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Step Forward Head Start parent competes for "Favorite Chef" title

Step Forward prides itself on supporting and empowering engaged families. This week, we are thrilled to rally behind one of our own Head Start parents who recently entered into a cooking competition known as Carla Hall Presents: Favorite Chef.

Tomika Johnson is a mother of seven children, all between the ages of five and 30. Her youngest son, 5, attends Step Forward's Friendly Inn Head Start.

"Ms. Johnson demonstrates a love for people and her community," Marlene Evans, Step Forward's Site Administrator at Friendly Inn, said. "She develops and sustains relationships with people throughout the community."

Johnson is described as one of Head Start's most dedicated parent volunteers. In the past, she has also volunteered to cook at Friendly Inn for the weekly Wednesday Hospitality Program, which feeds the community.

Johnson is going up against 80+ other chefs to show off her best-plated presentation. The contest will award one of the chefs from across the country with $25,000, a two-page advertorial in Taste of Home Magazine, and a cooking experience with Carla Hall. Hall is a well-known chef and television personality who was featured throughout two seasons on Top Chef and as a co-host on The Chew.

"My mother is and was my 'soul' inspiration," Johnson said. "I entered this contest facetiously. I took a chance, really not expecting to be chosen to compete. It would be a great honor, though, to win. I simply want to make my children proud."

Johnson said if she were awarded the $25,000, she would pay down debt, use it toward purchasing a car and use it as a down payment on a house.

"I would love to win to gain a once-in-a-lifetime possibility for me to cook with 'The Carla Hall,' and most importantly, honor my mom's legacy!" Johnson said.

Johnson said seeing the look on one's face after eating her creations brings her extreme joy. Her all-time favorite dish to make is macaroni and cheese. That led those at Step Forward's Head Start to ask for her advice on catering to young children, who can - at times - be particular about what they eat.

"Having a finicky-eating child creates more anxiety for the parent, to say the least," she laughed. "But don't worry, here are few tips I've acquired along the way having raised seven different personalities myself!"

Her first piece of advice was to accept that children aren't going to eat as much as adults typically expect them to.

"They are not supposed to eat everything on their plates. Their stomachs are literally as big as their fist, even though it seems like they have a tapeworm at times," she said, joking. "And so what if they want gummy worms for breakfast? Let them have it, as long as it is not every day to not promote bad eating habits."

According to Johnson, children have a way of showing their likes and dislikes with food.

"Sometimes you just have to be patient and observant!" she encouraged.

Johnson sometimes works as a server, but most enjoys cooking for her friends and family. In fact, Ms. Evans confirmed she recently ordered a peach cobbler pound cake with Stiva from Johnson. This, after receiving several other pound cakes and never being disappointed.

"Rest assured, it will be great!" she said.

Voting for the contest is open. The public can submit one, free vote per day or vote for donation, known as a "champion" vote. Each dollar is equivalent to one vote and there is a minimum of $10.

To vote for Tomika Johnson, click here.

The first cut is Thursday, June 22nd at 10 pm.

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