"hey, good-lookin'-what ya got cookin'?" (Song & Lyrics by Cole Porter, 1942)
By Diane McMahon
Photography by Christian Lee
When Janaria Canada talks about cooking she lights up. She is articulate and matter of fact as only a creative and natural-born culinary expert can be. Creating sauces, combining flavors, adding the right “something” for a unique taste—these things come so easily, she seems unaware of her gift and talent. She explains, “I get my inspiration from thinking, ‘Oh that would make a pretty plate.’” For a recent recipe she made her own sweet and sour sauce (a rich orange color). She used this as the base layer for seared scallops, topped with her own pesto sauce (an earthy green) and garnished with the zest of fresh lemon (bright yellow.) She says, “I like the food to look elegant. “ And then with animated authority she bursts, “Presentation is everything.”
Janaria is a 10-year-old fifth grader at the Hilton Head Elementary School for the Creative Arts.
I sat across the table from Janaria, who was accompanied by her mother and Jamaya, her older sister by 10 months. They were there to offer support, but this was her story. Janaria traces her love of cooking back to when she was 8. “My cousin Michael was cooking on the grill and I asked if I could help. After that I just started watching the 'Food Network' whenever I could. “
Her favorite cooking shows—when school doesn’t get in the way—are: “Giada at Home;” “Chopped;” and “Cake Wars.” She got a piping bag to decorate her cupcakes so they look professional. When asked whether she prefers baking to other types of cooking she answers, “I love everything, but I want to be an Italian chef. “
Janaria has already attended Michael Anthony’s cooking class—Cucina Italiana—on Hilton Head. Not surprisingly, she was the only young person. Janaria seems unaffected by the fact that most people with her skills, interest and confidence have had years more experience. She is only concerned about the food and the presentation and experimenting as much as she can. Her mother admits to being a good cook but she still needs Janaria “to come taste and say what’s missing and what I need to add.” Jamaya doesn’t cook but she likes her sister’s French toast in the morning. Her other favorites are filet mignon, shrimp and Janaria’s special Hollandaise sauce.
Janaria’s only frustration with cooking is she can’t try everything she would like. Her sophisticated tastes gravitate to recipes that have fresh and expensive ingredients. Even a generous household food budget can’t handle daily gourmet experiments. Her mother is very encouraging but realistic.
As precociously adult as her cooking talents are, Janaria is a delightful, well-rounded girl. When we met, she wore bright yellow jeans, black boots and a blue plaid flannel shirt with thin yellow stripes. She had small bows in her pierced ears and her braided cornrows and top-knot were her grandmother’s work. Her brown eyes are deep and beautiful and her face will only get lovelier as she gets older. She has lots of friends and says, “On weekends, for fun, I have sleepovers.”
Janaria and Jamaya admitted to having some sisterly fights and attitude. Janaria acknowledged she can be aggressive and sensitive. She also said Jamaya has the fashion sense and she relied on her for that. Mother and daughters are obviously close. At her mother’s prompting, Janaria listed her life priorities as God, mother and sister.
When the attention was back on Janaria she gave me a level look and said, “Here’s my future. I’m going to the Cordon Bleu in Florida* and get a degree. I’m going to be a chef—Italian. It’s not about making money. But I also want to be a therapist and a real estate agent.” She loves looking at houses and has already designed her dream bedroom. “It has a window seat and a platform bed with a canopy and the walls are teal,” Janaria says.
One of the great gifts in life is discovering things you love. While I sat and talked with Janaria (and after) I felt refreshed and inspired by all she will bring to this life and all that awaits her. With her zest for cooking, her unlimited spirit and dreams for her future, Janaria Canada already is launched on a remarkably full life. I look forward to hearing about her for years.
*Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fla.
Cooking tip: Every meal should include a fresh vegetable. Asparagus and green beans are two favorites
Birthday treat: On March 21 Janaria celebrated with a special dinner at the Sage Room on Hilton Head Island where she sat at the “chef’s table” and observed the chef in action. She texted me pictures and said she was “thrilled with the food, the presentation and the experience.”
Taste Test: Our photographer, Christian Lee's, reaction to the scallops she made, "Simply amazing. Just as good as what I expect from a high-end restaurant in New York!"