Little chef big dreams

Little chef, big dreams
Eight-year-old Little Chef DJ uses his passion for preparing food to contribute to healthy eating initiatives among children
By Charlotte Beard
“Never doubt that one person can make a difference.”
That is a quote from Ingrid Newkirk the President for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This quote may hold an even greater weight when it refers to an eight-year old child who has used his passion for preparing food to contribute to healthy eating initiatives among children.
DeEsten Lewis, fondly given the name Little Chef DJ by his mother Tiarra Lewis, has caught the attention of many in the community including the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities {HSHC) initiative.
“This is our second year working with the YMCA for the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities event,” shared Tiarra. “We go to [various] schools [providing] healthy cooking demonstrations.”
HSHC is an initiative of the Missouri Foundation for Health which engages community organizations to form partnerships and develop action plans that address barriers to healthy eating and active living for children in targeted communities.
DJ, who is named after his father, shared that most of his food preparations take place when he provides interviews or public demonstrations for children.
DJ began his journey to where he is today under uncommon circumstances.
“With me being in nursing school I was [studying] nutrition. We were talking about kids and their poor eating habits. I [felt] my son had poor eating habits. All he wanted to [eat] was McDonald’s,” Tiarra said. “My mother passed away from a heart attack when I was 19. By me being over weight and having poor decision-making, I [felt] I needed to break this cycle. So, I [decided] to just put him in the kitchen to see how [it would] go. The first thing he made was a yogurt parfait with Greek yogurt, fruits, and some granola. By him making it he just loved it. I don’t know if it’s because he made it [and thought] ‘I did something, and I like it.’ So, I [decided] ‘I am going to put you in the kitchen and you cook your own food. You’re so proud of what you have done that you will just eat your own food.’
Tiarra went on to share how DJ, who is home schooled, ventured from preparing food at home to conducting public demonstrations.
“I had recorded him [preparing food]. I posted it on Facebook. It didn’t go viral, but a lot of people had a lot of positive feedback for us. So, I said okay let’s just keep going. I put him in a lemonade contest with Lindenwood University. They had a lemonade stand [event]. So, I thought [we would] try it. I was just doing something. We did it and he ended up winning two awards. He had the best tasting lemonade and the best theme. He won $100 dollars. This [journey] is something that just kind of happened,” she said
From that point forward Tiarra has kept DJ in the kitchen and taught him more ways of preparing food. Besides preparing sweet potatoes and tostadas, the self-proclaimed eight-year old vegan shared that one of his favorite things to prepare is vegan macaroni with paprika and broccoli.
“I only eat the grassy part,” DJ added about the non-stem portions of broccoli. “Salt on broccoli is good.”
Since DJ’s first public appearance he has participated annually in the St. Louis Kids Expo (www.stlouiskidsexpo.com) at the North County Recreation Center on Redman Road.
President of the Expo, Anthony Clair states, “The St. Louis Kids Expo is a showcase of resources, services, and products for children, families, and the community. We have different organizations come be a part of the event to [offer this empowerment]. The last three years Little Chef [DJ] has been part of the event. The first year he had a booth where he [sold] lemonade. The last two years he has done stage demonstrations with healthy food and [gave] out samples. Kids seeing a younger kid empower them [in that manner] gets them thinking about healthy eating for lunch or healthy desserts.”
Tiarra also shared DJ’s other involvements in the community. He has worked with some local artists to distribute food to children participating in their video shoots. In addition, DJ will be participating in the startup of a community garden on the memorial lot for Kevin Johnson located at the 5600 block of Acme Street in North St. Louis.
DJ is working with a team of professionals to develop his personal mobile app that will also be used in combination with the community garden to provide recipes for the produce. Ferguson 1000 (www.ferguson1000.org) presented an award to him for this mobile app project at their Black Tech and Community Awards event in 2017.
DJ has also participated in healthy eating events outside of Missouri. He has been involved in a grass roots initiative called Hip Hop is Green (www.hiphopisgreen.com).
Founder Keith Tucker out of Seattle, Washington shared, “Little Chef DJ is a member of our youth team and he has participated in our Hip Hop Green Dinner events where we serve plant-based meals to youth and families. It is our goal to mentor him in his journey to share his purpose with others.”
Tiarra provides a lot of support and has great hope for DJ’s future. “I want him to be a leader so that he can show other kids that you don’t have to be a basketball player, a football player, or a rapper. There are other things that you can do.”
DJ shared that he would like to go further to cultivate his culinary skills and someday appear on “MasterChef Junior” and ultimately “Hell’s Kitchen.”
CUTLINE: Submitted photos DeEsten Lewis, who goes by the name Little Chef DJ, is eight years old and uses his passion for preparing food to contribute to healthy eating initiatives among children.