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When we set out to find a young culinary extraordinaire in our "Cook Your Way to Culinary School Contest," we knew we’d have our work cut out for us.
(How do we choose from so many talented young chefs?!)
We called on high school juniors or seniors ready to pursue their education in the food service or restaurant-related fields to submit a video of themselves creating an original recipe dish and explaining why they feel they should win the scholarship (and it had to be 5 minutes or less!).
The finalists would come and compete on the show, and the grand prize winner would receive a $25,000 scholarship AND $500 of Rachael Ray cookware.
Though it wasn’t easy to narrow down the impressive contestant pool, we did it!
So, without further ado, let’s meet our four finalists who traveled to NYC to compete for the GRAND PRIZE:
from Denville, NJ
Meet "Cook Your Way to Culinary School" Finalist, Nick!
"Ever since I was around 5 years old, I’d always be cooking with my grandparents," Nick says. "Growing up, I struggled going to school and socializing, and being in the kitchen was my way of just being myself and building up my confidence."
"I want to show other people," he continues, "that no matter what your challenge is -- especially if it’s anxiety, especially if it’s ADHD, like I went through -- that it can’t hold you back."
from Wallingford, CT
Meet "Cook Your Way to Culinary School" Finalist, Jules!
"My love for food originally started just [from] being in an Italian family," Jules explains. "It kind of allowed me to realize that food is love."
"Culinary school has been a dream of mine since 2nd grade," she goes on. "When my peers would go home and watch Disney, I’d be watching 'Ace of Cakes.'"
from Fresno, CA
Meet "Cook Your Way to Culinary School" Finalist, Alyssa!
"When I was 7, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease [that] affects the skin and muscles," Alyssa says. "I don’t eat a lot of things like gluten and dairy, soy, eggs, rice."
"That meant that I had to become my own cooking hero."
from Villa Park, CA
Meet "Cook Your Way to Culinary School" Finalist, Cloyce!
"When my mother started noticing that I had an interest in cooking," Cloyce explains, "she started teaching me more and more, and it kind of became our bonding time."
"This past summer, I went to France for six weeks and studied under two different chefs at Michelin-Starred restaurants," he continues. "One thing is for sure, with my cooking, people should kind of expect the unexpected."
With $25,000 on the line, the four aspiring chefs arrived at our studio for their final challenges Meaning. Business.
And since Rach wanted no part of the difficult judging process, we brought in our friends, Chefs Curtis Stone and Gail Simmons, to do the hard work for us. (Thanks, pals!)
They also had an assist from the winner of Rach’s 2014 Great American Cookbook Competition, Fanny Slater.
The judges first scored the contestants on two challenges -- slicing a potato into half-inch dices and making the perfect vinaigrette (in 60 seconds, at that!).
The final challenge was to create a burger in 20 minutes (because Rach is the Queen of Burgers, of course!) after having just 15 minutes to shop for ingredients on a $40 budget. PHEW.
They were ultimately judged on taste, presentation and creativity -- and here’s what the young chefs whipped up:
NICK: Gorgonzola-Infused Pork Slider With a Cauliflower Bun
JULES: Brunch Berry Croissant Burger
ALYSSA: Salmon Patty with Rosemary and Dijon
CLOYCE: Hawaiian-Style Pork Burger with Pineapple Relish and Homemade Jalapeno Aioli
Now do you see why Rach wanted no part of this decision?!
Are you ready to find out who won the grand prize? Watch the video above for the big reveal!
And because everyone’s a winner in our kitchen, the three runner-up finalists went home with a $5,000 scholarship and $500 worth of Rachael Ray cookware.
Not too shabby, right?
Congratulations to all the competitors on jobs well done!