When I asked 16-year-old chef Kiara McCracken what she hoped her 20 guests would get out of five-course dinner, she replied confidently “I want people to walk away saying ‘Wow, I didn’t know someone so young could pack such a punch.’ I want them to see that I’m something to be reckoned with.”
Earlier this fall, chef Kiara delivered on those promises. To celebrate the end of her summer internship with Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), “a national non-profit that educates and guides underserved high school students… [via] culinary training and career exploration” and Local Roots NYC, a local food share service, the celebratory family-style meal at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg began with a beautiful beet hummus—a bold choice, considering her mother doesn’t like beets, she told me.
I sat across from her mother (whose eyes were brimming with proud tears throughout the evening) as she devoured the hummus incredulously. “I really don’t like beets!” she confirmed to me after her last bite. Her sister, a professional chef, also beamed with pride. “This is the best gazpacho I’ve ever had,” she said early on. The braised chicken blew her away, too: after her first taste she exclaimed “my little sister made this?!”
According to Kiara, there’s a simple reason why her family (and the rest of us) loved the meal: thanks to Local Roots, it was made with the freshest ingredients she could muster. Kiara is one of the most impassioned advocates of local produce I’ve ever met. She and her family live in East New York, the neighborhood that despite having more community gardens per resident than any other in city, has historically been crippled by poverty and municipal neglect and is generally considered a food desert. The confluence of her sister’s tutelage, her culinary focus at the Brooklyn trade high school she attends and the opportunity to intern with Local Roots this summer has given Kiara access to a world of food and knowledge that may have otherwise escaped her.
None of this would matter, however, without the inspired spirit that Kiara brings to the kitchen. Wen-Jay Ying, founder/director of Local Roots, spent the summer marveling at Kiara’s focus, accountability and joy as a chef: “I’m so impressed by her drive to cook for her family at home and help manage the weekly Local Roots market [as part of her internship]. She is patient and immerses herself in the process of cooking with a really beautiful sense of devotion.”
Unsurprisingly, Kiara has big dreams for her future. After high school, she wants to attend Johnson & Wells University, where she’ll continue to grow her culinary talents then work as a chef in the Air Force. Ultimately, she hopes to own her own bed and breakfast, which will have a garden onsite and will of course source ingredients from nearby farms.
Future collaborations between C-CAP and Local Roots NYC are on the horizon. For now, you can help subsidize Local Roots produce for select C-CAP students here.
Photos courtesy of Local Roots NYC.