Self-taught home cook shines in national cooking contest  


Rlynn Smith-Thomas likes to spend time in the kitchen cooking meals that are rich in flavor, nutritious, and will put a smile on her friends’ and family’s faces.  

The self-taught home cook creates a wide range of meals but her favorite dish to make is meatloaf with mashed or creamed potatoes and peas because it was her children’s favorite growing up.  

Despite never having culinary training, Smith-Thomas takes her time perfecting dishes with flavor and presentation.  

After every dish she’s proud of, the Santa Clarita Valley resident likes to snap a photo and send it to her oldest son, Joshua Thomas, who has encouraged her for years to develop recipes to share online or write a cookbook, she said.  

Food creations by Rlynn Thomas-Smith. Courtesy.

Although the idea has never really interested her, she eventually came across an online competition open for professional and aspiring chefs. 

She thought maybe it would be a good way to test out the opportunity and show her son that she’s aiming on doing something with her cooking, since he has always supported her passion for it.  

The online nationwide competition allows the contestants to share their meals via photographs for a chance to win $25,000, be on the cover of Taste of Home magazine, and an opportunity to cook with chef and television personality Carla Hall.  

It’s a humbling and surreal experience participating in a competition with other chefs who own their own restaurants and are well-experienced, Thomas-Smith said. She never thought she would make it so far, she added.  

 She is currently in third place as of the publication of this story.  

The contest is presented by Hall in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to “celebrate, support, and elevate the people behind America’s food culture,” states the organization’s website.  

Food creations by Rlynn Thomas-Smith. Courtesy.

“I enjoy cooking. I take pictures of my food when it looks good. I have been doing this for years, taking pictures and sending it to my son because it’s a way for us to share a mutual thing,” Smith-Thomas said.  

“He would send me pictures of what he cooked and I will send them a picture of what I cook,” she added.  

If she were to win the $25,000 she would either pursue culinary classes to learn more of the technicalities of food making or update her kitchen to be chef-friendly and a welcoming space where her loved ones can gather to taste her creations, she said. 

The competition voting closes its next round on Thursday at 7 p.m. 

To vote for Smith-Thomas, visit

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