‘A year with Gianna,’ Chicago Heights teen writes cook book
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy August 5, 2014 12:56PM
“A Year with Gianna” is available for about $20 at amazon.com
For more information about Sojourn Therapeutic Riding Center, call (708) 539-3078 or visit http://www.sojourntherapeuticridingcenter.com/
Updated: September 7, 2014 6:22AM
There are three things that help Gianna West cope with being in constant pain.
Since the 16-year-old, who was born with spina bifida and a host of complications, can’t go horseback riding every day and since the Jonas Brothers are, ahem, spoken for, she spends a lot of time in the kitchen of her family’s Chicago Height’s home chopping, stirring and devising recipes.
“Cooking helps me escape, it helps me forget about the pain,” said Gianna, whose condition — marked by the incomplete development of the spinal cord, compounded by hydrocephalus (water on the brain), chiari (a structural defect of the cerebellum) and scoliosis (curvature of the spine) — robs her of strength and breath and keeps her wheelchair bound.
“When I’m in the kitchen, I’m in the zone.”
She enjoys it so much that her mother, Linda West, aka sous chef, often organizes mock competitions based on the Food Network’s popular “Chopped” series. Gianna and her dad, Steve West, face off to see who can make the most delicious dish.
“I put oddball ingredients into a basket and then turn them loose,” Linda said. “It works out great for everyone because I don’t like to cook and they don’t really like my cooking anyway.”
Like all teens, when Gianna thinks about her future, she aims high.
“I want to be a Food Network star and I want to own my own restaurant,” she said.
Her point of view will be proving to America that people with disabilities can be great chefs. She is getting lots of practice. She has submitted her own cooking video to The Great American Amateur Kitchen, an online TV show that features amateur chefs and home cooks in action (watch it here: http://www.americanamateurkitchen.com/?s=Gianna+West).
In 2010 she participated in In Chef’s Hands, a culinary therapy program that pairs top chefs with amateur cooks who have special needs. Gianna spent time in the kitchen with Tony Priolo, of Piccolo Sogno in Chicago.
And she recently published her own cookbook. “A Year with Gianna” features 52 latex-allergy friendly recipes — because she has one — plus some signature hamburger dishes and even restaurant reviews. The book is available on amazon.com
Not only is cooking relaxing for Gianna, it is therapeutic, Linda said. All that chopping — Gianna uses a modified knife — and mixing are good occupational therapy, she said.
But, Gianna admits, it can be tiring for a teen who has endured 55 surgeries, 30 MRIs and “lots and lots” of IVs and shots.
“Her lungs only operate at 40 percent,” Linda said.
Still, Gianna is determined not to let her condition stop her from enjoying life. In 2009, her Make-A-Wish came true and she got to go backstage at the Allstate Arena to meet the Jonas Brothers.
“That was amazing,” Gianna said. “It was a dream come true. It took me three hours to make a collage from all the pictures we took.”
She is also a regular at Sojourn Therapeutic Riding Center in Peotone, which offers therapeutic equine services for people with special needs. Gianna enjoys her riding sessions so much that she is donating 10 percent of the profits from her cookbook sales to Sojourn.
Gianna is home schooled through an accredited program based in Virginia. She received culinary arts credit for the cookbook, which took about a year to put together. The restaurant reviews in the back are written from an accessibility standpoint, addressing aisle size, bathroom access and table size, as well as the quality of the food and service.
Recipes in “A Year with Gianna” include Nutty Korean Chicken Tenders, Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Fig, Baked Macaroni and Cheese and White Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge.
Here’s one of her favorites:
Spicy Shrimp Salad
1 pound cooked shrimp
1 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dill, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Mix the shrimp, mascarpone cheese, Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, dill, parsley, black pepper, salt, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.