Throughout my life I have met many inspiring people—those who have shown me what it means to work hard, never give up, and always appreciate what you have. They are the people who have taught me to enjoy every second of life, no matter what circumstances I may face. One of these people was a boy named David Pearson. We met in the fall of 2010 at one of my favorite places, the DuPont farmers’ market in Washington, DC, just a few months after David was diagnosed with an aggressive type of brain cancer. If you had been there that day, you wouldn’t have known that this sixteen-year-old was battling cancer. David was energetic, upbeat, and ready for anything.
We had a mission that day: to get David to eat more vegetables. Vegetables were not his friends, but he needed to eat healthy so he could be strong enough to fight his disease. Together we shopped around the market and picked ingredients for me to show him how to make a paella filled with vegetables that he would like. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and we also talked about what kind of feasts we wanted to serve for the holiday. We planned our menu and bought our ingredients, and the following Thursday we cooked the same exact meal. It marked the beginning of our friendship because we bonded over a meal that we cooked together in spirit for our families on Thanksgiving.
David was so passionate about cooking and the ingredients—he even spoke to his food just like I do. He had a true appreciation for food and for life. Despite his illness and his suffering, he never wanted special treatment and was always giving back. When asked what he wanted for Christmas, he said to give his presents to the other sick kids whom he had met in the hospital. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted him a wish, he said to give it to somebody else.
David and I remained good friends in the years following that fall day at the farmers’ market, and throughout our friendship, he always impressed me with his positive outlook. He never lost hope and never believed that there was no going back. When I visited him in the hospital not long before he surrendered to his battle in the spring of 2012, he kept telling me how he couldn’t wait to get better so that he could cook and eat again. It was truly amazing how food and cooking kept him alive.
I don’t like funerals, but when David’s parents told me there would be a celebration of his life, I knew I had to be there. I was blown away by how many people came to remember this amazing boy. Hundreds and hundreds of loved ones gathered to share stories and feast on paella, the very same kind of paella we made in my backyard the first time we met. I thought to myself that this was a party, and I was so happy because I knew in my heart it was how David would’ve wanted it to be. Friends and family, together, united over one meal. When I go I want it to be like that. I will always carry David’s spirit with me. He was a selfless, passionate young man, and he still inspires me every single day. Every time I make this vegetable paella, I smile and remember David, and I think of how lucky the angels in heaven are to have a chef like him.