Lakeland’s Emmersyn Smith Takes Second Place in Lunchroom Wars Student Chef Cookoff
By KRISTEN GUEVARA
Nine-year-old chef Emmersyn Smith of Lakeland got a taste of victory when she recently took second place in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services 2022 Lunchroom Wars, the state’s official student chef cookoff.
“This was my first competition, and I was really excited,” Emmersyn says.
Emmersyn received a $3,000 Florida 529 Savings Plan College Scholarship from Humana, as well as complimentary desserts from Bern’s Steakhouse and a family pizza party from Colony Grill.
Melbourne’s Juliet Karsak took first place, while Everett Allard of Wellington came in third.
The three student chefs were selected from more than 300 applicants across the state who were vying to compete live in the finale of Lunchroom Wars 2022 at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa on November 3.
In the judge’s seat sat chef and social media foodie Dorothy Content, winner of the 2021 Lunchroom Wars Isaiah Romeo, and General Manager of Student Nutrition Services Shani Hall.
Emmersyn’s parents — Blake and Megan Smith — and four siblings were on hand to cheer her on during the competition.
“The event was amazing,” Blake Smith says. “We’ve talked about it every day since, about what an amazing experience it was, not just for Emmersyn but for our whole family. The whole crew did a phenomenal job at making her feel like a celebrity from the time she walked in there to the time we left. I have never experienced anything like it.”
“The people from Lunchroom Wars were incredible, accommodating, and encouraging,” Megan Smith adds. “It was top notch.”
Emmersyn won over the judges with her Sweet and Spicy Sunshine Burger.
“I made a venison burger with my own brioche bun with a jalapeno and guava drip jam,” she explains. “I used avocado and tomatoes on the burger as a garnish.”
The guava, tomatoes, and avocado in Emmersyn’s recipe were all grown here in Florida, providing a farm-fresh taste to wow the judge’s taste buds.
“It was really fun,” she says. “I made new friends and had a really good time.”
The competition was so exciting that Emmersyn is already trying to figure out what she is going to cook for next year to enter the contest again, her parents say.
Back home in Lakeland, Emmersyn does a little farming of her own with her family, including raising chickens, goats, and rabbits. She collects eggs from her 46 chickens and uses them in her favorite dishes like broccoli and cheese soup and pasta, which her mother taught her to make by hand. Emmersyn also makes her own bread and bread bowls for her soups.
She and her mom cook almost every night, and her parents rave about her cooking skills and what a great help she is in the kitchen.
“I want to open a restaurant when I get older with my parents and my sisters,” Emmersyn says, though the family admits it would be difficult to pick a specific cuisine style for the restaurant. Emmersyn makes a lot of American and Italian cuisine but “she puts her own flair and spin on things,” her father says.
Emmersyn, who is homeschooled, aspires to one day have her own YouTube channel to continue learning and sharing her passion.
“During the Lunchroom Wars competition, the crew brought in videographers, giving Emmersyn experience in front of the camera cooking in her element,” Megan Smith says. “Seeing her in the kitchen in her space and operating at such a high level was inspiring.”
“It is really cool what has come from the competition,” Blake Smith says.
He adds that since the competition, more than 100 people have contacted Emmersyn, wanting to try the food that she made for the event. This inspired her to do a fundraiser to raise money to buy cameras for her YouTube Channel. She is going to make her venison burgers and auction them off online.
“Kids want to be all kinds of things, but Emmersyn has never wanted to be anything other than a chef. Since she was able to cook, she has wanted to cook,” Blake Smith says.
Emmersyn even has some advice for other young, aspiring chefs.
“Just keep cooking! Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to get a little messy!”