ANDERSON — Tommi Rae Fowler, a junior at Wren High School, won the Food Network’s first Teen Tournament, a version of their popular cooking show “Chopped.”
The final show aired Aug. 12, but was actually taped in April. Food Network’s regulations forced Fowler to keep the knowledge that she had won a secret for the past four months.
“That was really hard,” Fowler said during a phone interview. “All my friends were like, ‘You can tell me — I won’t tell anybody!’ But I just couldn’t risk it. No one but my parents and I knew.”
The taping for the winner’s announcement took place over a week in New York and Fowler, who had never been on an airplane before, joked that she was so nervous she almost called the whole thing off.
“I was terrified,” she said. “My dad went with me and he just kept asking me, ‘Do you know how many planes take off and land everyday? You’ll be fine.’ And it was so bumpy, but I loved it. I love flying now.”
On the show, just after winning, Fowler tearfully said, “I remember when I was knee high to a grasshopper, and I told my dad that I would go on to college … and I’ve kept that promise.”
Prizes for winning the Chopped Teen Tournament included $25,000 and a $40,000 culinary school scholarship. Right now, Fowler is considering The Art Institute of Charleston, but admits to keeping her options open.
“I’m still checking into schools, I’ve still got some time,” she said.
When asked what she plans to do with some of her winnings, Fowler said: “On TV I said that I was going to take all of my nieces and nephews to Disney World — and I still may — but it depends on how much taxes get taken out of it (the winnings). Right now, I’m thinking about flying my sister and 4-year-old niece down from Michigan and maybe getting everyone together at the beach.”
Fowler said that prior to the competition, Daytona Beach, Fla., was the furthest she had traveled. Fowler now says she wants to see more of the country, especially since she is no longer afraid of flying. She also has plans to eventually open her own restaurant.
“I want it to be a nice place, but I don’t want the kind of place that after you eat, you feel like you need a burger,” she said. “I want people to feel like they need a nap when they’re done eating at my restaurant.”
When asked if she was going to stay local or if she wanted to open her restaurant somewhere like New York or Los Angeles,” Fowler said. “Oh, definitely local. I want to give back to the community that helped raise me.”