Future Chefs crown Joel Lopez winner in Brawley

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BRAWLEY — Sodexo food services company crowned Oakley elementary student Joel Lopez the Future Chefs champion of the Brawley Elementary District during the sixth annual Future Chefs of America competition held Friday at J. W. Oakley Elementary School.

Lopez was excited, but humble about his win. “I’m like, so happy!” said Lopez, “But everyone did a very good job.”

Twelve students from fourth and fifth grades competed in the Future Chefs competition this year. All four elementary schools in the BESD district had at least three students competing in the cook off.

“It’s just a really great opportunity for kids to learn how to eat healthy, how to have fun in the kitchen with mom and dad, whether it’s grilling or cooking something,” said Elda Najera, the area’s Sodexo general manager for BESD.

For the competition, students were asked to create a recipe with the theme “Comfort Food” in mind, giving the children a large range of recipes with which to work. Then the recipes were judged by kid appeal, the ease of preparation, taste, and the health factor. Students were given bonus points if they were able to incorporate healthy ingredients such as ground turkey, mushrooms, or whole wheat pasta into their recipes.

The winners of this year’s Future Chefs competition in Brawley’s elementary schools are Mya Allen (left) with third place; Jalyn Saceda (right) in second place; and first place winner Joel Lopez (center).

However, the difficulty for the aspiring chefs was to figure out how to make those foods healthy. Mya Allen from Phil Swing school said she loves pizza, but realized she could not use pizza dough if she wanted to make her meal healthful.

“I thought a zucchini would work like a pizza,” said Allen about her zucchini bites creation.

Mathieu Senkel from Myron D. Witter school echoed Lopez’s words.

“I feel proud of myself and everyone here, because out of 4,000 kids we are the 12 here,” said Senkel.

Sodexo, the food service company for the Brawley schools’ cafeterias, initiated the Future Chefs competition six years ago in an effort to encourage healthy eating as well as teach students how to have fun in the kitchen. Almost 300 schools from around the country compete in this tournament.

All the participants walked away with medals, certificates, and a bag of goodies to encourage them to keep cooking. As a grand prize, Lopez was given a huge basket of cooking supplies, which he plans to use to cook albondigas and more. He will also move on to compete in regionals. Winners from there go on to nationals where the champion will become the spokesperson of the year for Sodexo.

One of the first national champions, Remmi Smith, has gone on to start her own business called “Cook Time with Remmi,” a subscription snack box called Chef Club Box, and competed on Food Network’s Chopped “Teen” tournament.

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