Teen Chopped Grand Champion talks dreams and goals

Gabriella Pinos/Assistant Entertainment Director

Eliana de Las Casas’ love for cooking sparked when she was just four years old.

“I was in the kitchen with my mom or my nana, my abuela, and we’re all cooking and they’re sharing the way that they make their food with me,” said de Las Casas.

Since then, de Las Casas has started her own food blog, created cookbook tutorials on YouTube, written three cookbooks, hosted her own radio show and became the Chopped Teen Tournament Grand Champion in 2016.

Now, as a freshman and culinary management major at FIU, de Las Casas continues to show her love for cooking through her cookbooks and as CEO of her own spice company.

Winning Chopped Teen Tournament, she said, was a catalyst for her success.

“It just kind of showed me like you put all your skills together and everything that you’ve learned into this one experience, and then the outcome was amazing,” said Casas.

Although cooking competitions weren’t really her thing, Casas said she decided to go on Chopped Teen Tournament with encouragement from her mother.

“I’ve always wanted to have a cooking TV show and hopefully, you know, maybe on the Food Network or something like that,” said de Las Casas. “And so my mom was like, ‘you know, if you keep saying no, they’re not going to want to give you a show one day.’”

With that in mind, de Las Casas joined as a contestant on Chopped Teen Tournament’s third season, an experience she described as nerve-wracking, but exciting.

“You just have to work,” said de Las Casas. “You have to be fast because you only get thirty minutes, and that’s not really a lot of time to put together an entire meal.”

In the final round, de Las Casas said the ingredients in the basket given to her appeared in a dream she had the night before. At that moment, she knew she had to create a mango float, a recipe given to her by her grandmother, which landed her the title of Teen Chopped Grand Champion.

“At first, I was just kind of in shock,” said de Las Casas. “I didn’t know what to think. I was just like, ‘Uh, what just happened?’ And then afterwards, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I actually won? What?’

With the earnings from her win, de Las Casas has been able to open her own spice company, Spice it Up! Creating it has been a dream of hers since she was eight years old and stems from her love for cooking and her time growing up in New Orleans.

“I love spices and just flavoring my foods and putting all different kinds of seasonings in there because New Orleans has so much flavor in their food, and so I love doing that and creating different blends and tasting it,” said de Las Casas.

De Las Casas also want to use cooking to spice up the taste buds and the lives of the people around her. Although she loves the process of cooking the food itself, de Las Casas said tasting and serving the finished product is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

“My favorite part is when your dish is done and you’re tasting it and you’re like, ‘wow, this is amazing,’ and especially when you get to serve it to other people and you see the joy on their face when they eat it,” said de Las Casas.

In the future, de Las Casas hopes that her time as a culinary management major can eventually land her a spot in the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which she will be volunteering in next February. She is also working on her fourth cookbook, which will include 80 recipes all about seasonal cooking, and she plans on releasing a line of cookware and chefwear for kids. Right now, she hopes to share her experiences through food and work toward her dreams of hosting her own cooking TV show.

“Even if it not instantaneous, you’re working toward that one day it will happen. It might not be tomorrow or a month from now, but it will eventually happen if you keep working toward it,” said de Las Casas.

Photo courtesy of Eliana de las Casas.

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