Teen chefs connect with the community through food

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND AGNES MAR, PHOTOS COURTESY OF CARLY WATSON, AMANDA YUN, KYLIE DE LA CRUZ AND SOFIA RODRIGUEZ BAQUERO

For many, quarantine opened up rare time to explore new new hobbies, from crocheting to creating the perfect loaf of sourdough. But food is more than a brief COVID-19 obsession for these teen chefs; rather, baking bread has been a way to stay connected with their communities during the pandemic.

The Post asked Carly Watson, Amanda Yun, Kylie De La Cruz and Sofia Rodriguez Baquero about their culinary journeys and what they’ve been cooking up during quarantine. 


CARLY WATSON

Carly Watson is a junior at Los Altos High and president of cooking club Hot.S.Pot who also runs an Instagram with her sister Macy, where the two try international recipes. 

The Post:

You have an Instagram (@_carmalized_), where you’re making a dish from all 196 countries — why did you decide to take on that challenge? 

Watson: 

Once I realized quarantine wasn’t going to be two weeks, my sister and I decided that we wanted to take on the challenge of making a dish from every country in the world. We’re still working on that; we’re about halfway done. Discovering recipes from different countries and exploring different cultures makes me want to go visit more countries, especially the smaller ones many people don’t know about. 

The Post:

Tell us about your club Hot.s.pot.

Watson:

The name is based off of the Chinese dish hot pot, and then it’s called hot spot because it’s online. I started it with two of my friends, who are both from China, so we decided to cook different international recipes. We’ve done one from China, a couple American dishes, some from Japan, and each week a different person teaches it. 

The Post:

What sparked your passion for food? 

Watson:

I’ve always really liked cooking, especially cute food, such as animal shaped meringues. I really started liking it when I was three or four, and I would help my dad cook in the kitchen. Over quarantine, just more recently, I started ramping up my cooking. I think it’s pretty therapeutic as well. It’s very relaxing and fun, and pretty rewarding in the end.

The Post:

Where do you get inspiration from?

Watson:

Food is one of my favorite parts of traveling, so it’s kind of cool to take my favorite part of traveling back to my house. It’s helped me reconnect with a lot of people who are from different countries. I can reach out to them and ask them what recipes they recommend from their culture. 

For example, for China, one of my friends took me to Ranch 99, and I’ve never been there before. It was quite an experience. She showed me all the good things and helped me pick out a bunch of unique dishes. She went on a Zoom with me and helped me make Chinese pork dumplings. 

I also have some friends in Germany, so I was able to reach out to them and ask them what German food they would recommend. Some of my sister’s friends were living in Poland, so we asked them for recipes as well.


AMANDA YUN & KYLIE DE LA CRUZ

Amanda Yun and Kylie De La Cruz are sophomores at Palo Alto High School and co-presidents of Paly Eats, a cooking and food journalism club. 

The Post:

Tell us about your club Paly Eats 

Yun:

I was thinking about starting a cooking club for about a year. Kylie and I met in our freshman year and we found out that we had a connection over cooking and baking. So I asked her if she would want to start the club with me. We wanted to introduce others and bring people together over food and have a place for everyone to share and to learn. 

De La Cruz:

I was really excited to start this [cooking] club when I realized that we didn’t have one at Paly. When Amanda talked about it, she wanted to have people learn more about cooking and order dishes from restaurants and recreating it. That sounded like a lot of fun, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Yun:

Especially with the pandemic, I realized that there were a lot of businesses that are shutting down. I thought that it would be good to introduce people to more restaurants around the area, and kind of give local businesses more attraction since people aren’t going out that much. After we try dishes from a local restaurant, we look online to find similar recipes. Our first restaurants were Jin Sho [on Palo Alto’s California Ave] and Taro San [in Stanford Shopping Center]. So we had people recreate Kakuni Don, a Japanese pork and rice bowl, and wild salmon bento. 

The Post:

What sparked your passion for food? 

Yun:

I actually haven’t been cooking and baking for most of my life. It started around seventh or eighth grade. I just got really interested in a bunch of recipes I used to see on YouTube and different cooking channels. I love Binging with Babish and Joshua Weisman.

De La Cruz:

I’ve been cooking for a while. When I was younger I helped my mom bake cookies, stuff like that. I loved cooking all through middle school, and then with COVID, I’ve been bored, so that’s why I’ve started cooking a lot more.

The Post:

What’s your cooking style?

Yun:

My parents are both really into food; we consider ourselves foodies. Sometimes I go to San Francisco to try new restaurants. Like I said, YouTube has been a big influence on me in terms of what I cook. I find things that interest me and that seem challenging. I like to experiment with things that I haven’t tried before or things I haven’t heard of before, and just try to recreate them. 

I look forward to the weekends when I can escape for a few hours into something I’ve been waiting to do the whole week. I would definitely say that cooking is a distraction and something to look forward to at the end of the week. 

Yun’s raspberry, pistachio and passionfruit dessert. (courtesy Amanda Yun)

De La Cruz:

I prefer to make desserts, I just find that more interesting. My dad is from Peru, so I’ve grown up on a lot of rice based or noodle based dishes. I love playing around with the proportions of ingredients, because I believe I can do that a lot more with desserts than other dishes. At the end of finals week, I was so happy to be done with finals so I baked a cake. I definitely find baking to be a stress reliever.

De La Cruz’s Valentine’s Day and Peru sugar cookies. (courtesy Kylie De La Cruz)

The Post:

What’s your favorite part of the cooking process? 

De La Cruz:

When I’m trying to change a recipe, figuring out the proportions and then writing them down is fun. When I change how much flour or how much sugar and then when I see the end product, I’m like, “Yes, I did it. Okay, now I can change this for real.” I like being able to see that.

Yun:

I enjoy the process, especially with things such as bread. I like to knead the dough, or doing things with my hands, and the idea that I’m creating something. I tried this experimental recipe, I was inspired by a bunch of desserts you see in fancy restaurants where they’ve got a bunch of different components. I tried layering a bunch of little cakes, and then sticking them into molds, and then kind of making my own mousse recipe based on other recipes I’d seen. I like the idea that I can create something new and something that all tastes good.

You can check out the Paly Eats food blog here and their Instagram here


SOFIA RODRIGUEZ BAQUERO

Sofia Rodriguez Baquero is a senior at LAHS who posts photos of her culinary creations to her food Instagram @cookwithsof.

The Post:

What sparked your passion for food?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

I’ve been in the kitchen since I was little with my parents — they cook a lot, and they taught me a lot of things. And I just like sharing food with other people. It’s really fun because I’ve been able to talk to people I wouldn’t be reaching out to otherwise. 

It’s been really nice to share and like have friends text me pictures of food. And they’re like, “Oh, I was thinking about you when I was making this.” And it’s just so exciting.

The Post:

What’s your cooking style?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

My cooking style is definitely looking at a lot of recipes and then not following any of them. I keep temperatures and cooking times in mind as I go, but everything else I’ll either eyeball or be like, “Oh, I don’t really want to use that.” I’m very chaotic in the kitchen. Like a chaotic good, I’d say. 

The Post:

Where do you get inspiration from?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

I think a good amount is from social media, just seeing what friends and chefs are cooking and sharing. And also food magazines: I really like Bon Appétit’s magazine and New York Times Cooking a lot. When I’m kind of not paying attention in class and I open a new tab, it’s normally to look at recipes. I have a running list of things that I want to try just written down in a notebook.

A lot of the food that are staples in my family are things that we picked up while traveling [or] restaurants around here just because we have so many different cuisines around us.

The Post:

Who are your favorite chefs?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

My most favorite-ist is Melissa King. I remember in sixth grade, we had to write an essay about somebody that we admire and I wrote about her. Other people were writing about athletes and singers, and here I was writing about a chef. But she’s so cool, she has such interesting flavor combos. Another favorite of mine is David Chang. I love his restaurant Momofuku.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s