At 18, Rianni Tyes already is quite the accomplished cook. The recent graduate of Meadowcreek High School in Norcross will have the chance to prove it this week when she travels to Philadelphia and competes at the NAACP Afro-American, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics culinary competition. ACT-SO is a yearlong program that supports and encourages African-American high school students in various fields. Tyes talked about the influence that her family and community have had on her cooking and how she still loves a good steak.
Q: How did you get into cooking?
A: I loved cooking as long as I can remember. I still remember helping my grandmother and mother in the kitchen, cleaning vegetables and baking banana pudding and cookies. When I started taking culinary arts my sophomore year at Meadowcreek with Chef Simone Byron, I saw there was so much you could do with a career in the food industry.
Q: Did your mom and grandmother have a certain style?
A: They cooked everything. My mom likes to experiment and cooks dishes from a lot of different cultures. Our area has a large Hispanic population and a lot of our cooking has that kind of focus. During the competition, I found a new love for Ecuadorian cooking. You can do a lot with the different spices and fruits and vegetables. It is so versatile.
Q: Why do you think you are so successful at cooking?
A: Being around people who love to cook inspires me to try different things. Chef Byron is always around. My two closest friends and I are always looking up new recipes and different techniques.
Q: What’s the key to being a great cook?
A: Practice makes perfect.
Q: What are your favorite kinds of things to make?
A: I like to cook salmon — you can do a lot of different things with it. I like making different sauces, salsas and cupcakes.
Q: Do you cook for your family?
A: Not lately because I have been practicing for the competition. My 5-year-old sister loves my chocolate chip cookies. When I am around, she always wants me to make them for her.
Q: Your family was homeless for a short period. Do you want to talk about that?
A: Not much except to say that I think that it made me ambitious and hardworking. You have to be obsessed about getting you what you want.
Q: Have you ever been to Philadelphia?
A: No and I’m so excited. Chef Byron and nine of us are going. We have been raising money, doing fundraisers and selling box lunches to the teachers.
Q: Do you know what you’ll be making there?
A: My appetizer is a refreshing pickled cucumber, onion and tomato salad paired with some vegetable empanadas with some dough I make from scratch. I’ll also be putting out a yogurt dipping sauce. My entrée is chili chicken skewers with some Ecuadorian potato cakes and sautéed onions and spinach. That will be served with a red pepper coulis.
Q: Are you nervous?
A: After I practice a few more times, I won’t be as nervous as I was at the regional competition. I went a little over time but I got everything together.
Q: What are your plans now?
A: I am going to study culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Q: What is your favorite thing to eat?
A: That is pretty hard because I love to eat everything. My favorite meal is a nice steak and asparagus and maybe some crab legs.
Q: Your least favorite thing?
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The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.