carlos pineda amari johl future chefs
Rod Kelley Elementary School student Amari Johl describes her chicken and rice ball dish to Chef Carlos Pineda during the Future Chefs competition on April 26. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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Thomas Lopez Lara was the first to step up to the front, presenting his Mexican-inspired fruit salad dish to three of Gilroy’s most accomplished chefs.

The pressure to impress these judges was not unlike that felt in television competitions such as “Master Chef,” as the Rucker Elementary School fifth-grader was grilled by Chefs Sam and Dave Bozzo and Carlos Pineda, seeking to learn his inspiration behind the dish and commenting on his presentation.

Thomas was among the six fifth-graders from Gilroy Unified School District who squared off in the sizzling competition April 26 at Gilroy High School to see who cooked the best fruit or vegetable side dish.

Gilroy Unified School District’s Child Nutrition Services Team in partnership with Sodexo presented the Future Chefs competition, giving the young chefs a chance to showcase their cooking chops and win prizes that included cookware sets.

Nalani Battaglia of Sodexo, which works with the district to provide school meals, said 40 fifth-graders entered the competition, with the six being chosen based on the variety of their dishes and schools.

She added she was “absolutely” impressed with the students, saying the fifth-graders know their way around the kitchen and have developed their own tastes and understanding of unique ingredients.

sam bozzo holly parrish future chefs
Chef Sam Bozzo asks questions about Rucker Elementary School fifth-grader Holly Parrish’s egg rolls dish. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Culinary students from Gilroy High School worked alongside the fifth-graders as their sous chefs, and Battaglia said the hope was the younger students would be inspired to continue their culinary paths as they got older.

Dishes included Chili Garlic Chicken Caesar Salad by Anthony Harrigan, Savory Sweet Crepes by Vivienne Cox, Chicken Wrap and Watermelon Strawberry Smoothie by Ulises Garcia and Egg Rolls by Holly Parrish.

Rod Kelley Elementary School student Amari Johl said her dish, “A New Dawn-Buri,” was her take on a Japanese rice ball dish, where she added chicken and vegetables. She noted that she also added ingredients that were soy- and gluten-free to allow those with allergies to enjoy it.

In the end, Vivienne Cox was named the first-place winner, followed by Amari in second and Holly Parrish in third.

Before judging began, Pineda said he hoped to see garlic incorporated into the dishes. He said he was there to educate and guide the students, encouraging them to ask questions.

“The focus these days is farm to fork, so the goal is to really enhance and bring out the flavor of the fresh produce,” Pineda said, noting that the chefs needed to balance nutrition and creativity while making sure the produce is the star of the dish.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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