8-year-old chef wins trip to the White House

Braxton President ObamaWBraxton Young meets President Obama at the "State Dinner."Braxton Young, 8, of Ellicott City cooked up a winning dish for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and earned a seat at a "State Dinner" with First Lady Michelle Obama last month.

Braxton entered his Quinoa Crusted Spinach Tofu Pie in the nationwide cooking challenge for kids and was chosen as the Maryland winner. There were nearly 1,000 entries with a winner selected from every state, four territories and the District of Columbia.

"Reading over these winning recipes, two things become very clear," Michelle Obama said in a statement. "America's kids are passionate about not just eating healthy food, but about cooking healthy food, too. And we're raising some truly inventive and talented chefs."

The second-grader from Northfield Elementary was surprised by his win.

"I was surprised and very excited," he said. "I never saw Michelle Obama before and I've never gone to the White House before."

Braxton said he started cooking when he was 2 years old. It didn't hurt that his mother, Kim Young, is the owner of Healthy Little Cooks, a cooking/nutrition education company focused on empowering kids and their parents to shop, eat and cook healthy. Kim found out about the contest last year, but Braxton didn't meet the age requirement until this year. He had been thinking about his recipe for a year, she said.

"He is a spinach pie fanatic," she said. "He put everything he loves in there."

Braxton has multiple food allergies, including peanuts, gluten and dairy. He recently found out he's even allergic to tofu. At one point, Braxton lost interest in food because it was hurting his stomach, Kim said, and that's when she had him tested for food allergies. At the time he was having multiple seizures a day, suffered from asthma and eczema, was falling behind in school and had a speech delay. After removing gluten and dairy from his diet, the seizures stopped, the asthma and eczema went away, and he was better able to focus at school.

"I like to eat healthy," Braxton said, "because it helps my brain work, and it helps me learn a lot more."

Kim agreed with that assessment. Now that he's gluten-free, even his speech delay has been improving, she said.

Braxton now is motivated more than ever to cook.

"He wants things to taste good," his mom said. "He doesn't want to get stuck eating apples when everyone else is eating good food."

His winning recipe is 100 percent his own creation, she said.

"I helped him put it all together to make sure it didn't taste horrible, but he told me everything to put in," she said. "He needed a little help sautéing, but the rest he did himself."

By Betsy Stein

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