The 17-year-old high school senior recently landed a full scholarship to Monroe College to study in the Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts program after claiming first prize at this year's America's Best High School Chef Competition.
“It's a great accomplishment,” said the Cambria Heights resident. It was her first competition where she got to showcase herself as an individual chef. “I really worked hard to win it.” With all of her hard work put into preparing, she noted that she probably would not have won if it weren't for her mother. Between caring for Sade’s three younger siblings and working, she was not able to make it to her other competitions, but she showed up to this one from start to finish.
“I really don't think I would've won without her showing up," Aguilla said. "She got to see me in my element,”
At previous competitions, Aguilla often showcased her work as part of a team. And while this was the first where she was on her own, she felt prepared because of her past experiences.
“I learned a lot from those other competitions, especially time management,” she said.
Going into the national competition, she knew what techniques to use to finish the three-part competition with good time - and good food.
She did well in the first two rounds, but it was the third round that won the judges. Aguilla and the rest of the competitors had to complete an entree. It took her about an hour to prepare a whole chicken, and it was the round that solidified her win.
“Everything came together,” she said.
Aguilla learned how to cook from the days when her mother and father would cook together. But after they split, she quickly had to take on the responsibility of preparing the meals. “I was always in the kitchen helping to cook when they were together, and now that he wasn't around, I had to cook and I enjoyed it,” she said.
The cooking helped bring the family together again. Her siblings would in turn, help her out in the kitchen.
Cooking is the only thing that the soon-to-be college freshman sees herself doing. After going to Monroe, she plans to get a master's in nutrition before opening up her own restaurant because she believes in cooking health-conscious meals.
“People always say follow your heart and do what you love to do and it won't feel like work,” she said. “I don't see myself doing anything else. I love the reaction that I get out of people when I present them with something I made.”