BY AMY PENNINGTON
PHOTOS BY LARA FERRONI
Sunshine started cooking alongside her mother when she was three years old, though her mom knew early on that she was a foodie. At eight months old, she remembers serving Sunshine a cupcake in her highchair – Sunshine took a bite, looked up, smiled and clearly enjoyed every morsel. At four years old she enjoyed cooking shows more than any kids’ programs, and in kindergarten she organized a bake sale fundraiser for tsunami victims. She started cooking on her own when she was about seven. At this time, she was hired to bake one dessert a month (for six months) as a gift to a family friend. It was instant income and a creative project that Sunshine was excited to sink her teeth into. “The first time, we made a strawberry cheesecake and we put chocolate dipped strawberries on top with a graham cracker crust,” she remembers. Next was a coconut cream pie with “a pineapple reduction and crust of macadamia nuts,” she articulates. “He was into Hawaiian food,” she adds, exhibiting signs of chef-dom—making food to satisfy a customer’s demand.
Rare is the day that you meet someone so young and so completely passionate. At the age of nine, Sunshine already knows what she’d like to be when she grows up, though the specifics are always changing. She currently wants to be a cake decorator, but that area of focus was preceded by chocolatier and pastry chef. She also has two food blogs and is already on the road to becoming a food writer.
Her first blog post was in January of 2011 and reads, ” I usually bake on the weekends, because I have school during the week, and my Mom keeps the kitchen pretty busy making food for my family and me. But…on the weekends, the kitchen is MINE!!!!” The blog came about when she purchased a kids’ baking book and was planning to cook her way through it, one recipe at a time. Her mom suggested she keep a blog and the idea was born. “I work on my posts but I have a hard time getting the pictures up,” she noted, but otherwise she is independent and can log in to her website without aid. The blog follows her adventures in the kitchen and includes recipes along with personal notes. One early note reads, “I’ll let you in on a little secret tip. I added espresso powder. My parents don’t drink coffee so we bought espresso powder that you can just add to the hot water and it really brings out the flavor of the chocolate and doesn’t taste like coffee. I learned it from Ina on the Food Network on her episode where she made truffles. It’s a great little secret!”
Recently, she started a new blog, chronicling her family’s dining experience around Seattle. “I decided to review them [restaurants] from a kids point of view. Does it have a kids menu? Does it have activities while kids wait?” she explains. It is clear that she is eager to taste and try everything. On a recent trip to Portland to visit her grandmother, she visited six bakeries and chocolate shops in one day.
Not only does Sunshine have a voracious appetite (“My mom complains that I want to eat every two hours.”) she has an aptitude for culinary techniques. While making chocolate lava cake recently, she adeptly cracked her eggs with one hand. She measured and leveled off her dry ingredients with the handle of her spoon—an insider trick to perfect measuring. While making truffles for the lava cake filling, she became frustrated after the first try and stepped away to cool her hands under water. “How did you know your hands were too hot?” I asked. “We made truffles once before, and also in a book I read once, it said to have your hands cold when you’re making truffles,” she stated, as matter-of-fact as any experienced chef.
With the lava cake fresh from the oven, Sunshine contemplates her plating. Setting the lava cake in the center, she dusts it with powdered sugar before filling her piping bag and using the star tip to make small peaks of whipped cream. Next, she adds two raspberries to each plate and positions them perfectly. “I don’t want to cut into it. It’s too beautiful!” she bursts excitedly.
As we devour the chocolate lava cake and think big thoughts about the future, Sunshine offers up another future goal. “I can’t wait ’til I have a cookbook,” she confesses. What will the topic be, I wonder. “What else would it be about? Dessert,” she says, eyes unblinking. If her lava cake is any indication of future successes, I’d say it’s bound to be a story with a pretty sweet ending.
*For more from Sunshine, visit her blogs thesweetestchef.com and akidsscoop.com. She will soon be debuting desserts at her family restaurant, Trago on Westlake (www.tragoseattle.com).
Amy Pennington still doesn’t know what she’d like to be when she grows up, though she is the creator and owner of GoGo Green Garden and Urban Garden Share. She has published two books, Urban Pantry (2010) and Apartment Gardening (2011). www.gogogreengarden.com