NEW ORLEANS — Even at just the age of nine, Sophia Rhodes has found her passion. You can see it just by watching her for a few seconds: Cooking is her calling.
Sophia has experienced major health challenges in her young life. She has CHARGE Syndrome, a name for a list of medical conditions that can affect the body in all sorts of ways, from the heart and lungs to eyes, ears and more.
“Some of it’s really major and some of it’s pretty mild, and we’ve been blessed and fortunate that Sophia’s experiences with CHARGE have been mild,” said her mom Amanda.
She calls it mild, but that’s because we’re dealing with a strong family. Up until the past year, Sophia had a tracheotomy to help her breathe.
And what touched us the most is that this little chef can’t eat the food she loves to cook.
“She’s had her G-tube since she was seven weeks old,” her mother explained.
That feeding tube means she can’t taste, but she definitely savors every moment.
Her mom says there is hope that she'll be able to eat and enjoy food one day. Right now she can have small tastes of food and undergoes therapy with the hopes that it can get her well enough to one day eat all the good food she cooks.
When her mom reached out to Chef Kev on social media to say she loved watching him cook on TV, he knew they had to meet. And soon, one of his smallest fans would make a big impression.
We asked Sophia’s mom to arrange a surprise Zoom meeting, with them at home in Indiana, and Chef Kevin on the set of his new PBS series, which was filmed at WYES-TV's studios in Lakeview and will premiere nationwide later this year.
“I am so happy that you like cooking,” he told her. “I don’t know if you know how happy that makes me. Because when I was your age, I used to watch Julia Child cook and now to know that you’re watching me, that is so special.”
“Really awesome,” she responded.
Chef Kev asked Sophia’s parents, Amanda and John, if they enjoy eating all of the food their daughter cooks.
“Oh yeah, we like to get in the kitchen and cook together,” Amanda said. “We try to make a point to always let her help out and if we don’t let her, she’s asking, can I do that? Can I get in there?”
There was more to our surprise than just a Zoom call. We also sent Sophia a box of goodies, including a Kevin Belton oven mitt, some spices, apron and even a t-shirt she proudly wore to school the next morning. We also sent a copy of Chef Kevin’s latest cookbook, which she loved.
“I want you to take those recipes and make them yours OK?” he asked her.
“Yeah, so cool!” she replied. “I love cooking!"
Chef Kevin joked that she loves cooking as much as he loves eating, which brought a smile to her face.
She said she will use his cookbook to make beignets, something she’s never tried before.
“You haven’t? Well in that book there is a recipe for beignets, savory or sweet. I know you can do it,” Chef Kev told her.
“I am so happy to be able to spend time with you and I hope you know I’m going to keep in contact with you,” he told her, adding that he’s working on an upcoming project involving kids in the kitchen and she’ll be the first one he calls.
“Keep practicing, keep being that sweet lovable person that you are and promise me you’re going to take care of mom and dad,” he told her.
“I will!” she said.
“I love you so much for liking what I do and loving me,” he told her.