Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chef in the Making

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Chef in the Making

Article excerpt

Sydney Tyner was barely a toddler when she started helping her mom in the kitchen. By the time she entered kindergarten, she not only was comfortable holding a knife but also knew how to use it.

"I just got pretty good at it," the 11-year-old Ross resident said of her culinary skills, which grew to include everything from frying eggs for breakfast and stirring together homemade spaghetti sauce to composing a colorful salad.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

"She's been my best sous chef since she was 18 months old," said her mother, Amy, executive chef at Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Garden. "We're always in the kitchen together."

Now a rising sixth-grader at North Hills' McIntyre Elementary, Sydney has sauteed, chopped, minced and diced her way to a meal at the White House, as the Pennsylvania winner of the fourth annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.

As part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, the nationwide contest promotes cooking and healthy eating among children ages 8 to 12. It also has a hint of glamour: Winners from each state, along with Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and District of Columbia, get to join the first lady for the Kids' State Dinner on July 10.

"Actually it's lunch," said Sydney, who was on vacation in California when the surprise call came that she'd created the best dish in her home state. "And we also get to tour the White House," she added excitedly, and take a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where Julia Child's kitchen is on display.

The 55 winning recipes - chosen from almost 1,000 entries - were selected based on their healthfulness, originality, affordability and faithfulness to USDA's MyPlate recommendations. And, of course, taste mattered, because to get kids to eat something that's good for them, it has to be flavorful.

The rules also required a good story behind the dish, and Sydney had one to tell.

When her stepmother, Alicia, got breast cancer three years ago, "We were really scared and had to eat healthy," she said. "I had to try all kinds of new foods" that were good for the body, which led to more experimenting in the kitchen.

The recipe she came up with for the contest, which her mom learned about at work, was born out of a fresh corn salsa that they make with vegetables from their garden each year, and is a favorite topping for tacos.

"Everything is fresh," Sydney said.

After fiddling with a few ideas, she hit on a winner: a tostada- like baked Chicken Taco Tower, made extra healthy, she said, with fresh lime juice and avocado.

She liked the idea of a taco not just because it's a kid's favorite food, but because the dish allows for a lot of freedom. "You always can put on other toppings, and change it up to make it better," Sydney said. …

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