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What's Up South Texas!: Master Chef Junior competitor inspires others to turn passions into reality

To some, wearing several hats can be nearly impossible, but for one San Antonio 13-year-old who will appear in season seven of "Master Chef Junior," wearing several hats is what keeps him grounded.

Thomas Reyna is what you would think a high energy boy would be but his energy has made his life very successful for his age.

“I don’t like to be inside on the computer,” Thomas Reyna said. “I like to be active and doing stuff all the time. If I am not at school or in gymnastics I am probably outside.”

As a child growing up, Thomas Reyna had struggles with channeling the loads of energy he possessed.

“He was bouncing off the walls and we couldn’t get him to focus,” said Lisa Reyna, Thomas Reyna’s mother. “He still holds the record for in school detentions as a kindergartener and first grader. I am not making that up. It is true.”

Thomas Reyna had a major case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

“We have had medical attention,” Lisa Reyna said. “He was in the first grade and we just couldn’t figure it out. None of the discipline was working and then his teacher suggested that he fidgets and blurts out and that is when we took him to the doctor. We kept at it and then we realized it was about ‘How do we channel this energy in a productive way.’”

Years later, that energy has been put to good use. Thomas Reyna hunts, explores, skateboards, blacksmiths and sharpens knifes as everyday fun activities.

“My uncle got me into knives and I started sharpening them,” Thomas Reyna said. “I started making more knives and I got a forge for Christmas."

On top of that, Thomas Reyna is an award-winning gymnast.

“It stated when my parents would say I would have way too much energy,” Thomas Reyna said. “I tried out for the team and advanced on from there. That takes up most of my time.”

“His standard Monday through Friday is in the gym from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.,” said Lisa Reyna. “Then he got the Hill County Youth Orchestra where he is the percussionist. Saturday and Sunday he is at his meets competing and this year he took up cross country. He would do his homework in the car and come home and get on his YouTube because he wants to learn how to build something else. Then he falls asleep and starts over again.”

One love that Thomas Reyna developed since he was a small kid was the passion for cooking.

“He is a very helpful guy,” Lisa Reyna said. “He likes to be of service to people so it didn’t surprise me that he liked to help in the kitchen.”

“My mom was the person who taught me the most about cooking so I just started with little cookie dough batter rolling into little balls and putting it on the tray and I would stand on my little stool,” Thomas Reyna said.

Thomas Reyna’s meals began to advance overtime.

“I said I wanted him and his sister to start making dinner every week and couple weeks into that Thomas would say stuff like ‘Would you pick up some salmon, eggs, beets, red pepper and lemon.’ He would have a very specific list and I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. I said is this a science experiment? What is going on? He was like ‘I got a dinner for you. I can’t tell you.’”

“My favorite dish to make, me and my dad named it,” Thomas Reyna said. “It is called ‘When Doves Fry.’ I would sauté a dove and put it on Texas toast and make red wine jalapeno jelly which I specialy and I would put it all together. It is my all-time favorite.”

The two said the kitchen is where they’ve built their strongest bond.

“During the kitchen journey, he showed the interest,” Lisa Reyna said. “I would teach him some of my family stories and tricks and he would not just listen to them but he would become so intrigued by them and that was very nice to have.”

One car ride together changed their lives as it was the start to Thomas Reyna’s "Master Chef Junior" journey.

“We heard about the auditions on the radio and thought it would just be fun to do,” Lisa Reyna said. “We knew it would be just a good learning experience. The next thing we know, we got invited back and each step we were just looking forward to the next step. It was a several month process where we had to go through the motions of what they wanted from us.”

Thomas Reyna and Lisa Reyna were then off to California competing with the best of the best including three other teens who were from San Antonio also. Thomas Reyna said the experience was the best and most impactful of his life.

“I just had to keep raising my expectations like ‘Oh, please let me make it past this round or the next round’ and then I made it on and I was like ‘OK, if I get out the first round, then I am OK because I made it way further than I thought I would.'”

He said his time learning from Gordon Ramsey was also impactful.

“He is a lot nicer to kids,” Thomas Reyna said. “He tones it down and doesn’t do anything mean. He would say ‘I will treat you like adults if you act like adults.’ I think I have become a better chef. He has helped me with a lot of things. It has been great being near him and learning from him.”

“The whole process was so worth it,” Lisa Reyna said. “We are not show people and don’t expect him to be an actor and he may or may not go into his chef skills but we learned a lot of professionalism. Everyday was a blessing. Sometimes we would think about different recipes and didn’t know what the next challenge holds. I would ask him if he would rather prep for the next day and he would rather go play with his show friends all the time."

Thomas Reyna still stays in close contact with his new "Team Texas Friends" he met during the competition. He said though he missed out on a lot from back home, he loved every second of it.

“We went to the beach few times but didn’t have much time to ourselves,” said Thomas Reyna. “We explored a bit. Traffic was a lot worse, it was an inch an hour. We didn’t do as much as we could have but we got to do a lot. I wanted to stay longer. I wished I could have stayed forever there. Just to be with my friends. I thought if we all could go back on another TV show, that would be great all together.”

Now that Thomas is back and his life is back to normal, he hope to inspire others out there from his experience.

“Always think of the end result,” Thomas Reyna said. "In gymnastics, we learn about endurance and though it is tiring with some of the moves we have to go through, I always know the end result will be worth it.”

Thomas said he will now spend his time focusing getting a gymnastics scholarship into college, and one day getting into the Naval Academy.

“If you asked him if there is one thing he would want that he doesn’t have it would be, ‘I want more hours in the day.’ That is him,” Lisa Reyna said. “If he had one more hour in the day he would pack with some sort of rewarding experience.”

You will be able to see Thomas Reyna competing on "Master Chef Junior" season 7 starting March 12, during the season’s premiere.

If you know someone like Thomas Reyna who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.


About the Author:

Japhanie Gray

From the home of the Seminoles, Japhanie Gray grew up in the town of Osceola, Arkansas. She graduated as the Salutatorian of the Osceola Class of 2011. She attended Arkansas State University, where she participated in the National Association of Black Journalists and the Spanish Honor Society Sigma Delta Pi.