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Written by:  Odile Fredericks
Date: March 5, 2012

Sydney McCoy, a fifth-grader at Baucom Elementary School in Apex, has a talent for cooking that is taking her into the national TV spotlight. The winner of 83 ribbons at the North Carolina State Fair for skills that include cooking, sewing and painting, Sydney submitted a video cooking demo that got her filmed on the Rachael Ray show, in New York in mid-January. The show has yet to be aired, but her mom, Hazel, says her daughter was filmed opening it.

Getting on the show was a "whirlwind," Sydney said in a recent phone interview. "I got a call on a Wednesday, and they said I was going to be on [the show] and I had to leave Saturday. It was my first plane ride, so that was a little nerve-wracking... I got to sightsee. I got to cook with Rachael Ray, and she was super nice and everybody there was so nice to me. It was cool because I see her on TV, and it was cool to see all of her set and the whole stage would spin. It was cool to see the audience reaction to everything that you did."

Getting on the Rachael Ray show was just the icing on the cake for Sydney, who has cooked with Food Network star Bobby Flay at the N.C. State Fair. Sydney is currently in an Uncle Ben's online video contest that promotes kids having fun cooking with their family. The cook whose video gets the most online votes wins the contest, which has now been extended to run through March 13.  Sydney is hoping to win the grand prize of a $50,000 makeover for her school cafeteria, which she says is 46 years old. Sydney herself could win $20,000 in the contest. If you're age 18 or older, you can vote once a day at this link or by going to the Uncle Ben's site and searching for her dish, Sydney's Tropical Rice Salad." Online votes also help fund Rachael Ray's Yum-o, a nonprofit to help kids and their families develop healthy relationships with food and cooking. 

Also in January, Sydney started a show on YouTube called "At Home with Sydney,"  designed to teach kids how to cook, make crafts and "learn to do things around the house." Her first segment covered "How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch."

Sydney says she began helping in the kitchen before she was tall enough to reach the stove, but now, she believes it is an important life skill. "I like cooking because it gives me something fun to do, and you need how to know how to do it in life, so you don't have to depend on going out every night."

In a letter to the Rachael Ray show staff, Sydney's explanation of how she makes her own school lunches drips of her passion for food. "In the winter, I like to warm up my Thermos with hot water before I heat up and take things like chicken soup, lasagna, chili or some leftover from the night before," she writes. "I also like brats that I cook on the dogs are not my thing. Salads are also a favorite for lunch, with toppings like eggs, snap peas, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes.  I like to make my own salad dressings, like honey mango with coconut or a spicy curry with (extra virgin olive oil).  I have won about six ribbons at the fair for my salad dressings and BBQ sauces."

Among her talents, Sydney believes in making aprons of recyled materials, like Capri Sun containers or Uncle Ben's rice bags. But she also hooks rugs, paints on recyled glass and is a self-proclaimed "fashion girl," who also can "get dirty in the yard planting flowers."

Being on the Rachael Ray show has inspired her to go out and reach for her goals and "don't hold back," Sydney says. "Because at first, when my mom showed me the contest, I was a little nervous, but your dreams really do come true."

So what does she want to be when she grows up? Not what you'd expect.

"I would like to be a vet because I have so many animals," she says. "I have reptiles, dogs, cats, birds, hermit crabs, fish, you name it, we got it."

But food figures into this passion as well. Guess who's feeding the pets?

This article was updated on March 9 to reflect the extension of the contest deadline to vote through March 13.


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