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A new champion is crowned at 2022 Tournament of Chefs
chef challenge winner
The team at Tito's Parrilla celebrate their big win at the third annual Turlock Gospel Mission Tournament of Chefs (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Thursday night at Pageo Lavender Farm in Turlock saw a new champion crowned in the annual Tournament of Chefs competition. The event saw hundreds of community members turn out to eat and cheer for their favorite area food trucks, all while supporting the efforts of the Turlock Gospel Mission.

The four competitors were Atwater’s Phantom’s Food Truck, Manteca’s Fagundes Street BBQ, Turlock’s Tito’s Parilla and Manteca’s Fagundes Street Pizza. For two hours, the trucks whipped out countless platters for all in attendance before guests submitted their votes.

Before the competition officially got underway, each of the participating chefs laid out their gameplans for victory.

Chef Kevin Chavez of Phantom’s Food Truck began his journey one year ago, mostly due to his father’s experience working in the industry.

“We got our inspiration from La Taqueria in San Francisco,” Chavez explained. “My dad’s been working with that family for 25 years cooking for them and things of that sort. During the pandemic, he thought it would be good to start our own business, and my sister also encouraged us to really go for it. I’m excited to see all the people come out and try the food, because once you try it, then you’ll understand that we’re really pouring our heart and soul into it. Hopefully they like it, and I’m honestly excited to try some of these other trucks.”

Chavez served up beef and pork quesadillas accompanied with birria dipping sauce for the crowd.

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All four participating food trucks served up hundreds of dishes throughout the night to hungry guests, hoping to earn their votes to be crowned the winner of the Tournament of Chefs (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Chef Eric Fagundes of Fagundes Street Pizza brought his truck over to the event from their usual location in the Lathrop Food Plaza. He served up his spicy pesto sauce topped with house smoked chicken breast, bacon, diced red tomato and onion. The spicy pizza slice was served alongside his popular Peach Pizza Pie delicacy.

“Showcasing what we do has been something we’ve been looking forward to,” he said. “We want people to see what we can do and try different stuff. We’re happy to be here.”

Chef Tito Alvarez of Delhi brought his truck, Tito’s Parilla, to serve his special chile relleno tacos, which includes stuffed pepper with jack cheese, grilled onion and garlic. It was topped with crispy onion strings, roasted aioli, roasted tomatio sauce and shaved cotija cheese. Alvarez is also the executive chef of La Mo Café in Turlock and began operations with the truck earlier this year.

“I’m excited to be here because everyone is just having a good time with the drinks and getting ready to try these other four trucks,” he said.

Last but not least was Fagundes Street BBQ. Chef John of the food truck served up his popular tri-tip sandwiches, a dish that was in high-demand once the competition got underway. Like the other three contestants, he was also eager to try the food of his competitors.

Jeanna Serrano welcomes guests to the brand new Nourish Opportunity Truck during Thursday night's Tournament of Chefs. The truck will help those recovering from addiction and homelessness gain culinary and work experience as they prepare to re-enter society (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Right before the final results were announced, there was a fifth truck introduced to attendees, the Nourish Opportunity Truck. Thursday night was the first time the truck was in operation and served guests desserts. The truck is operated by the Turlock Gospel Mission and is a branch of the organization’s Nourish program. The proceeds from the Tournament of Chefs go towards the Nourish program, which provides those participating in Turlock Gospel Mission recovery programs with a high-quality, no-cost student culinary education and prepares students for a successful life beyond homelessness.

CEO Christian Curby explained that the students involved in the program can gain even further experience with the new food truck.

“We’re taking people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty and finding them some marketplace training and teaching them how to engage and successfully navigate the systems they have to navigate to be a successful employee. We bought the food truck and are opening the food truck tonight,” he announced.

The truck will be operated by Jeanna Serrano, who became a volunteer at the Turlock Gospel Mission after utilizing their services herself. After months of volunteering, she was hired as Turlock Gospel Mission staff as a cook and later as a shelter attendant.

After guests helped themselves to more food and desserts from the new Nourish Opportunity Truck, attendees casted the final ballots and it was finally time to crown a champion: Tito’s Parrilla.

Alvarez and his family accepted the unique trophy from Turlock Gospel Mission representatives and gave a short yet encouraging acceptance speech.

“Have fun when you cook,” he said. “Just cook how you love.”

This advice is what has helped him create a successful business and what has led him to earn the first-place title at this year’s competition.

At the end of the night, guests satisfied their cravings, a champion was crowned and donors to the Turlock Gospel Mission were able to see their charitable efforts pay off with the introduction of the new Nourish initiative and food truck. As CEO, Curby was grateful to see yet another successful Tournament of Chefs go in the books.

“This work [at the Gospel Mission] is extraordinarily difficult. It’s very complicated and takes a long time,” Curby said. “The truth is that God is working in Turlock and working through the Turlock Gospel Mission and he’s working because of [the community’s] support, your prayer and your vision for what the city can look like.”

Community members are encouraged to keep an eye out for the Nourish Food Truck and for future announcement regarding the next Tournament of Chefs next year.