Student Features

PA Cyber eighth-grader lands finalist spot on "Food Network Star Kids" premiere season

Oct 4, 2016

Isaiah Hooks, 13, started the season as one of 10 young chefs vying for the coveted title of the first “Food Network Star Kid.” The young cooks faced six weeks of camera and kitchen challenges for the chance to star in their own web series on

“It was different because I’m not really used to cameras around me like that and they wanted you good in the kitchen as well as camera challenges. I did do good.”

He moved on each round, eventually facing off with the other hopefuls in a final showdown that involved shooting a sizzle reel — a short, attention-grabbing video — and shopping at Whole Foods for ingredients to prepare “the most important meals of their lives.” The finale aired on Monday, Sept. 26.

Isaiah said mentors, Donal Skehan and Tia Mowry, gave him good advice, such as to slow down, enunciate and smile more to help his camera presentations.

“They did tell me that I need to smile more and stop repeating myself. The more camera challenges I did, I tried smiling and not repeating myself,” he said. “I think I repeated myself because of nervousness, so really since I started smiling, my nervousness left and I really had fun doing things.”

Isaiah described his cooking style on the show as “international mash-up” because he mixed and matched different cuisines together. On the final episode, he cooked the most complicated dish of any of the competitors — an appetizer of lamb chops with bay scallop seviche and arugula salad, and an entrée of duck breast with tomato and basil couscous, and roasted carrots.

The judges also complimented Isaiah on his finale cooking, with Skehan saying Isaiah cooked “the best dish from anyone in the entire competition,” but they thought his on-camera delivery was a concern.

Though he didn’t win the title, Isaiah said he learned something about himself during the competition.

“It actually made me better talking in front of the camera. That show really helped me a lot as far as being able to talk to people, and camera challenges and doing different things.”

On the first episode, the chefs were challenged to cook up a dish that expressed their food personality. Isaiah made crab meatballs and pesto pasta, a dish he says is a favorite with his mother, the Rev. Sherrise Hooks.

“My mom loves crab and she wanted it with pasta one day, so I thought of meatballs and spaghetti. If she likes crab, why not make them crab meatballs and spaghetti.”

Isaiah also runs his own small catering business, Just Cook It Catering. Last school year and over the summer he had a lot of orders. He is booked to do a lunch for a business and prepare dinner for about 50 people for a pastor’s appreciation dinner at his mother’s church, the Reclaimed for Christ Ministries. He dreams of owning his own food truck one day and owning a restaurant or a chain of restaurants.

“He’s really passionate about his cooking and his future,” the Rev. Sherrise Hooks said.

Isaiah said he learned about the “Food Network Star Kids” auditions from a contestant who appeared with him earlier this year on “Chopped Junior,” another Food Network channel show that features cooks ages 9 to 15.

Isaiah turned in his application after answering a series of questions, and said the next day he was asked to do a Skype video call with Food Network producers. He was then asked to be on the show and to make a video.  Isaiah taped the show in West Hollywood.

The family lives in the town of Sciota, located in the Poconos region of northeastern Pennsylvania. 

Pastor Hooks and her husband, Albert, a longshoreman, have two older sons, Alreese, 19, and Aaron, 18. Alreese was graduated from PA Cyber last year. Aaron was in PA Cyber, but went back to their local school for sports this year as a senior.



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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.