While most kids dream of getting a PlayStation 3 for Christmas, 15-year-old cook Ben Hicks is asking for a fish fryer.
"My mom laughs every time I say that," Hicks said. "I want to make hush puppies and low-country boil. I could even fry a turkey for Thanksgiving with it."
The Lakeview Academy 10th-grader said he cooks dinner for his four siblings and parents at least once each week.
He said his favorite recipes include shepherd’s pie, chocolate chip cookies, spinach pasta and breakfast items such as pancakes and omelets. He said some of his best recipes he hears about from watching the Food Network.
"I watch the Food Network a lot," Hicks said. "I like hearing about new dishes and knife techniques and hearing about new gadgets and cooking toys."
Hicks’ mother, Barbara, said Ben has been throwing spices in pots ever since he was about 4 years old.
"My grandmother has taught me a lot of things, and my mom has helped me," he said.
He took his cooking talents to school when he made a cooking video for his seventh-grade Spanish class. Hicks made an Emeril Lagassi-type video where he cooked Cuban rice and mango bread, which he shared with his classmates.
Hicks also developed a dessert and appetizer business model for his ninth-grade economics class.
But it’s the holidays that really gets Hicks busy in the kitchen. He makes a Paula Dean caramel recipe each year to give to his teachers for Christmas.
"My teachers all kind of expect it from me," he said. And it’s that satisfaction on people’s faces that Hicks enjoys seeing so much when people eat his food.
He said he wants to make a career out of his cooking skills, and wants to go to college to become a food scientist.
"I’d like to help develop new food products for companies," he said. And he added that he’d like the opportunity to improve upon existing food products such as frozen pizzas or Stouffer’s casseroles.
He said he’s excited about the chemistry and biology involved with cooking, and looks forward to taking chemistry next year in school. "It will be a lot of fun," he said.
But for now, between drama practice and school, Ben enjoys simply cooking for his younger brothers and sisters. He said food has always been important in his house.
"It kind of ties the family together," he said. "We’re always busy all the time, doing different things, but then you can come home at night and sit down to a good meal that you prepared and catch up on everybody’s day, and just say hello."