McLean Knight, a 10-year-old Las Cruces resident recently skyrocketed to fame with his winning green-chile cheese roll and jicama fries dish. McLean, whose father is White Sands Missile Range Chief of Environmental Division Branch Brian Knight, had his dish chosen to represent the state of New Mexico for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge held annually. He was awarded a trip to visit the White House and meet first lady Michelle Obama July 14.
During his visit to the White House McLean said he also visited the Smithsonian and the Washington Monument. He also did one more thing that not many people who visit the White House get to do.
“I ate with Michelle Obama and I talked to her,” McLean said unassumingly.
McLean’s green-chile cheese roll, or “calzone” as he calls it, and lime, avocado and cilantro jicama fruit dish was his own creation. The challenge required contestants to use one homegrown ingredient, McLean made all of New Mexico proud by choosing the Hatch Green Chile, a New Mexico staple. To make the dish healthy McLean said he chose to use turkey instead of beef and he made his own taco seasoning for the meat. He said he wanted to do a calzone because he loves making calzones with his father.
“I like baking calzones and cheeseburgers so I thought what if I make a healthy version of a combination of both,” he said.
McLean said his love for cooking began at around age 7 and within just three years he was able to create an award winning dish. He said it was important for him to focus on a healthy dish because more people in the U.S. need to get healthier. There was a winner chosen for each state and each winner was featured in the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Cookbook.
“He practiced it a number of times,” Knight said.
McLean said the first lady had him and the other winners sign her copy of the cookbook.
Aside from the visit to the White House and the feature in a cookbook, McLean was also featured in Blue Apron, a monthly subscription company that allows for customers to pick the dishes they’d like to cook and receive a copy of the recipe and ingredients to their door. McLean was able to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and appear in a local morning news station to prepare his dish.
“He’s having a great time with this,” Knight said.
On Aug. 15, 2016 the city of Las Cruces made a proclamation declaring the day to be known as McLean Knight Day. Earlier this month McLean was also presented the Congressional Certificate from Congressman Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) at his school. After presenting the award Pearce took some selfies with McLean and his mother and other students outside of the school. On Oct. 17 his school will also present his winning dish as the school’s lunch for the day.
“He’s very humble,” said McLean’s mom, Kristin. “School representatives call me to tell me how surprised they are that he’s not bragging about all of this.”
She said there is a tradition in their house where the kids cook the parent’s dinner on Sunday nights which may have sparked his interest in cooking. Kristin and Knight said that although McLean was a picky eater growing up he was always exposed to a variety of foods.
“We’re kind of a foodie family,” Knight said.
McLean also has other interests like soccer and eating the food he cooks. Though he said he doesn’t much like the fame that comes with cooking a winning dish, he still has a love for cooking and will continue to create new dishes.
“I will keep cooking,” McLean said.