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Maya Wierzbicki

For my grandmother, for my mother, and for myself, three generations of immigrant women who communicate their love through food.

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How long have you been cooking?

I was born for an affinity for cooking. Growing up Lebanese, we are groomed to prepare, appreciate and eat good food. Professionally, I have been cooking for the last 7 years on yachts in the Caribbean. I've learned to make beautiful meals out of limited ingredients in the smallest of spaces. There is nothing more that brings me joy than cooking. Cooking is such an art, it's an attitude. To me, I have been lucky that cooking is part of my culture.

What is your signature dish?

If you ask my husband and many of my guests, my signature dish would be a seared sea bass on top of a bed of tabouli salad. I would have to agree. Crispy, buttery seabass, but the showstopper and labor of love would have to be my tabouli. I use my grandmother's mezzaluna to chop the parsley, and remember her gentle hands every time I make the salad. I taste and season like my mother does, using small spoons to take bites between each toss. Tabouli is a reflective, heartfelt dish for me.

What will you do with the $50,000?

$50,000 would be so helpful for my transition from yacht chef to land based. I would like to start my own business on St. Thomas, a food truck with middle eastern to-go hand held foods. The money would go towards helping me get all the equipment that I need, and helping me complete the licensing on island. I'd also like to take 10% of the money and donate it to Chef Jose Andres' organization, World Central Kitchen, as I believe they do so much good in the world. Food is love!