3rd-grader Helena Hobbs takes home top prize

Published in the June 7 – June 20, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Photo by Marty Cheek
Helena Hobbs, left, and Susan Kirchhoff, right, prepare their meals in the Mushroom Mardi Gras Mayhem Kids Cooking Contest while their mothers help.

Susan Kirchhoff and Helena Hobbs, two students from Nordstrom Elementary School, found themselves on the Mushroom Mardi Gras cooking stage Sunday May 28, competing in a just-for-fun competition in the second annual Mushroom Mayhem Kids Cooking Contest.

With a little help from their mothers, the girls kept busy cooking on the small electric burners, occasionally answering questions posed to them from a packed audience fielded to them by contest emcee Steve Caposio. The Morgan Hill resident last year won first place in an episode of Alton Brown’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” TV contest. Caposio made an announcement during the cooking contest that he is working with West 152 Productions, a Gilroy-based video company, on a new TV show called “Late Night Bite.” It will be a late-night variety show with a cooking theme, he said.

As Caposio kept the audience engaged with light-hearted banter and answering questions, Hobbs, a third-grader, stayed intent on the stage cooking what she called a Morgan Hill Mushroom Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Meanwhile, Kirchhoff, a fifth-grader who will be going to Britton Middle School, cooked up a Mardi Gras Stuffed Portobello Mushroom dish. As the clock ticked down, the two put the finishing touches on their presentations and placed their dishes in front of the judges Chef Albert Hernandez, “The Untamed Chef” from Visalia, gave a hearty compliment to Hobbs on her culinary creation.

“I’d like to put this on the menu of my restaurant,” he said. “The color, the flavor, the bacon — you can’t go wrong with bacon. The bacon is an after-note, though, to the mushroom. The mushroom is very much here. That sandwich is amazing. Thank you.”

Contest judge Jason Beach, the executive chef of the Morgan Hill Unified School District, praised Kirchhoff’s mushroom dish.

“I really like this. It’s nice, it’s creamy, it’s fresh. We’re looking at a good complement of flavor throughout. It could use a little bit more flavor — just a touch. It’s very good, very good.”

Contest judge Karen Tarp, who chairs the cooking demos at the Mushroom Mardi Gras, also enjoyed Kirchhoff’s entry.

“It’s very good. Very creamy. And the mushrooms come together beautifully,” she said. “It also has a nice presentation.”

The three judges tallied their votes and announced their decision on the outcome of the contest. It was close, they said, with a two to one split. Hobbs’ gourmet mushroom grilled cheese sandwich came in first to win her a $100 gift certificate at Ladera Grill. Kirchhoff’s Portello mushroom dish came in second to win a $50 gift certificate at Rosy’s at the Beach.

Both girls said they had fun and learned a lot from the experience.

“I was scared before I started, but when I started cooking, I got less and less scared and I had a good time,” Hobbs said. “I really like the presentation part. As I kept on preparing the food and cooking, I kept on having fun.”

Watching judges eating her sandwich, she said, “I was happy that they liked my food.”

Kirchhoff has ambitions to maybe one day be a professional chef. Spending time fixing food in the kitchen is a pleasure for her — and it all started when she saw a Food Network cooking show.

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“One day my mom had the TV on and turned it to ‘Chopped’ and I started watching ‘Chopped’ more and that got me wanting to cook,” she said.

During the contest, a visitor to Morgan Hill, Lisa from Chicago who works at Morton’s Steakhouse, gave the two students encouragement.

“I’m inspired by watching the both of you, and there are so many opportunities in the food and hospitality industry. I happen to be married to an executive chef with Hilton Hotels. So keep your dreams going and if you want to make your living cooking, it’s a great opportunity and there are many venues that will be searching for you and wanting you.”

The Mushroom Mayhem Kids’ Cooking Contest was sponsored by Morgan Hill Life newspaper and organized by publisher Marty Cheek.