By ARDEN BASTIA Even though he was just four years old, Blake Costa loved his family, cooking, and bringing people together. "He just loved being in the kitchen, cooking whatever," said his father Nick Costa. "Pizza, doughnuts, whatever. He would even
Even though he was just four years old, Blake Costa loved his family, cooking, and bringing people together.
“He just loved being in the kitchen, cooking whatever,” said his father Nick Costa. “Pizza, doughnuts, whatever. He would even get up at five in the morning to make breakfast. I was like, wow, he had it in his genes then, I don’t even want to get up that early.”
Last Thursday, Rhodes on the Pawtuxet was transformed into a television set worthy of a Food Network special, as pint-sized chefs cooked up an impressive menu of signature dishes at the first annual Blake’s Kitchen Cook Off.
The event was held by Children’s Wishes, a local organization that grants wishes to children between the ages of two and 18 with life-threatening illnesses.
Held in honor of Blake Costa, who lost his battle to brain cancer at just four years old on May 21, 2020, the event featured Wish Kids as chef contestants, cooking for an all-star panel of judges including NBC 10 Anchor Barbara Morse, meteorologist Steve Cascione, president of Tech 911 Christopher Dias, founder of East Commerse Solutions Ed Medeiros, executive chef Frank Terranova, and Food Network star Tracie Terniese. WPRO radio host Matt Allen emceed the event.
Blake’s wish was to go to Disney, but he never made it. Nick explained that the family tried to go three times, before the COVID pandemic hit and Blake was rediagnosed.
“One of the things in his honor that we talked about is that hey, he loved to cook with friends, let’s do a cook-off. So this is the first annual event,” said Nick. “He would’ve loved it. It’s something that’s great to honor him and also honor the organization that helps other kids make their wishes come true.”
The competition was divided into two rounds. In the first, chefs had to create snack pizzas, and in the second, a signature dish using their own unique recipe.
Guests wore blue heart-shaped stickers and chunky glasses to honor Blake’s favorite color and his distinct eyewear.
Over 300 people were in attendance, including family and friends gathered to cheer on the young chefs.
In honor of one contestant, Emma Thompson, her family tie-dyed t-shirts in her favorite colors. Thompson, age 12, made a cozy cottage pie for her signature dish, which earned high remarks from the judges.
One young chef, Cassius, had a fan club of family and friends in attendance, while many more cheered him on, as the event was live streamed on the Children’s Wishes Facebook page. The nine-year-old made Doritos crusted chicken with rice for his main dish. His family shared that he made the same recipe only a few weeks prior for a family party of over 20 guests.
Joseph Baz, age 10, won the competition with his lamb kabobs, a recipe he learned from his Syrian grandmother.
Children’s Wishes executive director Mary O’Rourke said Monday the event raised close to $14,000.
“If we can grant a couple of wishes, we’re very happy,” she said. “We’ve already started planning next year’s event. It takes a village, but it works.”
O’Rourke was “overjoyed” by the event’s turnout and response.
“It’s so great to see our wish families. We haven’t seen them in over a year and a half, so to get those hugs again and see those smiles, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
O’Rourke explained this was the organization’s first event post-COVID. They were able to pull of a golf tournament last year, “under much stress,” said O’Rourke, but “this is really the first event where we’ve been able to have a lot of guests and our families.”
O’Rourke said that while the wishes are a “very important” piece of the organization’s mission, it’s “just the beginning.” The organization is currently in the process of granting 29 wishes.
“The wishes are our main mission, but we really pride ourselves with keeping in touch with our wish families through our family programs, wellness programs, and events like this,” she said. “If kids are in the hospital, we’ll send them a gift card. We’ll visit them if we’re able to. But they truly are a part of our family.”
Ted Trafton, board chair, donned a lobster costume to promote the organization’s fall events, which include a gala at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet on September 17, and a costume party at the Elks Lodge in Smithfield on October 16.
The costume party will feature a beer tasting with local brewers.
“We did this two years ago,” said Trafton during the event. “We went into it thinking, maybe we’ll get 80 or 100 people, but we hit capacity in two minutes. It’s going to be such a great event with such a great turnout, people are really excited for it.”
The organization is also planning two family-friendly events, including a Rainbow Run 5K at Goddard Memorial Park on September 19 and the Amazing Wish Race at BouldrDash challenge sites throughout the state on October 2. For more information about these events and others, visit www.childrens-wishes.org/events.
“Let’s get people thinking ahead,” he said. “We’re been stuck in the past and in the pandemic for so long. Get the word out early, and get people excited, get people more excited to be in the community.”
Joanne Baz and Rebecca Samra, board members and co-chairs for the fall gala, shared that the event will be “full of wonderful food and beautiful scenery,” said Samra.
The organization is seeking event sponsors and auction item donations.
“It’s not just about the money, it’s about the children and the families,” said Baz. “Our favorite part is hearing the stories from kids and families. Who doesn’t get touched by those stories and experiences?”