Chef's Table: As a child, Chase Bailey hated most food. Now the teenager, who has autism, is an acclaimed chef with his own cooking show.

Watts, Sarah

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000513020.93031.ef
Departments: The Waiting Room

This Way In: Chase Bailey, 15, has autism. He also hosts his own cooking show.

For most of his childhood, Chase Bailey liked exactly three foods: chips and dip, cookies, and pizza. “It's not a healthy diet, that's for sure,” he admits, laughing. Diagnosed with autism just after his second birthday, Chase, who is now 15 and lives in Irvine, CA, had other challenges beyond his food aversions. His speech was delayed, and he had problems with fine motor coordination.

Autism, which affects an estimated one in 68 Americans, is commonly characterized by difficulties with sensory processing, language, abstract thinking, and understanding social cues. Everyone experiences this lifelong condition differently, but occupational and behavioral therapies can help people overcome some of the challenges. For many, the condition has upsides as well. In Chase's case, he's more creative and imaginative than he might otherwise be, says his mother, Mary. And these skills have helped him turn a serious food aversion into a dynamic career.

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TURNING POINT

Watching television with his grandfather one afternoon when he was 8, Chase discovered a cooking show called Eat St., which featured different food trucks across the country. Chase, whose two favorite things at the time were people and geography, was instantly hooked. That night, he approached Mary with an unusual request.

“He came to me and said, ‘I want to try frog legs,’” Mary recalls. Within a month, “he said he wanted to try fried alligator. I was like, ‘Slow down!’”

The more he tuned into Eat St., the more Chase experimented with foods beyond his three favorites—to everyone's amazement.

“Because food engages all the senses, it was too overwhelming for Chase to deal with,” says Mary. “With cooking shows, he got comfortable seeing other people eat until he felt safe enough to try something new.”

Soon, every cooking show became an obsession for Chase, and he talked nonstop about one day having a show of his own, according to Mary.

“When I saw those shows, I knew I wanted to be a chef,” Chase recalls. “I wanted to have my own show, my own blog, anything that involved cooking. And finally my mom said, ‘You know what? Let's do this.’”

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HOOKED ON COOKING

Chase started cooking, incorporating his own creative twists into family recipes: To his great-grandmother's Cola-Cola cake recipe, for instance, he added more butter and chocolate to “kick it up a notch.” When he was 11, with the help of his teenage cousin, Chase started filming his cooking sessions and uploading them to YouTube, dubbing his new show “Chase ‘N Yur Face,” a suggestion from his uncle. The unique spelling was a nod to Chase's autism, his mother says. “That's another way Chase's brain works. He thinks in pictures, not words. So when we were creating the show he saw ‘Chase In Your Face’ as ‘Chase ‘N Yur Face,’ and that's just what we went with.”

Quickly, people started paying attention. Not only were the recipes delicious, but Chase had a magnetic personality that kept viewers coming back for more. In every episode he grins, winks, and flashes thumbs-up signs as he mixes and measures.

Over the next several years, the show's popularity mushroomed from a couple hundred viewers to almost 18,000 subscribers and 300,000 views. Chase began cooking with celebrity chefs such as MasterChef competitor Becky Reams and Korean master chef Roy Choi, one of the founders of the food truck movement. Chase was also a guest on The Meredith Vieira Show and ABC's daytime cooking show, The Chew, in 2016. But the highlight of Chase's career so far has been the opportunity to serve as sous chef for the 2015 Autism Speaks Celebrity Chef Gala in Los Angeles. There he debuted his signature salted blue waves sugar cookies and met his hero, Giada De Laurentiis of the Food Network. “That was a great night,” says Chase.

The excitement didn't stop there. In November, Chase published The Official Chase ‘N Yur Face Cookbook, currently available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The book, which features more than 75 original recipes, also funds the Bailey family's Chase Yur Dreams foundation (http://chaseyurdreams.org), which provides grants and vocational training to adults with autism.

Eventually, Chase hopes to open a restaurant and study filmmaking in college. But until then, he's always in search of his next great recipe.

“Now he'll try things that even I won't go near,” Mary laughs, citing the pigeon and foie gras he sampled on a recent outing. “He's always saying, ‘Mom, try this!’ And I just can't. The tables certainly have turned.”

To see Chase on YouTube, go to http://bit.ly/ChaseNYurFace.

© 2017 American Academy of Neurology