She's off to a good start. The recent Snohomish High School grad racked up lots of scholarship money for culinary classes at the Art Institute in Seattle.
It's how the 18-year-old got her start that separates her from many aspiring chefs.
When she was in the fifth grade, she missed school more often than she went.
"I was sick for five months. I had irritable bowel syndrome," Dalton said. "I just lay on the couch."
Scrolling through the channels, she found her idols on the Food Network.
"Alton Brown. Bobby Flay. Rachael Ray. They were like my best friends in the entire world," she said. "I'd watch them and their technique, and that's how I learned everything."
She'd look but not eat.
"I ate ground turkey burgers and mashed potatoes and bread pretty much all the time. Pasta, toasted bagels, anything bland. It's kind of mental thing too. You're scared to eat because you don't want to feel sick," she said.
"I remember going to friends houses with bags of dried pasta and saying, 'This is what I can eat.' In fifth grade it was hard to explain. Yeah, my bowels are irritable. OK."
She had stomach pains, cramps and fatigue.
"There was no real test for IBS. They did all theses tests and said, 'No, you don't have ulcerative colitis, you don't have lactose allergies. Or Crohn's,'" she said. "If you don't have any of those, it's IBS. It's kind of what's left over."
Irritable bowel syndrome is a nonlife threatening illness and one of the most common functional gastrointestinal disorders. Symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas and cramps. The cause is unknown.
Dalton gradually started improving.
"I slowly tried more things. My mom would say, 'OK, If you eat green beans I'll buy you a spring form pan. She bribed me with cooking equipment. She gave me ramekins for creme brulee, microplanes for zesting Parmesan cheese," she said.
"For a fifth-grader it's not what I should want, it's just what I liked."
Dalton managed to keep up with her schoolwork at Zion Lutheran School in Lake Stevens.
"It's like this weird part of my life that happened," she said. "For the most part, I am totally fine now. It's mostly a stress thing. If I get stressed out and nervous it makes it worse. These are considered flare-ups. It's not much of a big deal anymore."
Her recipes and culinary portfolio won $4,000 in scholarship money for her to attend the Art Institute in Seattle, which also offered her a 25 percent tuition discount.
Dalton tried out her dishes on her parents, Steve and Chris, and sisters Jen, 15, and Alli, 10.
Sure, she took a cooking class. "In high school it's an elective and nobody else was serious about cooking. It was the easy-A class, and you get free food," she said.
Dalton also played sports. "I got interested in the medical field and thought about being an athletic trainer," she said. "It was hard to decide if I wanted to do the new passion of sports medicine or keep cooking."
Earlier this month she started culinary classes at the Seattle institute, and knew immediately she'd made the right choice. "We talked about stocks. To everybody else that might be boring, but it was fascinating," she said.
"As chefs, we are different people. We are so fascinated by food. When I'm cooking I have huge tunnel vision. I don't notice anything else around me."
She knows it will take time before she's a Rachael Ray.
"You have to know every job in the kitchen. I'll start out a line cook, then maybe have a chef mentor and work myself up. I'd like to own a restaurant and have a chain then maybe my own show," she said.
"My biggest dream is to have a restaurant in New York. It's going to be superfamous and have the dim lights, this urbany kind of class. I want to go with kind of a French modern, even Italian, just like pasta, steak, bread and cheese kind of deal."
Meantime, Dalton likes soaking up ideas in Seattle. "I'll go to a restaurant, and I'll love the lighting, and I put that in my mind to have that.
"My favorite restaurant ever is 13 Coins. It's classy. Dim lighting. Candles. They have these really cool booths."
This summer, she's working at Subway, where customers dictate what goes on between the bun.
"They choose the bread, meat and sauce. Sometimes I think, 'That doesn't work. I don't want to do that to a sandwich.' Sometimes it hurts me to put honey mustard on a meatball sandwich."
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org
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