Autistic teen turns fear of food into cooking passion
Autistic teen turns fear of food into cooking passion 13-year-old chef Chase Bailey takes a holiday spice pound cake out of the oven in Irvine, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Autistic teen turns fear of food into cooking passion
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When Chase Bailey was diagnosed with autism at 2, his mother feared he'd never enjoy a typical childhood. Indeed, he hasn't. Between appearances with celebrities and hosting his own cooking show, Bailey's life feels anything but typical.
During the past two years, the 13-year-old has spiced up ramen noodles with Korean-American street food guru Roy Choi. He has simmered butternut squash soup with Sting's daughter, Fuschia Sumner.  And he has baked hundreds of bright blue frosted cookies for guests at an Autism Speaks gala in Los Angeles.  There, he was introduced by Conan O'Brien.
The days when Bailey would eat nothing but pizza, chicken, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, and chips with dip almost seem like a faint memory.
"He wasn't even eating food until he was 8 years old," said Nick Shipp.  He is executive chef at The Upper West.  It is the Santa Monica, California, restaurant where Bailey helps cook dinner once a week. "For him to go from that to cooking and eating all kinds of different things, it's pretty remarkable."
After her son's diagnosis, friends and acquaintances prepared Mary Bailey for the worst. He'd never be able to have a job, some said. He'd probably never learn to socialize. And he'd never be independent.
"You just hear a lot of things that are downers," she said.
She immediately placed her son in school and therapy. At home, she struggled to get him to eat. Like many on the autism spectrum, Chase found food overwhelming. The sight, smell, feel and taste of almost everything put on his plate tipped his sensory system over the edge.
"I didn't like how it looked," he said. "I didn't like how it smelled."
Then he started watching cooking shows with his grandfather. He got hooked on seeing people enjoy the food they were eating. Within six months, he started asking to try some of the foods he saw on shows like Cooking Channel's "Eat St." and Food Network's "Chopped." Among his early requests: fried alligator, frog legs and beef tongue.
"He was just devouring it," Mary Bailey recalled with a laugh.
Two years later, he confided to his mother that one day he wanted to have his own cooking show.
"She was like, 'Why wait?'" Chase Bailey said.
Setting out with her home camcorder and using a friend's kitchen, they recorded the first episode of "Chase 'N Yur Face."   Then they posted it to YouTube. The show quickly caught the attention of autism groups.  Realizing the impact they could have, Mary Bailey began looking for ways to enhance the production. She hired a professional film crew and started incorporating cooking and shooting episodes into her son's homeschool curriculum.
Chase Bailey, using the cooking shows he watched as inspiration, started reaching out by email to chefs he admired.  He invited them to tape episodes with him.
"It was no big deal," Bailey said nonchalantly. "I'm like, 'If they're doing it, I'm doing it.'"
In the show, a confident, charismatic Chase whips up everything from cupcakes to braised rabbit. The show, which now has more than 30 episodes online, has garnered tens of thousands of views.
"I love that there's a story behind it," said Sumner, an actress living in Los Angeles. She recently taped a holiday special with the teen. "Food is emotional."
The most challenging part, Mary Bailey said, has been learning how to produce a show. She spent 20 years in the corporate world before leaving a management position to focus full-time on her son. Chase Bailey said his biggest challenge was learning how to fry chicken while talking in front of a camera.
"To see your child go from little to no speech, no eye contact ... having extreme food aversions, all of these symptoms, to almost the exact opposite," Mary Bailey said, "I don't know, it feels miraculous."
Chase Bailey dreams of one day seeing his show on television. He also wants to open his own restaurant. He hopes his experience can help others with autism.
"Don't be afraid to be you," Chase Bailey said.
"Hear, hear," Sumner said. "Be yourself because everyone else is taken."

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Why is food a challenge for autistic children?
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  • maddyw-ter
    11/19/2015 - 11:08 a.m.

    I love this story it reminds me of myself when i had an eating problem an I overcame it! I'm so happy for anyone who can overcome a fear. It truly feels great!<3;) I so proud of him and his family! KEEP GOING STRONG!

  • hannac-ter
    11/19/2015 - 11:09 a.m.

    This is really interesting. He went from a fear of food and then went to making food. it's also cool how he said "Don't be afraid to be you."

  • maddier-ter
    11/19/2015 - 11:13 a.m.

    I find it amazing that a person with Autism can do so much. I wonder which show inspired him the most? I hope he does get on television one day and I would love to watch his show.

  • sadier-ter
    11/19/2015 - 11:29 a.m.

    It is amazing just to read about this transition he went through. I am definitely going to watch his videos as soon as possible.

  • brandony-ver
    11/19/2015 - 01:13 p.m.

    I dont understand how he was scared of did he eat before he started liking it?

  • gabec-ter
    11/19/2015 - 01:36 p.m.

    I thought this was a cool article because i have a cousin that is autistic so that's why i liked it so much.

  • lesliek-ter
    11/19/2015 - 01:43 p.m.

    This article is pretty amazing and inspiring to me because going from not socializing to becoming a super awesome cook. The thought of the hard times this kid went though, It very sad reading the article really brings joy to me. I would love to see this kid on television and I know he'll get there very good article.

  • macj-ter
    11/19/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    I like how they started out with talking about his autism. Then mixed in his fear of food and what he has done to get over it, how he started to cook,and has his own cooking show type thing on you tube. Also how it talked about his dreams t\he wants to do with cooking at the end.

  • haydenc-ter
    11/19/2015 - 02:38 p.m.

    That was a great story I am glad y'all made a point! Just because you can be different doesn't mean you cant purse your dreams! I loved this story!

  • ykinv-ter
    11/19/2015 - 02:40 p.m.

    I was wonderful to read about someone with Autism turn their life around. First he was afraid of food, and now celebrities are talking about him. This really inspired me to make use of my talents. He is very inspiring and very enjoyable to ready about.

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