Steven Buchholz loves to look through the refrigerator and the pantry to see what inspires him to make dinner that night.
He may saute a seafood dish, head outside with his dad to grill steaks or whip up a creamy pie.
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And, oh, this seasoned Arlington Heights cook is only 13 years old.
Steven began cooking when he was 9 and his mom, Debra, took him to cooking classes to Pina's Culinary Experience in Roselle.
"Instead of watching the person cook, you could make the food," he said. "We would all sit down and eat the food. We were all one big happy family and we would eat really good food."
While he learned to make pizza and stews, he experimented with ingredients not so typical for a child, such as cleaning squid to make calamari.
Those classes gave Steven the confidence and techniques to cook without recipes for his family, including sister Julia, 17, and friends.
"I make it thinking off the top of my head and it comes out nice. I don't follow a plan," he said. "I like to see everyone's reaction and see how good it is."
Debra says the mealtime help is simply fantastic.
"He will ask me 'What time are you coming home, Mom?' And I'll come home and he'll have the table set and dinner ready," she said. "He has such a passion for cooking, and I love to support him."
Steven says he does not have much of a sweet tooth, but when encouraged by family friend and Arlington Heights baker Matt Zagorski, he began to explore baking, specifically pies.
Last summer, his pumpkin pie took Best in Show at the Lake County Fair, and earlier this year, he entered the American Pie Council's National Pie Championships.
Traveling to Celebration, Fla., Steven made his Raspberry Dream Cream pie, a creamsicle-inspired treat featuring, from the bottom up, graham cracker crust, pineapple frosting, creamy raspberry puree, whipped cream, fresh raspberries and shaved white chocolate. Competing with bakers 13 to 17 years old, Steven took second place.
"I was really happy I got second place," he said. "I didn't really care at first what I got because it was a great experience to go down there."
Steven already is considering next year's entry.
"Everyone says I make a really good apple pie," he said. "I bring it to my mom's work and it's definitely a favorite."
This young cook plans to attend culinary school and one day would like to teach cooking classes or own his own restaurant.
"I think I could be a chef anywhere. I like working with my hands and always being in the game and not sitting in an office all day," Steven said. "So I think that may be a job for me."