by Liza Hamm
Kiara McCracken is a bright, articulate 16-year-old, who dreams about running a bed & breakfast when she’s older. Thanks to an internship at Local Roots NYC, a subscription-based food market trying to inspire homes chefs around the city to make first class meals, Kiara is one step closer to meeting that goal. Everything she learned this summer culminated in a delicious 3-course dinner for 20 guests — the largest group she’s ever cooked for — at Brooklyn Kitchen, that would easily earn her country inn top-notch reviews from critics.
Kiara learned about possible internship opportunities, offered by C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Programs; ccapinc.org), during a culinary class at George Westinghouse Jr. High School in downtown Brooklyn. After being accepted, she had the option to work at a sandwich shop or Local Roots NYC. The latter organization’s close ties with farms intrigued Kiara so she signed up to help the business four times a week — and discovered a whole new world. “I’d never seen an Asian eggplant, before and I’d never seen or heard of kohlrabi,” she recalls. “It’s a weird plant but an amazing ingredient.”
Wen-Jay Ying, the founder of Local Roots NYC, was equally amazed, but for a different reason. “Every time Kiara makes something, I taste it and can’t stop talking about it,” she says. That includes the dish she made on her very first day — a ‘kohl-slaw’ with mustard vinaigrette from the kohlrabi she had just met to the palate-refreshing gazpacho she made for the very first time at the dinner in order to showcase peak tomato season. “She is not scared in the kitchen,” says Wen-Jay. “She understands seasonality and cooks with flexibility, care and love.”
Those abilities were definitely on display at the farm to table meal she prepared on August 28th. In addition to gazpacho, guests feasted on beet hummus, pasta salad, and braised chicken. “I was really nervous until I started making the chicken,” Kiara reveals. “I calmed down because I know I can’t mess chicken up. I just know how to do it.” (She certainly does! The very tender chicken boasted tons of flavor with Kiara’s signature six-ingredient seasoning—thyme, cinnamon, cumin, Mexican chili powder, curry and Italian seasoning.)
At the end of the night, the chef didn’t have big plans to celebrate her success. “I just want to go to sleep now,” she says. Still, she took a moment to take it all in. “Tonight was a big accomplishment for me,” says Kiara. “Seeing how much people loved the meal made me feel great.”