In 2016, after years of watching the Food Network, 12-year-old Cassidy Tryon ’25 had just won the popular network cooking competition, “Chopped Junior,” besting three competitors from a pool of more than 5,000 applicants.
But a month after the taping, Tryon found herself in the emergency room, in critical condition and receiving fluids and medication to keep her organs from shutting down.
Tryon had already given up gymnastics because of exhaustion and malnourishment, but the doctors had yet to determine a cause. Without sports, she’d leaned into her love of cooking, the one thing she felt she could still do.
After that night in the emergency room and a visit with a specialist, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. The diagnosis was a relief and an adjustment of expectations – she wouldn’t be able to return to sports, but she would deepen her relationship with cooking and food. Six years later, Tryon is continuing her journey as a food science major at Cornell, deepening her understanding of how food is made and connecting with others who love cooking as much as she does.
“Cornell is such a cool place,” Tryon said.
“I’m learning about what actually goes into putting food on shelves, and making things that will be safe and bring joy to people’s lives. I’m also interested in nutrition and can feel how the biology and chemistry will click with food science later on. I’m still exploring and open to learning everything.”
Tryon grew up in upstate New York, in Horseheads and Albany, and was fascinated by Cornell from a young age. Soon after she won Chopped Junior, she visited campus on an invitation from Kathryn Boor, professor of food science and then the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Boor also grew up in Horseheads and had seen the episode of Chopped.
“I remember meeting Cassidy on campus at age 12 – and recruiting her then,” said Boor, now dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education. “She has done well, and her story is inspiring to those who struggle with chronic health conditions. I could not possibly be more pleased that she chose Cornell food science.”
On that visit, Tryon toured Stocking Hall, made boba and gummy worms in the lab, and ice cream in the product development kitchen. “It was such a cool experience,” Tryon said. “I’d never heard of food science before, and it was so fascinating. It was a new way to look at things. I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for that experience.”
Alongside her current studies, Tryon continues to cook, documenting her creations on her Instagram account and sharing them with her dorm. “Cooking is like rest to me,” she said. “I think having that balance between work and rest and doing things you love is really important. And I love food so much that I want other people to enjoy it with me.”
Tryon is also finding a ‘foodie’ community at Cornell – she has recently gotten involved with Crème de Cornell, the university’s food magazine, contributing photography to the latest issue.
Since her diagnosis, Tryon said, cooking has helped her cope with her condition.
“I don’t think I would have a healthy relationship with food if I didn’t cook through all of it,” she said. “I was really malnourished and underweight, and food became really meaningful to me because it was how I healed, physically and mentally.”
She still has to be careful about what she eats and when, but she said ultimately the struggles she has faced with her illness help her today. “My body is not perfect, and one thing my diagnosis really taught me is to embrace that imperfection,” Tryon said. “I’ve had a great response to sharing my story, with people reaching out to tell me how much it’s meant to them. If I had seen my illness as an imperfection, something to hide, I wouldn’t have had that impact or that growth.”
This acceptance extends to her studies. “Cornell is a place where everyone is really good at what they do. But not everything I do is going to be perfect,” she said. “Rather than beating myself up when I make mistakes, I can learn from it. That allows me to really enjoy my time here.”
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