21-year-old Brianna Peguero, from Hoboken, NJ, says that at just six years old, her favorite show was Rach's "30 Minute Meals" on Food Network. "I felt like I had a connection with her and I loved how personable and genuine she was," Brianna says. "I loved it so much that I used to come home from elementary school and play in my Fisher-Price kitchen and pretend that I was Rachael Ray."
Brianna decided to go to culinary school to pursue her dream of being a chef. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for financial reasons. Now, Brianna is the sous-chef and kitchen manager at Shaka Bowl in Hoboken — and her goal is to one day run her own restaurant. Shaka Bowl was a vendor at the New York City Wine and Food Festival, where Rachael did a cooking demonstration. Brianna went up to the mic, introduced herself and said, "I'm a really big fan of yours and I don't know if I would be standing here if it wasn't for you today."
"And she brought me onstage," Brianna recalls. "I went up there and gave her a hug. I was in shock. I felt like I knew Rachael forever — I kind of did, because I watched her all the time. But the best part was knowing that she was actually really genuine. Rachael's food tasted like a slice of heaven."
After they met, Rach asked Brianna to come cook on the show. Get Brianna's recipe for Beef & Mashed Plantains Casserole here.