When she was younger, Essence Snowden would hang out in the kitchen and watch her mother cook.
The 12-year-old home schooled student from Stone Mountain would pay close attention to the ingredients that went into the pots and pans and the cooking techniques applied by her mom. After soaking up her mother’s passion and knowledge of cooking, Essence was ready to be a helper.
A short time later Essence followed in her mother’s footsteps and began preparing meals for her family.
Winning a recent cooking competition has solidified Essence’s dream of becoming a professional chef. She won a Caribbean jerk cookoff competition at the fifth annual Atlanta Caribbean Jerk Festival held at Panthersville Stadium in Decatur over the Labor Day weekend.
“Oh yes, it’s something I would like to do as a profession,” said Essence, who is a vegetarian. “I’d like to go to cooking school when I get older.”
The cookoff victory has prompted Essence to enter a cooking competition at the Children’s African Ball, Nov. 13, at the Atrium Events Center in Stone Mountain. Essence said she also is working on a cookbook and a calendar, which will feature photos of some of her recipes.
“I don’t use any animal products,” Essence said. “I like to use different things like cashews in my cooking, and I like to make salads, desserts like cashew parfaits and cookies—stuff like that.”
Essence’s mother, Queen Taese, called the organizers of the Caribbean jerk cookoff and convinced them to allow her daughter to compete in an event that was originally for adults only.
Essence paid the $50 entry fee with her birthday money and proceeded to out-cook six adult chefs to take home the $350 prize.
“I’ve never cooked in public before,” Essence said. “I thought it was something fun to do; I wasn’t expecting to win. I wasn’t scared and it didn’t matter if I won or not, I was just having fun.”
Essence had three hours to make three dishes—jerk lentil patties, jerk kale salad and barbecue jerk tofu kabobs. She said she had practiced the salad dish the night before but wasn’t exactly sure of her menu until she arrived at the competition.
“She really didn’t know about jerk seasoning before the competition, but she studied the history of it and tried to think of something to do that was different,” Taese said. “She decided to do something new, the jerk kale salad, and it was wonderful.”
The judges agreed and chose Essence as the winner. In addition to the cash prize, Essence was given a trophy to commemorate her win.
“We didn’t know what to expect at the [jerk cookoff],” Taese said. “She was really humble and confident and I was a wreck. She had the right attitude and wasn’t worried about winning or losing. It was exciting for the whole family.”