Young Clinton chef vies for cooking prize

Lara Napoli makes a caramel dip to pair with apples for a snack. Napoli is entered in a contest to win $30,000 for a nearby school and is seeking votes from South Whidbey residents. - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Lara Napoli makes a caramel dip to pair with apples for a snack. Napoli is entered in a contest to win $30,000 for a nearby school and is seeking votes from South Whidbey residents.
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

Lara Napoli doesn’t follow a recipe.

The ten-year-old Clinton resident likes to put interesting foods together more than follow a set plan. She is hoping that skill shows in a video she submitted to win $30,000 for a cafeteria makeover of a South Whidbey school.

The contest, called Ben’s Beginners Program, will award three young chefs between kindergarten and eighth grade the opportunity to fly to New York City and appear on the “The Rachel Ray Show,” where a grand-prize winner will be chosen. The program aims to encourage children to cook with their parents and make healthy eating choices.

Cooking with parents, healthy foods and Rachel Ray all got the attention of Lara’s mother, Beth Napoli. She saw the contest advertised in a magazine and encouraged her daughter to submit her own dish.

Lara, who is home schooled, agreed and made a breakfast rice casserole for the video, featuring the sponsoring brand Uncle Ben’s rice topped with eggs, sausage, onions and cheese.

“I want to win so that I can get money for the school and give back to the community,” she said.

Lara began cooking by helping her mother in the kitchen at an early age. She started by making play food: she would put noodles in water and pretend it was soup — without eating it.

“I like cooking with my mom,” she said.

She was always putting things together and asking what kinds of foods were what, said Beth Napoli. Pretty soon she was putting together tastes and combining foods. She said she enjoys watching her daughter’s natural talents develop with her age.

In her family, she has been nicknamed the “leftover queen” because of her ability to put whatever is in the fridge together for a meal.

Her oldest sister Mikayla, 14, said she likes almost everything Lara makes, but good-naturedly complains that she’s a messy cook.

“Sometimes if you go into the kitchen it’s like ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’ ” Mikayla said.

After tasting her creations, Lara said she is always thinking about how it could be better the next time.

One of her favorite things to work on is presentation. For her grandmother’s birthday, she made a themed dinner after her grandmother’s favorite color — yellow. The meal featured a yellow-curry soup with peppers, pineapples and a yellow Jello for dessert.

She’s also made a bug-themed dinner decorating tomatoes as lady bugs.

“Forget a recipe, she just wants to create it,” said Beth Napoli.

One day Lara hopes to be a caterer because of her love of decorating and presentation. For now, Lara has her hopes set on winning the contest so she can give back to her community.

“I’m in it to win it, I like to win,” she said.

Beth said she is proud of her daughter’s cooking skills and how well she articulated in the contest video.

“I’m proud she is being responsible and sticking with it,” Beth said. “I’d like to see her win Lara has a lot of potential.”

The public voting period for the contest ends Oct. 27.

The number of votes accounts for 20 percent of the judges criteria. A grand-prize winner will receive $15,000 for their family and $30,000 for a cafeteria makeover for the student’s nearby school. Two runners-up will receive the second prize of $5,000 for the family and a $10,000 cafeteria makeover.

To vote for Lara visit and search for “Lara Home school 98236.” Click on the video titled “Breakfast Rice Casserole” and click on the vote button.


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