Oh, the power of television.
Chris Betten of Woodbury has had his eye on cooking since he was 2. But it was an illness -- and a day of watching Food Network shows such as "Iron Chef" -- that got him hooked.
He started getting his hands dirty in the kitchen by helping his mom, but he has been cooking on his own since he's been about 8 or 9. Now 12, he prefers to cook without a net.
"I got bored of following recipes and made something up," he said in an interview. Enter "Chris' Family Delight," his first creation. A mix of Uncle Ben's rice, deli meat and spices, it was a hit with his enthusiastic family.
He's gone on to desserts -- "Chris' Parfait" is a decadent mixture of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and brownie chunks. Chris has a new idea he's been waiting to try: puff pastry shells filled with ice cream and yogurt and topped with various flavors of jam, depending on your tastes.
As a busy seventh-grader at Woodbury Junior High, Chris doesn't have time to prepare meals very often, but he sometimes handles the weekend cooking. Then he plans a recipe (mom Sue handles grocery-shopping duties), or he cooks off-the-cuff, using ingredients on hand. For inspiration, he tunes into "Emeril Live!" when he has the time.
Chris is at ease in the kitchen; it doesn't matter if he's cooking dessert or the main dish. And why does he like to cook? "It's fun," he said. His enthusiasm and expertise in the kitchen brought him first-place in the Taste essay competition.
Chris hopes that cooking will play a part in his future.
"I'd like to run a high-quality restaurant like Cossetta's in St. Paul," he said. He's most interested in the cooking end of the business, of course.
-- Nicole Hvidsten is at firstname.lastname@example.org.