Astrid Mullix's love for cooking has taken the 13-year-old from her mother's kitchen in Wesley Chapel to the kitchen set of the Rachael Ray Show in New York City.
Now Astrid, an eighth-grader at Thomas E. Weightman Middle School, is starting a website, blog and Web show that promise hearty helpings of "food, travel and fun."
Astrid claimed second place in the nationwide 2012 Ben's Beginners competition. To participate in the cooking contest, which benefits Food Network star Rachael Ray's Yum-O organization and its mission of encouraging healthy eating among families, Astrid, then an 11-year-old sixth-grader at John Long Middle School, filmed a three-minute cooking video with her mom, Ada. She scored a $15,000 prize for her efforts ($10,000 for her school, $5,000 to put away for college) and appeared as a finalist last April on Ray's daily talk show.
"You have your own personality in the kitchen. It really seemed like you've been on Food Network for years," Ray told Astrid on the program. "You seem really comfortable in front of the camera."
"I'm usually shy," she said, "but when I get on camera the words just fill my mind and come out of my mouth."
Astrid has been interested in the culinary arts since age 5.
"My daughter loves to cook because she loves to eat," Ada Mullix said with a smile.
"I used to watch my mom cooking in the kitchen when I was little," said Astrid. "It was so cool, so interesting."
Also drawing inspiration from Beysi Carter, her maternal aunt, and celebrity chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis, she particularly likes to cook spicy exotic dishes such as the Dominican-style chow fan (fried bananas and seasoned chicken) she prepared in her Ben's Beginners video. She also loves to bake everything from pizza to cake.
Astrid yielded a lot more than a good meal from her Ben's Beginners experience.
"It felt like a dream come true," she said.
Now Astrid aims to realize more of her dreams through the establishment of astridmullix.com and a related blog at astridmullix.wordpress.com.
Previously a correspondent for the Seven Oaks News magazine, Astrid now blogs about her life in Wesley Chapel, offers reviews of fairs and car shows at the Shops at Wiregrass and does interviews and cooking demos.
"It's all about food, travel and fun," she said. "A little bit of everything."
Mom Ada Mullix stresses that everything is coming straight from Astrid.
"We don't do any editing on her blogs," she said. "She loves writing and she's really good at it."
Also on tap is a YouTube channel and a variety show, which Astrid will host and her father, Cesar Mullix, will produce. Blending comedy and interviews, the Astrid Mullix Variety Show will likely feature guest appearances from sisters Analia and Adabel and brother Amir.
In the future, Astrid would love to participate in more cooking competitions, to host her own cooking show, to open a restaurant, and to host charitable efforts on behalf of needy children in her family's native land, the Dominican Republic. She would also like to pursue acting, drawing and singing.
And she's working on a catchphrase to compare to Rachael Ray's "Yum-O!"
"I'm trying to find different ways to say beautiful," she said, "because to me, food is beautiful."