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Cheektowaga fourth-grader among 5 finalists in national cooking competition needs public's online vote

Taylor Thurmond, 10, was among the more than 2,500 elementary school students to take part in the nationwide contest. Voting runs through Friday, May 13.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — A fourth-grader at Union East Elementary School is showing off her culinary skills in a national competition, and now she needs Western New York's help to win the popular online vote portion of the contest.

Taylor Thurmond, 10, is one of the top five regional finalists in the Future Chefs National Challenge, sponsored by Sodexo.

"I did a lot of hard work to even get here. I just really want to win because this is big for me," Thurmond said.

She's been cooking since she was about seven. She started by just learning to crack eggs to help her mom and dad make breakfast — one of her favorite meals. Over the years, she's expanded her menu to include chicken, bacon cheeseburgers, brownies, snickerdoodle cookies, confetti cakes, and her personal favorite, pizza.

It was Thurmond's take on the latter than got her national attention. 

She and her dad brainstormed recipes for the contest, and they both love pizza. One of the requirements was that the recipe entry needed to be healthy, so they decided on a chicken and broccoli naan bread pizza.

"This is a healthy pizza so you can have pizza more often," Thurmond said.

More than 2,500 students from 253 school districts entered the 11th annual contest.

Thurmond first competed against fellow Union East elementary students before advancing to the next round. Because she moved on, Thurmond was required to record a how-to cooking video in which she made her pizza.

"So to see her go from [helping in the kitchen] to making this pizza and being in this competition is definitely a great accomplishment, and we're very proud of that," said Devita Thurmond, Taylor's mom.

The elder Thurmond said it's nice to have a daughter turned budding chef because it allows her and her husband to take break from cooking dinner every now and again — though mom and dad usually get stuck with kitchen cleanup duty.

Click here to see Taylor Thurmond's chicken and broccoli naan bread pizza recipe and to cast your vote.

Voting is open through Friday, May 13.

Thurmond is waiting on a prize for winning the regional competition. If she wins the national contest, she will win a scooter and helmet, an at-home meal subscription plan, and her recipe will be featured on Sodexo's menu across the country.

Online votes account for a portion of Thurmond's final score. A team of culinary specialists will score the top five contestants on originality, presentation, how easy it was to make the recipe, and nutritional attributes.