Student cooks way to Future Chefs title

From left up front, Future Chefs top three finishers Kevin Carrillo (third place), Rayen Garcia (second place) and Julia Finucane (champion) at the March 5 district-wide cooking competition held at Gilroy High School. Also pictured are judges, from left, Chef Carlos Pineda and the Sakabozzo twins Sam Bozzo and Gene Sakahara.

El Roble Elementary School fourth grader Julia Finucane’s mother was skeptical of the ingredients her daughter planned to fuse together for her entry in the fifth annual Gilroy Unified School District Future Chefs competition.

“She chose her recipe based on the ingredients they were looking for,” said parent Kirsten Finucane. “She does like to cook and experiment in the kitchen.”

The student chef trusted her palette and it paid dividends, as her “Black bean & Sweet Potato Taquitos” with avocado won over the three-judge tasting panel March 6 and she was crowned the district’s Future Chefs champion.

El Roble fourth grader Julia Finucane was crowed Future Chefs district champion.

“I just love being creative (with my cooking),” said Julia, who took home a first-place medal and a prize package from event organizer Sodexo, a food and facilities management company contracted by the district. “I didn’t think I was going to win.”

Julia was one of eight finalists—each assisted by a district food service worker—to compete in the Future Chefs competition held at Gilroy High School. She now advances to the regional cook-off against more than 270 student chef district winners in Northern Calif. later this month for a chance to qualify for the nationals.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s great to get them inspired early,” said judge Gene Sakahara, a retired GUSD educator as well as one half of the famed cooking twins known as “Sakabozzo.”

“It’s fabulous. The kids are great,” added Sakahara’s partner Sam Bozzo of the young aspiring chefs. “Look at that creativity on the plates.”

The same went for the competition’s third judge: Chef Carlos Pineda, Rebekah Children’s Services Culinary Academy and Kneaded Bakery Manager.

“The dishes created were outstanding,” said Pineda, who was especially impressed with the amount of fresh, local fruits and vegetables used by the young chefs.

Rod Kelley Elementary School fifth grader Rayen Garcia and his “Quinoa Enchiladas” took home second-place honors. He also earned the crown of Organic Food Waste champion for having the least amount of food waste while preparing his dish. Each chef put their food waste in a container that was weighed at the end of the competition.

Rod Kelley Elementary School student Rayen Garcia during the Future Chefs competition.

Eliot Elementary School fourth grader Kevin Carrillo placed third with his “Sincronizada” dish.

Other competing student chefs were Glen View Elementary School fifth grader Sandra Martinez Aguilar (who prepared “Fish Tacos”); El Roble Elementary School fourth grader Myra Moniz (who cooked up “Myra’s Tasty Cheese Tostadas”); Luigi Aprea Elementary School fifth grader Michael Sarment (who served “Shrimp Tacos”), and Luigi Aprea fifth grader Jack Zukowski (who mixed some “Jardin De Peces”).

Eliot Elementary School fourth grader Kevin Carrillo prepares his dish.

Those in attendance, which included Supt. Debbie Flores and Board President James Pace, were treated to small portions of each of the dishes prepared by the student chefs.