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Turlock High's cuisine reigns supreme in crosstown culinary clash
Iron chef pic2
Turlock's Hilary Villegas uses a torch to put the finishing touches on the desserts her team has prepared. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal



Cross town rivals Pitman and Turlock have met on the gridiron, the pitch, and the diamond, but on Friday their showdown was in the kitchen.

The two schools were looking to dice and slice their way to the top and claim the trophy in the Turlock Education Foundation’s Iron Chef competition.

In the end it all came down to an avocado.

The culinary titans in-training from Turlock High claimed the victory with an island-themed cuisine that featured a salad of chicken, almonds and mango nestled in an avocado cup.

“The avocado dish really set the tone for their whole meal and the presentation of it went above and beyond,” said Mohini Singh of Mohini Indian Fusion Spices and one of the night’s judges.

Started as a Turlock Rotary event a few years ago, this was the first year the Turlock Education Foundation picked up the mantle of the Iron Chef contest. The event pitted the two culinary programs against each other in a contest that had them making an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. There was no last minute surprise ingredient, but the students had to include chicken, almonds and mascarpone cheese in their dishes.

Each team was comprised of four students, a culinary instructor and the principal from each school.

The teams had one hour to make their dishes and present them to the five judges. The judges scored the dishes on taste, originality, and presentation.

“It was so close,” said Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, who served as one of the judges. “They both did phenomenal work and I am proud of them all.”

The festivities also included a silent auction of student art work, one-of-a-kind floral arrangements by the students, and music from Pitman’s jazz combo.

“We wanted to take this event and elevate it and really make it a showcase for the student’s achievements,” said Foundation President Barney Gordon.

Each culinary program will get $250 from the Foundation. The members of the winning team receive scholarships of $300 each, while the runners-up get scholarships of $150 each.

The Turlock team was lead by Culinary Arts teacher Bobby Sheets and students Rafael Herrera, Hunter Martinez, Emmanuel Mojica, and Hilary Villegas. They were joined by their Principal Marie Peterson. The Turlock team made the avocado salad, coconut grilled chicken with mango salsa and parmesan crusted asparagus and lemon basil orzo on the side. For dessert they made mini blackberry meringue pies with mascarpone.

Pitman’s team was fronted by Culinary Arts teacher Rachel Pennington and students Miya Jacquez, Juan Hernandez, Austin Williams, and Adam Lusher. They were joined by their Principal Rod Hollars. The team made an Italian grilled cheese appetizer with a caprese salad on a stick. For an entrée they prepared chicken fettuccine alfredo with peppers, onions, mushrooms and mascarpone. They finished it off with a lemon mascarpone tart that Da Marto described simply as “awesome.”