culinary curiosity

Curiosity Leads to a Love for Food

Do the names Gabriel Concordia, Shelby McCrone, Aisah Siraj or Anthony Thomas ring a bell? These are local chefs competing on a new reality culinary competition show. Last month, “Battle of the Brothers” began airing on the Discovery+ streaming service and the Food Network cable channel. 

These chefs have colorful lives with one common thread that binds them together – an appreciation for diverse foods. They speak passionately about their challenges, revealing how they found joy and fulfillment when they started working with food. The chefs create action-packed expeditions of taste testing unknown foods, learning to cook and understanding the properties of food. Over time, their curiosity led them to a love of food that flourished within different career paths and inspired them to share with family, friends and the community.

“Consciousness and social and environmental consideration are important.”

Gabriel Concordia was born in the Philippines, moved to the U.S. when he was 2 1/2 years old, and now lives in Fairfax, Virginia, though he moved a lot in recent years. He admitted to disconnecting between his Filipino culture and his eating habits, choosing American comfort foods as the go-to meals of choice.

Concordia worked on a farm and learned to engage with the community by understanding where food comes from and how it is supplied to consumers. He took that knowledge to college and culinary school and focused his studies on the anthropological ways humans interact with food, making sure to understand best practices in supporting communities.

Today, Concordia does not consider himself to be a chef. He sees his role as a farmer, deeply connected with the origins of food. The best advice he gives to children is to encourage them to engage their inner curiosity and ask questions. “Where does this come from? Who cooks my food? Why does it taste like that?” He also encourages families to volunteer at local farms such as Arcadia Farms in Alexandria, Virginia, to gain an educational and hands-on perspective on food.

“Working for restaurants humbles you.”

Shelby McCrone was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and currently lives in Fairfax, Virginia. She ate healthy foods as a child; fruits and vegetables were a staple in her home. As she got older, McCrone worked as a waitress and loved the experience of working at a restaurant. This initial love of food led her straight to culinary school and then to work at fine dining restaurants. In 2020, she chose to switch to a plant-based lifestyle for health reasons. After experimenting with meats for most of her life, she felt cutting them out and focusing on plant-based meals made her feel better physically and was the right choice for her. 

However, she does not force her choices on her three children. Though hers is a completely plant-based home, McCrone allows her children to eat meats if they wish. Sometimes she sneaks vegetables into her cooking on the sly, but other times, she introduces new plant foods casually. Overall, she wants food to be a fun experience for her children, rather than hearing them groan about having to eat vegetables again.

After working at restaurants and understanding how difficult it can be, McCrone says she doesn’t want her children to cook professionally. She thinks the restaurant industry has become a glamorized culture where a person must cook a lot to prove themselves. However, her advice to parents is: “If your kids are super passionate, you should encourage them. You get life skills from working at restaurants …”

“Don’t be afraid of introducing foods.”

Mother of one, Aisah Siraj was born in the Philippines, moved to the U.S. in 2014, and now lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Siraj loved the concept of baking when she was in elementary school, but she had no career future in baking in her country. Siraj saw her brother working towards a degree in hotel and restaurant management and was intrigued. She watched cooking shows, became inspired and wanted to become a chef.

Siraj started off her culinary career in the U.S. as a server at a pizza restaurant. She got jobs at many local restaurants and found her pot of gold at The Wharf in D.C., a waterfront neighborhood with restaurants and hotels. She gained valuable experience learning African, American and French cuisine. She got better and better until she was promoted to sous chef. In 2018, she began working for Pinch & Plate catering company and shortly afterward, simultaneously worked as a pastry chef specializing in desserts at Moon Rabbit, a Vietnamese restaurant at The Wharf.

Siraj strongly believes the love of food starts with Mom and Dad. “Be proud of your child for trying foods from other cultures.”

“Ewww, I don’t like that … ” “Have you ever tried it before?”

Father of one, Anthony Thomas was born in Mount Rainier and now lives in Lanham, Maryland. When he was 7, he was intrigued whenever his parents cooked. His mom and dad alternated cooking meals every night and he had questions. He wanted to know about the ingredients and the preparation of various foods. Despite Thomas’ inquisitiveness about foods, he had poor eating habits.

At the age of 19, Thomas suffered a seizure and was diagnosed with a brain deformity that required corrective surgery and medication. This medical problem inspired Thomas to change his lifestyle and he practiced veganism for 3-4 years afterwards. The experience led him to culinary school and inspired him to associate food with natural healing. Thomas focused heavily on juicing and learned to develop recipes using whole foods.

Though Thomas is not currently a vegan, he continues working with vegan recipes. He is now a personal chef, preparing foods for people inside their homes. He has also taken his love for vegan cooking and juicing to new levels by publishing books about his passions and posting cooking videos on YouTube. His best advice to parents is to inspire their children to taste unknown foods by modeling positive behavior. “You have to be willing to try anything at least once. Be open-minded to foods. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”

Parents can learn more about these inspiring local chefs by visiting their personal social media and websites: 

Gabriel Concordia:

Shelby McCrone:

Aisah Siraj:

Anthony Thomas: