ELYRIA — Seven chefs put their Mexican-inspired dishes to the test Thursday night in a battle to become Elyria Schools’ 2019 Future Chef.
By the time the judges put down their forks and the votes were tallied, fifth-grader David Watkins from Ely Elementary School was named tops in the annual competition, sponsored by food services company Sodexo.
“That’s how it’s done, son!” David exclaimed after his taco pizza breadsticks won the grand prize, which included a trophy and cookware.
He then shared a long hug with his mother. It is the third year in a row that an Ely Elementary School student has taken the grand prize, organizers said.
David, who told the judges his favorite food is chili fries and is said to cook a mean mac ’n’ cheese, will go on to the next level of the nationwide competition. After talking to well-wishers on the phone and posing for photos, he said Thursday he planned to go home and celebrate with family.
David competed against fellow fifth-graders Elaynah McDonald of Windsor Elementary and her elote, a roasted corn-on-the-cob dish; Oakwood Elementary’s Nikki Wyatt and her Spanish rice and pork chops; Crestwood’s Warren Beasley and his baked taco bowls; Prospect’s Brayden Warner and his Mexican pinwheels; Aniyah Jackson from Franklin Elementary and her bacon and tomato quesadillas; and McKinley Elementary’s Emily Harding and her “Mexican Extravaganza” recipe.
Judges this year were Elyria Schools Superintendent Ann Schloss, Assistant Director of Pupil Services Amy Bodnar, Elyria Schools Board of Education member Jim Backs and Briana Keith, the previous year’s Future Chef grand prize winner for Elyria Schools.
Earlier in the evening, the heat was on — literally and figuratively — in the kitchen at Elyria High School as the competitors prepared their dishes, cooked and plated them for the judges. Given an hour to do the work, the chefs maintained focus sharp as the edge of a knife, calling out requests to assistants to preheat their ovens and chopping vegetables while battling the clock.
Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen: Warren stuffed his baked taco bowls with tomatoes, guacamole and cheese as Emily peeled and sliced the onions that would rest atop the bolillo rolls in her dish, along with shredded pork and lettuce.
The delicious sights soon followed, with trays of the healthy Mexican-inspired food being carried to a table draped in a long white cloth. Elaynah’s elote was made from a recipe her mother had, she said, while Brayden said he found his on the social media site Pinterest.
Unsurprisingly, many of the competitors said The Food Network’s “Chopped,” a culinary competition featuring four competitors, is their favorite TV show.
Beth Grimm, Sodexo operations manager for Elyria Schools, said this year’s contest involves students from 265 other districts in the nation.