ARLINGTON, Texas — Tears of joy streamed down the face of Luciana Malkomes when she and daughter Gabby, a 5-year-old student with Down syndrome, learned this week that they were one of the winners in the Uncle Ben’s Beginners Cooking Competition.

Mom and Gabby won $15,000 for their family and $30,000 for a cafeteria makeover at Gabby’s school, Martha Reid Leadership Academy in Arlington, which is part of the Mansfield school district. There were 25 finalists and five grand prize winners.

“So not only did Gabby win, but so did all of you,” Sara Schulte, a representative of Mars Inc., the parent company of Uncle Ben’s, said during a surprise announcement at the school notifying the winners.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“I’m shocked,” Malkomes said. “I can’t describe my emotions; I didn’t think we were going to win.”

Malkomes first learned of the competition last year, when she saw a post about the Ben’s Beginners contest on Uncle Ben’s Instagram account.

“I got very excited, because Gabby loves to help me cook and play cooking, but unfortunately at that time she wasn’t eligible to enter because she was attending pre-K and kids must be kindergarten to eighth grade to take part in the contest,” she said. “So I thought, if they continue this, I can enter next year.”

Gabby and her mom created eight recipes using Uncle Ben’s products for the contest. Gabby’s winning entry was a recipe for peanut butter rice flan.

“I love flan,” Malkomes said. “I’m originally from Brazil, and we make a lot of flans. It’s one of my favorite desserts, and it’s delicious.”

She said she loves to cook and create things in the kitchen, but the best part is just sharing the experience.

“I want people to know more about special-needs children and how wonderful they are,” Malkomes said. “It’s a journey, but an extraordinary journey. I’m impressed every day with the things she can do. I think the world needs to know.

“The smile on her face is the best part of it all.”

Uncle Ben’s has awarded $270,000 to cooking contest winners, with $580,000 going to schools around the country for cafeteria makeovers.

Correspondent Rick Mauch contributed to this report.

© 2017 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC