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'The Big Family Cooking Showdown' Features a Cook With Gastric Dysmotility

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For many chefs, one of the keys to cooking delicious food is constantly tasting your dish to ensure you’re striking the right balance of flavors and seasonings. But for one aspiring chef, tasting her own food isn’t an option.

Elisha Penman, a young woman who loves experimenting with food, was recently featured on season 2 of “The Big Family Cooking Showdown.” The British show was added to Netflix in Feb. 2019, though it originally premiered on BBC Two in Oct. 2018.

Elisha appeared as part of a three-person team alongside her boyfriend, Chris, and her grandmother, Ann, who she refers to as “Nan.” During the show, 16 teams of families who have a passion for home cooking must compete in various culinary challenges to be able to claim the title of the best family of cooks in the U.K.

While all the families have the benefit of working together as teams, it’s especially critical for Elisha to have her boyfriend and Nan by her side as she cooks since they are her “tasters.”

“I have a form of gastric dysmobility,” Elisha explained during the first episode. “At the moment, when I eat food, it takes two hours to half digest. So it starts to ferment or I become really ill. It’s frustrating sometimes ’cause I do like to eat. But I like to experiment, so that’s why I’ve got these two.”

Gastric dysmotility occurs when the muscles of the digestive system become impaired and result in changes in the speed, strength or coordination of the digestive organs. A number of conditions may be associated with gastric dysmotility, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastroparesis, Hirschsprung’s disease or achalasia.

Elisha now uses a feeding tube and said she hasn’t been able to eat “normally” since she was 13, but her health issues have never affected her love for cooking. This passion began at an early age when her grandparents taught her how to cook, though Elisha soon began experimenting with flavors and ingredients on her own. Elisha said she loves to be creative with food and put her own unique twist on everything she makes – relying on loved ones to give her feedback on her “inventions.”

Elisha addressed some of the misconceptions that persist surrounding those with gastric conditions and feeding tubes, explaining:

People think, ‘If you’ve got a feeding tube, you probably can’t cook. Or you’ve lost your ability to cook.’ Whereas I pretty much surround my whole life around food. People liking my food gives me the confidence that I can cook. I could be the next Michelin star chef in the world that doesn’t taste their food. You never know.

The Penman family was eliminated from the show during the second round, but the judges were greatly impressed by her passion and creativity in the kitchen.

Elisha continues to cook original homemade recipes and occasionally caters events, while also studying to be a paramedic. “At the end of the day,” she said, “you’ve got to try and push yourself.”

Screenshot via Netflix

Originally published: March 1, 2019
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