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Two students win inaugural cooking contest at Mushroom Mardi Gras

Central senior Chris Fuentes and LOHS senior Rich Sigona win restaurant gift certificates

Published in the June 8 – 21, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Photo by Marty Cheek Rich Sigona, left, and Chris Fuentes compete in the inaugural culinary showdown at the Mushroom Mardi Gras.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Rich Sigona, left, and Chris Fuentes compete in the inaugural culinary showdown at the Mushroom Mardi Gras.

The inaugural kids cooking contest brought two student contestants from Live Oak High School and Central High School together for a fun and friendly culinary showdown at the 2016 Mushroom Mardi Gras Sunday May 29. Central senior Chris Fuentes, 18, took first place for his mushroom-themed pico de gallo dish. Live Oak senior Rich Sigona, 18, came in second with a portobello mushroom stir fry.

Morgan Hill Life newspaper sponsored the cooking contest and provided a $100 gift certificate for Ladera Grill for first place and a $50 gift certificate for Rosy’s at the Beach restaurant for second place.

The Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” cooking show contest winner and Morgan Hill resident Steve Caposio emceed the event that was held Sunday morning at the Morgan Hill Community Center. The three judges were Emily Bettencourt, Karen Tarp and “Untamed Chef” Albert Hernandez.

Fuentes has a “family tradition” of male chefs, with an uncle owning two restaurants in Chicago and several family members owning their own restaurants in Mexico, he said.

“The contest was pretty fun,” he said, although he admitted he was not expecting to answer questions from the audience as he prepared his dish. “I just wanted to cook,” he said.

He used the pico de gallo to fill a stuffed mushroom, an adaptation of a recipe his mom made for the family.

Fuentes is scheduled to enter basic training in the U.S. Army after graduating from Central this month. He said that people are often surprised when he tells them he enjoys spending time in the kitchen preparing a meal.

“I like cooking. It’s unexpected, when people find out that you know how to cook, their jaw drops and they say they want to try your food,” he said.

His girlfriend especially appreciates his culinary talents. “I make my food better than hers,” he said with a coy smile.

Sigona, who plans to attended the University of California in Merced, said his family’s legacy for food has shaped his culinary skills.

“My family has their own produce market, so ever since I was little, I kind of grew up around food,” he said. “Now that I got older, I had this drawing to food. When I was 12, I started cooking a lot more than people my age, so that led me here today.”

For his stir fry, he sliced portobello mushrooms into long strips and boiled them for two to three minutes to soften them and make them “kind of like noodles,” he said. He added the vegetables into the pan and created a stir fry dish that impressed the judges with its presentation.

Sigona built up his cooking talent by taking a culinary class at Live Oak with teacher Teresa Rounds during his senior year.

“The most important thing that I learned from Mrs. Rounds class is helping out others who don’t have the same skills that I have,” he said.
As one of the three judges in the cooking contest, Bettencourt said she was impressed by the talent of the two young chefs. She is the food safety manager at Del Fresh Mushrooms, one of the mushroom suppliers for the Mushroom Mardi Gras.

“It was very fun. There was the challenge of being on a cooking show and having to talk as well as concentrate on what you’re doing,” she said. “They really put them on the spot with audience questions.”

Learning cooking skills is important for young people to better understand where their food comes from and how to eat healthy, she said. And if they prepare their own meals, they’re going to live a very healthy lifestyle, she added.

“Food is fun and eating locally grown mushrooms is even better,” she said. “It helps the economy and it’s healthy.”

Caposio kept the audience engaged with the contest by providing commentary on what was happening on the cooking demo stage. “Hey, you know what, these two guys have a great future ahead of them, I can tell you that,” he said while emceeing the contest. “One is going to be serving our country, the other one might be serving you dinner somewhere. But either way I don’t think we’re in bad shape.”