Fourteen-year-old Jonathan Giovannoni is balancing high school, a catering company, a new job as a chef, international cooking competitions and preparing to host a travelling food show. He also has an inoperable brain tumour.
Jonathan was diagnosed with cancer at the age of five and underwent 72 weeks of chemotherapy.
“It limited my ability to play with kids and do things five-year-olds would do, so I started cooking. I’ve just had a passion ever since,” he said.
He still remembers the first time he cooked with his dad, mushing tomatoes to make pizza sauce.
“We’re all overweight in this house. Even the dog is overweight! Even the cat and the bird. We all love his food,” his mom Alina Giovannoni said.
Since then, he’s continued experimenting in the kitchen. His favourite thing to cook is steak.
“Even with the worst circumstances in life, you don’t have to be bitter. You can still make the best of it, like he did,” Alina said.
For the last four years, Jonathan’s been cooking daily for his family.
“It gives me something to look forward to. Just to see the expression on people’s faces and what they think of it, that’s the best part for me,” he said.
One day, he signed himself up to audition for the cooking show Chopped Canada Junior. Alina was hesitant about the idea.
“I said, ‘How about if you don’t win?’ He said, ‘Ok, well maybe I’ll learn something from it.’ And I said, ‘No no no no, you can’t do that. It’s going to break your heart.’ And he said, “Mom I already enrolled. I’ll deal with it’.”
It didn’t end up being a problem, because Jonathan won.
He didn’t stop there. He’s since won the Canadian Food Championships at Taste of Edmonton in the bacon category. That earned him a golden ticket to the World Food Championships in Alabama.
“It was amazing. I was the youngest competitor there. I was the youngest competitor ever,” Jonathan explained.
Cooking again with bacon, his team finished top 10 in the world. That’s where he met famous chefs, like Steve Cassarino, better known as Chef Roc.
Cassarino asked Jonathan to help host a travelling adventure food show called Culinary Culture.
“He has eight TV shows. He is huge. He is the real deal. When he offered Jonathan the job this is like a dream come true,” Alina explained.
“It’s amazing. Just knowing a chef of that magnitude believed in me and gave me an opportunity to do that,” Jonathan said.
The teenager also recently took a position at a new restaurant opening just off Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, called Why Not Cafe and Bar.
“I like to consider myself relatively talented and if a 14-year-old can put me in my place, that’s the type of person we need working with us. We want to build young minds and his young mind is lightyears ahead of everyone else his age,” co-owner Levi Biddlecombe explained.
Jonathan will be helping to design the restaurant’s rotating menu.
“He’s already so talented. So the fact that we can be seen as mentors and that we have something to offer somebody who’s already got such a bright future is amazing,” Biddlecombe said.
Nine years after being diagnosed with his brain tumour, Jonathan still has his brain tumour. Chemotherapy didn’t shrink it. He often donates his prize money from competitions to Make-A-Wish for sick children.
“We’re fighting. We’ll be cancer free soon,” he said.