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Junior chefs turn up the heat in Turlock culinary showdown
jr iron chef pic1
Team Ninja Chefs, headed up by Jose Hernandez from Memos Cocina, and kid competitors Alicea Parreira, Joseph Perez, and Galilea Uriarte, look for some last minute ingredients at the Turlock Certified Farmers Market for the Iron Chef Jr. competition. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD/The Journal

They may not have years of experience in the kitchen, but that didn’t stop some young foodies and budding chefs from turning out some restaurant worthy dishes in the first ever Iron Chef Jr. competition from the Turlock Downtown property Owners Association.

“The event was a total success from everyone’s point of view,” said Gina Loretelli, executive director of the TDPOA. “The chefs all expressed an interest in repeating the event. The kids and parents were the same. We will definitely be having more of these events.”

The enthusiasm for the event was shared by the competitors as well.

“I think it was a good opportunity for kids to show what they can do and that not only grownups can cook,” said Tori Sims, a member of team Sweet Potato. “it showed that kids can cook too.”

About two dozen kids from the ages of 10 to 14 years were teamed up Saturday with seven professional chefs from the region, along with culinary students from Turlock High School’s Culinary Arts program, for a cooking competition. While all aiming to take home the top prize for best cuisine, the young chefs were also getting some very practical lessons in culinary skills.

“I learned how to take a chicken breast off a chicken,” said Nayah Jourdan, a competitor on team Cutting Edge, led by Chef Mike Ortiz from Toscana’s. “It felt kind of mushy. I also learned to be more careful with a knife because I cut my finger a little bit.”

The teams were tasked with creating a starter and a main entrée from the food donated by US Foods and some last minute ingredients picked up at the Turlock Certified Farmers’ Market.

The chefs gave the kids lessons on knife skills, sanitation, and flavoring and by the end of the two hours allotted for prep time, the junior chefs were slicing and dicing like seasoned professionals.

“It’s been fun learning how all the ingredients are going to work together,” said Jaydn Rau, a competitor on team Ninja Terminators, headed by Chef Sergio Ruezga of 10 East Kitchen and Tap House.

For the chefs it was a day to not only inspire some culinary creations, but also an opportunity to pass along some of their love for locally grown products.

“It’s been a lot of fun getting the kids to understand food and the flavors and where it all comes from,” said Chef John Gardner of Table 26 and the captain of team Fresh Six.

Each team presented their starters and entrees to the five guest judges — Brent Bohlender, Anne Piccirillo, Barney Gordon, Titus Strimplin, and Mayor Gary Soiseth.

“The meals they are giving us are very impressive,” said Bohlender.

For Gina Brewster, the event was a chance to get her son’s more familiar with cooking, which came with an added benefit.

“I have two of them here, so I can just rotate them around and I’ll never have to cook again,” she joked.

Winning third place for their pan roasted chicken over seasonal vegetables with alfredo sauce and a spinach salad with a bacon vinaigrette was team Sweet Potato, made up of Garrison Gerber, Emily Lloyd, Sean Brewster, Tori Sims and Chef Michael Goulart of Galletto’s.

The second place team was team Ninja Terminators and their dish of black stuffed chicken with alfredo sauce and a Greek salad. Team members were Paige Silva, Jaydn Rau, Jenna Greene, Elijah Stripling and led by Sergio Ruezga of 10 East.

Taking first place was team Fresh Six and their Mushroom risotto chicken and fresh fruit brushetta. The team was made up of Zach Blood, Magalia Uriarte, Aidan Cooke, and led by Chef John Gardener of Table 26.