in my Mary J Blige voice
Kela: What’s next for you – after culinary school?
Tony: I plan to open my own restaurant. A high end restaurant that will serve fine dining and all the left over food will be served to homeless families at my mom’s shelter. Because it will keep me grounded so that I will never forget where I came from.