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The 7-Year-Old Sous Chef Who Changed How I See the World

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As a private chef, my toughest critics and biggest helpers have always been the babes of the billionaires I feed. I’ve been lucky to interact with some unique and special children; this is the story of one in particular who changed the way I see the world.

My newest coworker is 7 years old, autistic, epileptic and was born with tubular sclerosis. Usually he shows up to work around 3:30 after school, begging for a cup of Cheetos and a giant orange juice. 

Today, he’s upstairs sleeping. His parents are coming in from a late flight tonight, so my culinary focus has been the best damn bowl of SpongeBob Mac and Cheese he’s ever eaten. On most days he joins me in the kitchen, flapping with excitement, over-mixing batter, cleaning up the counters, and other jobs I give him.  

“Tuna smells like Christmas trees,” and “the sound that kale makes is annoying,” according to the Kitchen Assistant. He’s peeled carrots and clementines; he prefers all things orange. He made his first glass of “Super Juice” and then proudly announced his handiwork throughout the house. He watched inquisitively as pulp spattered in one direction and fresh liquid dripped into the jar.

Watching how views the world inspires me to spin my thoughts in more colorful directions. I am teaching him to cook, and he is teaching me to sense.

He describes the world in texture and color. His mother’s room is “soft,” he’s displeased (like a proper Kitchen Manager) when I wear my hair down, he strongly dislikes the sound of sizzling seared meat. He knows I have a boy his age, and he inquires daily into my son’s wellbeing.

“Is your boy’s room soft?” (No, my boy’s room looks like a Lego bomb went off.)

“Does your boy like Master Shredder?” (No, he likes Raphael because he reminds him of his Uncle Wyatt.)

“Will your boy be my best friend?” (I hope one day the two of you can meet.)  

Some days he slogs home in tears. It was a “Thumbs Down” day at school, and his excitement got the best of him. The last thing he wants to do is disappoint. He wants the whole world to flap with him, to marvel at the details of the day, and when his joy overtakes him, he’s admonished. “Thumbs Up” days are great; it’s announced throughout the house, and he wraps his arms around me a time with a prideful smile. Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down, my sous chef still shows at the kitchen island, ready for service.  

He paints the world in color, feeling, flapping joy, texture and crunch. He seeks my company and bridges the gaps between pity and overcoming the odds. I’ve had many coworkers in this unique career. I’ve mashed acorn squash for toddling 2-year-olds, danced in the kitchen to Hank Williams with three long-haired preschoolers; I’ve catered spa days for overprivileged and misguided teens who still gripped hold of my heart despite their ability to tear up a clean kitchen and pick apart my every creation all while staring at a cell phone; but this little guy takes the cake. He’s stirred feelings of hope and wonder in a world that wilts amongst the status quo.

His spark is contagious. Every day he shows up to work, looking for love and acceptance; and lucky for me, we’re both finding it in the kitchen.

Originally published: December 24, 2015
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